As news organizations across the globe shift to a greater emphasis on digital audience revenue, much of their collective energy is rightly focused on acquiring new paying supporters. But as these lines of business mature, retaining subscribers carries increasingly greater weight. Digital subscriber retention – a complex mix of art and science – has been the focus of the most recent Facebook Local News Accelerator, with participating teams from 16 U.S. metro news organizations.
As with other Accelerator programs, teams from each group represent a number of key disciplines – marketing, newsgathering and presentation, product, UX, analytics, etc., each with key roles in supporting subscriber engagement and stewardship. While the benefit of these activities is clear – even a small increase to retention can have a huge impact on subscription revenue over time – what’s less clear is what the newsroom’s specific role can or should be.
While the Accelerator has covered a wide range of skills and capabilities required to be better at retention, here we’ve gathered insights and tips from participants, outside experts, and program coaches around this specific question: What can the newsroom do? Here are 16 tactical recommendations a local newsroom might put into place today:
Reorient newsroom mindset around subscriber service
- Distribute a guide (or one-sheeter) throughout the newsroom explaining subscription benefits, pricing, packages, etc., along the lines of information in the hands of customer service reps. Be sure journalists can explain the value of a subscription to the public when they interact with them on Twitter, on the phone, at live events, etc.
- Create a Slack channel for #readerfeedback where journalists can post positive and negative interactions with subscribers and get help answering subscriber questions. Create feedback loops with colleagues in other departments, including marketing, product and customer care.
- Establish internal points of contact for subscription problems and questions. Be sure journalists know where to send questions they can’t answer directly – and ensure those questions are answered promptly and consistently.
- Regularly share information with the newsroom (and the rest of the enterprise) on subscription growth and retention efforts, such as digital subscription growth strategy, how the company is defining loyalty stages and on testing that will affect users.
- Align newsroom goals with subscription goals. Reward (and signal the success) of stories that play a role in the path to conversion and those that encourage engagement – particularly driving daily habits – among paying subscribers. Regularly communicate which newsroom efforts are having the largest effect on retention – and why.
Encourage journalists to directly engage subscribers
- Create discounted subscription offers and distribute links for those offers to journalists. Encourage journalists to use their daily interactions with readers as an opportunity to send them a promotional offer. (The Seattle Times hosts Twitter sales for reporters to reach out to their followers with a specific Twitter subscription offer.)
- Challenge journalists to have a daily interaction with a subscriber. Create time in their schedules to do so. As Neil Chase, the CEO of CALmatters and former executive editor of The Mercury News and East Bay Times said at our session, it must be “a privilege to serve our subscribers.”
- Create ways for journalists to routinely thank subscribers, such as printing thank you cards for them to sign or offer them email templates to follow.
- Create a list of suggested responses for audience questions and concerns posted on Facebook, Twitter, story comments and other public forums. Encourage journalists to use those responses to reply directly back to audience concerns.
- Each day, forward senior editors a few complaints or questions that were sent by subscribers. Encourage editors and others to respond directly to those subscribers.
- Prioritize customer feedback from subscribers. Ask people submitting feedback whether they are a customer, mark those messages before sending to journalists and ask journalists to prioritize those subscriber replies.
- Hold subscriber-only events and experiences as opportunities for them to interact directly with journalists. Create a range of events from panel conversations to guided tours to social gatherings that do not all require high levels of planning and production.
Distribute and create content with subscriber focus
- Reset content distribution strategies with a subscriber focus. Prioritize efforts that engage subscribers and potential subscribers (such as homepage curation, newsletters, news alerts, recirculation) rather than solely focusing on people who only visit occasionally. Adjust specific strategies to emphasis the frequency of visits from loyal audiences.
- Focus newsroom analytics to measure which stories are driving subscriptions and engaging subscribers. Ask journalists to monitor these analytics, examining what stories do well and which do not, then to continuously adjust their content strategies accordingly.
- Develop subscriber-only content, such as newsletters that offer behind-the-scenes stories, early access to key projects, and other insider access.
- Create an on-boarding strategy for new subscribers, helping them find all of the content they are interested in and receive with their subscription. Focus on helping them build a steady habit quickly after subscribing. Work with colleagues in product, marketing and elsewhere to continually evaluate and optimize the experience based on subscriber feedback and analytics.
Thank you to the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Seattle Times, and Los Angeles Times for contributing specific ideas to this list.
The Accelerator Program
The Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator Program helps news publishers build sustainable businesses. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP), each Accelerator includes a three-month period of hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans, grants administered by non-profit journalism organizations, and regular reports on best business practices. The Accelerator’s executive director is Tim Griggs, an independent consultant/advisor and former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive.
For monthly updates on the Accelerator Program, sign up for the FJP newsletter.