Throughout the final day of the Local News Subscriptions Accelerator at the Facebook offices in Menlo Park, publishers shared their learnings and results from the 12-week program with fellow participants. They shared what worked, who inspired their ideas, and what they plan on focusing on in the coming months. Here are some of the publisher results and lessons from the 12-week Accelerator:
The Seattle Times
The Seattle Times identified early on that they were going to attempt a series of incremental changes. They focused on leveraging Facebook for engagement and subscriptions, expanding their A/B testing, partnering more closely with the newsroom by adding a newsroom liaison focused on digital subscriptions, and implementing learnings from other organizations. They were also inspired by The Boston Globe’s approach to one-day sales, and tried one out for themselves.
- One-day (or “flash”) sale in April produced their most successful single day of acquisition ever, beating their previous best by 63%
- A Memorial Day Sale was shortened by two days and produced a 50% increase over 2017
- Expanded A/B testing by 4X over 2017
- Learned from Accelerator participants on how to drive engagement and subscriptions using Facebook.
- Ran their first “Facebook exclusive” one-day sale.
The Denver Post
The Denver Post’s biggest takeaway was the sheer number of takeaways. They cited learning from Philly.com, The Boston Globe, and Gannett for influencing the myriad ways they improved their subscription approach over the 12 weeks. Seeing the success of other organizations in the Accelerator, they were better equipped to sell the idea of digital subscriptions locally and at the corporate level. They also focused on comparing results to logical benchmarks, improving many aspects of customer purchase experience, and building a culture of testing and learning.
- 60% increase in digital subscriptions sales over the 12 weeks
- Got buy-in and added resources from the corporate level
- Adopted subscription benchmarks
- Tested a wide variety of email campaigns and offers.
Miami Herald (McClatchy)
The biggest realization for members of the Miami Herald was that there were too many loopholes for potential subscribers to get by the “paywall.” For instance, they were excluding visits from email newsletters and social media from incrementing the free-article meter. They focused on closing those loopholes so a larger pool of readers would be asked to pay.
- 3X growth in readers hitting the free-article limit between March and June
- The “paywall” now accounts for 65% of new digital subscription starts, up from 26% in March
San Francisco Chronicle
The San Francisco Chronicle initiated a number of small changes across the board, but they had one initiative John Rockwell, the director of subscription sales and retention, calls “The best thing we’ve ever done.” The idea came out of the Austin session. They decided to do a sale around the California primaries and NBA finals. They knew audiences would be craving sports and political coverage during this time. They built custom audiences with the Facebook Pixel, approached every email with an A/B test, and added a newsletter sign-up module on story #1.
- They saw an increase of 700% in newsletter sign-ups and subscriptions during the two-week campaign.
- Built a greater culture of taking risks and testing.
- Have begun focusing on building more custom audiences, remarketing, onboarding journeys, price testing, and increasing newsletter signups.
The Tennessean and The Indianapolis Star (Gannett)
Participating members from Gannett, the owners of 109 local news organizations including The Tennessean and The Indianapolis Star, identified two ways to improve subscriptions to their publications. First, they noticed the stop rate, meaning the percentage of digital visitors stopped by a paywall, for The Tennessean was low. Second, they wanted to gain more free-trial signups. Similar to The Miami Herald, they decided to close side doors and loopholes for The Tennessean, and they created daily/weekly/monthly reports on the stop rate. To help boost free-trial signups for The Indianapolis Star, they implemented call-to-action units in Facebook Instant Articles to drive 30-day signups.
- 250% increase in paywall stop rate over the 12 weeks.
- Sales from the side door visitors increased by 40% while all other Gannett markets, where loopholes stayed open, remained flat.
- Activation rate for free trials from Facebook Instant Article calls-to-action were 4x more successful than other similar campaigns.
Omaha World Herald
Jeff Carney, Corporate Director/Digital Content Development and Lissa Cupp, Chief Marketing Officer, from Berkshire Hathaway Media Group recognized that the only way to grow their subscription business was by having everyone “on the bus.” Getting the newsroom on board was key and they focused on getting buy-in for subscription goals at the Omaha World Herald. That’s why they felt their biggest takeaway came from thinking about measuring subscriber acquisition by news people are willing to pay for. That meant making employees part of this story, focusing on quality, trusted journalism readers want and changing the focus of reporting metrics from page views to time spent, and other metrics that signaled quality.
- Became more data-driven, focusing on a range of engagement metrics from Parse.ly, and CrowdTangle insights.
- Enabled every reporter to better understand performance of their stories.
- Analyzed past stories in time spent and engagement to see what’s resonated.
- Newsroom now chooses story ideas with input from data and consumer behavior.
Newsday focused on four key ingredients for their strategy: Cultural buy in and prioritization across the business, marketing optimization through test and learn experiments, better targeting of potential customers, and reviewing content to find what content types are most correlated with subscription acquisition.
- Scored 15 months of content to determine which content is most valuable to conversion/retention.
- Built a model that scores a users propensity to subscribe.
- Created a dynamic paywall.
- Plans in the works for increased A/B testing and uniting customer, content, and product resources.
- Patrick Tornabene, VP Audience Development: “The program brought together a group of digital subscription talent in a structure that created dedicated time, sharing of best practices, and coaching. For Newsday, it has primarily strengthened the unity of our consumer, product, and content disciplines and aligned us towards the strategies for growth.”
- Debby Krenek, Publisher said: “I came away from these sessions with a deep understanding of driving consumer revenue and how I can help the team share that across the company.”
The Atlanta Journal Constitution (Cox Media Group)
The Atlanta Journal Constitution focused on a number of initiatives; one in particular was getting more acquisition through social channels. They implemented the Facebook Pixel working closely with their analytics team to get further pixel events coded. They also improved targeting of high-propensity behaviors.
- 68% year-over-year reduction in average social acquisition cost.
The Facebook Journalism Project: Local News Subscriptions Accelerator is a pilot program designed to help news publishers build their digital subscription revenues. Funded and organized by The Facebook Journalism Project, the 3-month program includes hands-on workshops led by news industry veteran Tim Griggs, a grantmaking program organized by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and regular reports on best practices authored by both The Lenfest Institute and the Facebook Journalism Project. Read lessons from the Accelerator below.