I’ll be discussing the business value of engagement today at ONACamp Phoenix.
I believe that deep engagement on three levels is essential to the success of news organizations in the digital marketplace:
- Newsrooms and individual journalists need to engage our communities effectively to produce outstanding journalism.
- News organizations need to engage communities in marketing our content.
- Engagement provides excellent opportunities to make money serving business customers.
I’ve blogged already about some of these ideas and I hope to elaborate in coming weeks on others. But I’ll elaborate a bit on all three here:
I’ve blogged considerably before about engagement techniques that elevate our journalism:
- Live coverage produces deep engagement by just working differently in covering the events and breaking news we already cover. This kind of coverage keeps people on our sites for extended periods, sometimes hours. If we can’t figure out how to make money from all that attention, we aren’t smart enough to survive in the digital marketplace.
- Effective social-media engagement in doing better journalism helps our promotional efforts on social media.
- Community networks help drive traffic to our sites and theirs and present opportunities that we haven’t fully seized yet for selling advertising in blog networks or giving local-news widgets including ad units to network members.
- I think news organizations should host group blogs in areas of community interest and activity: religion, education, youth sports, music, community clubs. No one would have the responsibility of maintaining a solo blog, but everyone’s efforts would produce content and attract interest that would help other contributors. Community organizations and individuals would get publicity they crave and the news org would get content of interest to the community and related advertising inventory. (I’m surprised that I haven’t blogged about this possibility yet, though I have talked about it several times. I’m not aware of anyone who has tried it yet.)
Contests can be editorial content, marketing, advertising or some combination of all three. In my Digital First Media days, I highlighted various seasonal types of contests: winter, spring, fall, Valentine’s Day. Even if the content is editorial, a contest presents a sponsorship opportunity that should bring in revenue.
Marketing your content
Newspapers have generations of experience promoting our print content. When I had newspaper routes back in the 1960s, the Columbus Citizen-Journal offered its carriers bicycles, radios and other prizes for signing up new subscribers. We need to update our game for the digital marketplace.
Someone somewhere in a news organization – newsroom, marketing, circulation – should be reaching out to the audiences who will be most interested in the content we’re producing each day. Don’t just post your stories on your own Facebook page or Twitter account. Look for community (or regional or national) groups that might be interested in different stories you produce. By posting on their Facebook pages and groups or their blogs, tweeting at them, messaging them directly, call your work to the attention of the audiences and influencers who are most interested in that day’s stories. If you see a popular hashtag relating to a topic you’re covering, use that hashtag in the tweets about your story.
Digital tools aren’t the only engagement avenues. DFM newsrooms deepened their relationships with their communities through community newsrooms and mobile newsroom projects. One of my former newsrooms, the Des Moines Register, launched a bike ride across the state more than 40 years ago that is a multimillion-dollar business still.
Think beyond ads & subscriptions
News organizations that survive and thrive in the digital age will have a broader revenue base than the advertisements and subscriptions that have traditionally supported newspapers and their websites. Some ideas your news organization should pursue:
- Offer grieving families (and people planning their own funerals) the opportunity to hire experienced journalists to write (and shoot) text and/or video obituaries whose quality will justify profitable fees.
- Produce blogs, stories and videos for local businesses – not just native advertising, but helpful content for customers and potential customers that will help build and spread a company’s reputation for expertise (or fun or something else valuable) in its field.
- Help businesses liveblog their events: sales, charitable events, promotions, etc.
- Develop apps for local businesses and organizations.
- Providing social media services and other digital media services for local businesses.
- Developing social media accounts that promote advertiser specials.
- Develop and market the best tools for local search and handling digital transactions for business customers.
Would creating content for paying customers create some potential ethical challenges? Sure, but most of the newspapers I ever worked for figured out how to produce “advertorial” content for advertisers and how to make ads for them. We need to have good conversations about how to protect our integrity as we pursue new revenue sources. Depending on the business opportunity, the measures are likely to be some combination of:
- Hiring commercial-content staffs that will operate separately from your newsroom.
- Setting standards of accuracy for commercial content, such as verifying facts, correcting errors and not allowing plagiarism.
- Clearly labeling commercial content that appears on your websites, apps and other products.
- Being explicit with potential customers about what service they are buying, and that the deal does not include favored treatment in your news content.
- Determining whether you need to declare some potential content customers off-limits (perhaps political candidates).
I’m optimistic about the news business, and much of that optimism is rooted in the potential I see in effective community engagement for journalism and business.
Here are the slides for my presentation: