#ONALondon First session: ‘People you may know: Your audience’

I am at ONA London today, where the theme is audience engagement. Rather than live tweeting it, because there is SO MUCH to share, I thought I’d take notes and post them here.

First Keynote session: People you may know: Your audience 

Panel: Federicca Cherubini, Digital News Project team at @risj_oxford (among her many other hats) Mary Hamilton, executive editor, audience, with The Guardian, Renée Kaplan, FT, head of audience engagement 

The point of this is what do we know about our audience, how do we know it and what action do we take as a result of that knowledge.

What does it mean when we say we want to harness the power of the audience?

RC  it has become such a slick term that  it begins to mean nothing. For her it is the idea of a relationship and thinking of distribution as a relationship. We know the audience is there but there is now a notion that we also have to be there giving them something that they value. Putting a metric to each part of that relationship so people can see how they are performing against value/delight/quality of relationships.

MH working out what we want people to do in relation to what we produce; what is the target and then how we engage in a 2-day conversation. It is different for every news organisation. Understanding the ‘what do we want people to do in response to what we are doing?’ is fundamental.

We look at reach, optimisation, loyalty, engagement, habit, participation.

RC internal engagement is also a factor – the culture change and the different ways of thinking are important within this definition too. She also spoke about Lantern, the FT’s new tool which assists journalists in accessing data about content and interaction.

What is loyalty? MH says it varies per person – it might be a subscriber, a regular user or even a sentiment. As the Guardian moves more towards membership it is looking into what is the loyalty behaviour it would expect. RC says loyalty begins with the question of what do you want your audience to do? Loyalty for us means that eventually someone gets enough value from our content that they will subscribe. She also raised the very valid point of the newsroom needing to understanding the commercial importance of audience interaction.

MH says page views are still very important, not least because they are very easily understood across newsrooms (I am so glad she got that point across because they 100% are). But it is easy to talk about the big number and then ignore the 2nd step -do they come back, do they click on something else?

She also had my favourite phrase of the day “lumps of behaviour” – it made perfect sense but also inexplicable made me happy.

Reach is important but depth of reach is as important.

Comments: RK – comments are very important to us because the people who leave comments are our subscribers and are invested in us.

The people who comment on stories are often the people who care most, and that might be that they are very angry with you because you haven’t done what they would expect of you. You have to be present and listen to the comments and take those words into account.

However, comment moderation doesn’t scale in the same way – if you are going to do it well you need skilled, thoughtful moderators.

Update: You can also read Sarah Marshall’s notes here


So, my takeaway from listening to this (really excellent) session: Listening to these very smart speakers, it struck me that if we referred to audience engagement within our newsrooms as audience relationships it might be a concept that is more easily grasped as existing beyond metrics.

Relationship is a term that we farmed off to the marketing years ago (the CRM) and have only recently (in terms of digital journalism) clawed back.

For a vast chunk of my career my relationship was definitely internal (writing for my newspaper, my news editor, my peers, my sales department). How insular was that?

Audience engagement is a lot of work, when you think about it.

You have to scrutinise metrics and listen to the audience to see what they care about, respond with crowdsroucing and a piece of content, work out the best places to put that content so people see it and ideally share it, interact once that content is published, adapt it to reflect what the audience is saying about it – maybe also stand up for what you have created or change the view that you initially approached it with – and after all that, if you’re anything like me, no matter how many people say something is good you will brood on the one person who says you are disgrace to your profession.

It’s a real tough sell to people in the newsroom who are not really invested in the strategy/concept/demands of audience engagement or who are just not used to getting feedback beyond the praise of the person sat at the next desk.

More and more I think the best investment in training a news organisation can make is to help people wrap their heads around their audience strategy, and how individuals (both those working for titles and the audiences responding) have a role to play within that.

Oh, yeah – and there also needs to be utterly clear leadership from the top of the newsroom down around the importance of it. If the top bosses aren’t keen on getting to know and being involved with the audience, of course the wider team is going to take a cue from that.

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