Weekend Media Threads May 25, 2019

By far my favorite story from the past week is from Poynter – and it’s something I’ve been suggesting for several years. Finally a newsroom (or audience team in this case) has decided to stop wasting time posting to Twitter.

Oh happy day!

And not some small weekly in the middle of nowhere. We’re talking a major metro. The Philadelphia Inquirer.

I think this is fantastic news and I hope other newsrooms find the internal backing to do the same. Posting manually to Twitter is a complete waste of time for journalists. The entire process should be automated.

In the Poynter article Kim Fox, the Inquirer’s managing editor for audience and innovation, said the audience team used to spend 80% of its time on Twitter for a 2-3% return in referral traffic.

Because this is an enormous waste of time – seriously, 80% of the team’s time!?! – Kim had her team automate Twitter posting and found the same return in referral traffic. If you’re surprised by this you either don’t work in digital media, or you do and don’t pay attention to your referral traffic.

Take a deep dive into your own site’s referral traffic. I’m willing to bet that either search engine, Bing and Yahoo, drives more traffic than Twitter. But when was the last to you looked at these statistics?

The truth is, Twitter is not a traffic driver. It’s really good at making noise, but has little to no impact to a media website’s traffic.

So, what do Kim’s audience team do with its new found time? And 80% is a lot of time. According to Poynter they:

Streamlining branded Facebook pages down from two to one, decreasing posting by 30% and increasing referral traffic by 30%

Growing the Inquirer’s Instagram account by 87%

Redeveloping newsletter strategy from automated to written by staff

Launching a smart speaker briefing, which led to Fox building out an innovation team

Adding SEO and analytics work into everything they do

Check out the full article here

And speaking of the Inquirer’s audience team, check out this Q&A Better News did with Kim and Ross Maghielse, the manager of audience development.

Social media will get better?

In an interview with Kara Swisher on Recode Decode Twitter’s co-founder Ev Williams said social media will get better, eventually. I don’t have much to say about the interview. I listened to the episode when it came out and it’s more of the same. All of these tech-bros just parrot each other, but I think this interview is worth listening to.

You can read the transcript on Vox.

How about an iPad with your newspaper subscription

We’ve seen this before, but the publisher of the Democrat-Gazette in northwest Arkansas, is giving print subscribers iPads in an attempt to convert them to digital subscribers.

I don’t hate the idea of buying iPads for print subscribers in an attempt to convert them to paid digital subscribers. But I do think it’s a gross misunderstanding of the audience and why they subscribe to print, and how difficult it is to engage readers on the platform and turn them into long-term digital subscribers.

According to the article, in March 2018 the paper began the experiment with 200 subscribers. They were offered an iPad at the current print delivery rate, plus a personal training session, and print delivery stopped about two months later. The publisher claims that 70% (140) of these converted.

I think any of us would take a 70% conversion rate, but what the article doesn’t mention is retention over the next year and how this compares to the rate at which they were retaining print subscriptions. And don’t get me started on price elasticity in digital versus print. I would really like to see this data because that’s what will tell the real story, and whether the experiment will turn a profit in 2020 as the publisher hopes.

Personally, I hope it works, but I just don’t think this is how core newspaper readers want their news. No matter how great you make the experience, it’s not the same as the tradition of a morning newspaper. Which is what core newspaper readers want.

I think this would work better as a strategy going after specific segments of existing subscribers, tech-enthusiasts for example, and new subscribers. Introduce these folks into the digital ecosystem and never allow them to build a print tradition.

And while the publisher is considering the costs of the iPads as the main expense, there isn’t much talk of an ongoing marketing campaign, which becomes even more critical on digital platforms where, in addition to your product, you’ve now supplied you core subscribers with a device to gain easy access to the products and platforms that have assisted in deteriorating your product. This of course depends on the market, but I’m assuming most of the folks in this particular area getting these did not previously own an iPad.

Again, I don’t hate the idea, but I would like to see the ongoing marketing, conversion and engagement plan. This just feels like a reaction by a publisher who is out of touch and I think there are better ways to spend $12 million bucks.

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