Audience DevelopmentContent

How to capture and use audience insights to improve engagement

Audience insights
Via Unsplash

The Atlantic spent two years studying ‘readers’ & listeners’ needs’ to understand why individuals choose its journalism. Wan-IFRA has also just published a report showing how publishers are growing their subscriber revenue by targeting specific audience segments. But how do you capture the audience insights that will improve your audience engagement?

Why audience insights matter

Seeking a clear understanding of what sets it apart from its competitors is routine for US news and culture title The Atlantic. Explaining a two-year research project, executive director of audience research Emily Goligoski has outlined five things current, prospective and former subscribers ‘need’ from the magazine:

  • Deeper clarity and context
  • Help discovering new ideas
  • Their assumptions challenged
  • A meaningful break
  • Writers at the top of their craft

Underlining why this insight matters, associate editor Isabel Fattal uses them to deliver a ‘balanced’ editorial product. She says:

The reader needs help me stay intentional in how we’re using our readers’ time.

This idea is echoed in Wan-Ifra’s report, “Understanding your audiences in a deeper way”. Audience insight is highlighted as a key weapon in the ‘battle for the scarce time and attention’ with success coming from publishing news and information that makes a difference to people’s lives where they live:

Publishers can’t do that by serving general content for the general public.

How to capture audience insights

The team at the Atlantic uses a range of qualitative methods from one-to-one in-depth interviews, small group conversations, surveys and usability tests. They target current, prospective and lapsed subscribers with questions designed to discover what makes The Atlantic’s content unique, worth sharing and paying for.

This direct research is complemented with ‘self-reported’ information collected from data science, audience, and customer care teams across the business. The team is also interested in the opinions of people that are not the title’s biggest fans, from those that spend time infrequently to some that strongly disagree with the title’s take on major issues. From these people it is possible to learn why people seek out The Atlantic and what they get out of the limited time they spend with the brand.

Wan-Ifra’s ‘Understanding audiences’ report recommends that publishers start by identifying the audiences they want to engage and developing an understanding of their problems and experiences. From there it is possible to determine whether the resources are available to serve the group and if it is journalistically and financially sustainable.

Using  audience insights

The report spotlights Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, a German print daily with an online news presence. Iy doubled its digital subscribers over 12 months by focusing on three specific audience segments: teachers, home buyers and foodies. Audience & analytics manager Sophie Rohringe explains that the title stopped looking at readers as one anonymous group.

Instead it started to listen to the interests of specific segments and to provide them with the content they needed in their daily lives. She said:

We built editorial teams for specific audiences. We addressed them with different products.

The Atlantic’s Goligoski is a strong believer in the power of audience insights, but she also points out that audience research is not always the answer and wants publishers to have realistic expectations.

She says, for example, that audience research is not a good way to solve blocks in cross-departmental decision making, or when publishers have no intention of acting on the findings or are just looking for positive feedback to justify past decisions.

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