It’s no secret that media properties—newspapers, in particular—are facing disruptive challenges today. These include the physical cost of newsprint, the explosion of the Internet for information consumption, falling revenues from classified advertising, the loss of print advertising to the web, and general uncertainty of the future of print. This impact has been significant in the U.S. and Europe with ad revenues down 30 percent and job cuts and wage freezes being the norm for the past few years.
The most dramatic of these challenges has no doubt been the uncertainty caused by the shift in consumer attention from print to online content. This has required media groups worldwide to investigate and experiment with new business models and content strategies aimed at retaining their audience while finding ways in which to effectively monetize their content assets.
With consumers expecting content to be accessible across a myriad of devices (smartphones, the iPad, laptops, etc.) it’s vital for media businesses to engage their customers as individuals across all touchpoints. They must also support the demand of both corporate and user-generated digital content in growing communities – faster, efficiently, and more consistently.
Today’s news properties compete aggressively online for the attention of consumers and are compelled to move beyond their traditional news delivery capabilities to support this rapid transition to online content consumption and communication. News outlets are now required to offer a trustworthy engaging community-driven experience with the delivery of personalized content, offers and promotions, in order to increase readership and create new revenue opportunities. Some of the methods being deployed on international media sites are stretching the boundaries of traditional news delivery and providing examples of how to accomplish this. These include:
- Involve your community – The Straits Times, part of the Singapore Holdings media group, created a user-oriented project called STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print) that integrates print, online and mobile content to engage its readers. Although access to the STOMP website is free, charges apply for users who submit news content, photos, tips and video clips to the paper using SMS or MMS messages. By creating a two-way dialog with their audience, the paper is able to access their audience directly and gain a better understanding of their interests and preferences. This in turn enables targeted advertising and influences future editorial content.
- Add Facebook Applications – By extending their reach beyond a traditional Facebook fan page, organizations are adding locally-based applications that can increase readership and ad dollars. Bild.de, the largest newspaper in Germany, delivers content from local soccer clubs to German soccer fans across the country through their Facebook application. This more personalized interaction not only improves the reader experience, but makes it easier to serve more targeted ads and product offerings.
- Consider iPhone Apps – More consumers are accessing their news on mobile devices, and with the release of the iPad, net-based readers won’t be far behind. Mobile content is not only for large news conglomerates like Reuters or the New York Times; local news outlets can reach a broader (and often younger!) audience through their mobile phones. Apple has demonstrated that low priced applications are easy for users to stomach and when sold in high volumes can generate large revenues for content providers.
- Tailor Campaigns to Specific Users – Bild recently ran a video campaign that encouraged readers to upload their video news coverage to the site. In tandem, they ran an online sales promotion for video cameras with a camera manufacturer. As a result Bild generated both revenue from the camera sales and attracted new readers with engaging, “sticky” user-generated content.
- Extend Your Brand – Bild has its own ecommerce “shop” where users can buy anything from barbeques to mobile phones to coffee makers. By featuring a “product of the day” the site increases product sales and profits. In addition to offering name brand products that show up in internet product searches, they also offer “Bild” branded products for sale, such as pre-paid mobile phones.
- Personalize, Personalize, Personalize – It’s been touted since the early days of the web, but seldom implemented effectively. Explicit and implicit knowledge of a customer’s interests can produce targeted content and ads that enhance their experience and increase the effectiveness of ads.
- Increase Reach – Advertising is still a revenue generator. By attracting large numbers of users to the site with content that caters to distinct audiences Bild.de has been able to increase the number of page views from 500 million in 2008 to over 1.6 billion this year, making it the largest newspaper outside of Japan. This strategy to increase the reach of its site and the number of users enables them to optimize their advertising dollars. A similar strategy could be employed regionally by small news properties if they were to merge resources with neighboring communities.
- Bring Back Brand Advertising – Click-based online ad revenue models have failed to deliver what news sites need to keep afloat. Why not bring back ad pages that have specific promotions on your website? Bild provides advertisers with the option to have their own dedicated pages to sell products that range from vitamins to an “on-the-go” breakfast at a German gas and convenience store. As with dedicated print pages advertisers can then charge a higher premium than for banner ads.
- Keep ‘Em Coming Back – Attracting users without securing their regular visits undermines consistent revenue generation and growth. Communities tailored to specific audiences—soccer fans or online daters or citizen journalists—help keep users coming back. The Straits Times, for example recently held its Singapore Citizen Journalism Awards geared toward recognizing the work of its amateur contributors. This contest allowed the publisher to interact more closely with the readers, recognize them publically, and created a forum in they could engage with each other.
Quality content – served locally – has always been the bailiwick of newspapers. Although the digital era is expanding the nature and type of content and the devices that it’s delivered on, the need to engage a community remains constant. By creatively exploring the content you provide, the touchpoints you deliver it to, and the ways you monetize it, readers will continue to turn to papers as the voices of their communities.