5 Ways to Engage With Digitally Empowered News Audiences

5 ways to engage digital audiences

Content isn’t being pushed out into the void anymore.

Until recently, news organizations could afford to economically disengage from their audience, and journalists could set their focus on deadlines.

But, it’s no longer just about the product of journalism, says Jake Batsell, longtime reporter and digital journalism professor at Southern Methodist University.

“I used to take my audience for granted,” he says. “Now, engagement is crucial to journalism’s survival.”

In a recent webinar with Viafoura, Batsell shared his take on media today, his thoughts on the future of engaged journalism, and more from his book.

Here are five ways news organizations are working to engage audiences, providing the framework to use to do a level-set for your publication.

1. Create opportunities for face-to-face engagement

In order to deepen audience loyalty, supplement digital with in-person engagement, says Batsell.

This may be a surprise to some as news experiences increasingly are focused on digital. But, Batsell says there’s a renewed effort by news organizations to get face time with readers.

From scavenger hunts to art walks, satellite newsrooms open to the public and other face-to-face events, the ways to connect are plentiful.

The key though, says Batsell, is to deliver unique experiences that are worth their communities’ time. A successful event brings the community or niche groups together for a purpose, but in a fun way.  The payoffs can amount to trusted relationships between reader and reporter, increased social engagement, and revenue through corporate sponsorships.

See: The Texas Tribune Festival and GeekWire’s ping pong bash

2. Make news a conversation

Rather than just pulling the curtain on your final story products, bolster the relationship with your readers by making them part of the front-end process of news creation.

“Let your audience know you’re working on a project and bring them into the process early,” says Batsell. “Use every digital tool at your disposal.” Not only will you foster communication with your readers that builds trust, they may help you develop a stronger story by providing compelling anecdotes that you otherwise wouldn’t have discovered on your own.

There are a number of different ways to engage, says Batsell, from asking the public to share their story on a specific topic to doubling down on reader comments. But Batsell warns news organizations must have a plan in place for discussion and comment threads – to prevent the equivalent of a graffiti wall.

“Don’t just halfheartedly go through the motions and expect the outcome to be pleasant, civil, or a good reflection of your brand,” he says.

See: ProPublica’s Race Card ProjectNPR’s personal finance Facebook group and FT’s new comment strategy 

3. Serve the passionate vertical

News organizations are empowered like never before to deliver on the needs of niche audiences, says Batsell. This may explain why the niche news trend is taking shape across the US.

Passionate verticals, or niches, can be defined by geography (hyperlocal) or topic – or even the intersection of both (like BBQ in Texas).

With so much news out there, audiences are looking for information specific to their needs. Local publications, in particular, can fill this need in a manner readers can’t experience elsewhere in the news ecosystem.

See:  Dallas Morning News’s SportsDayHS,  POLITICOPro’s subscription service for lobbyists and lawmakers and West Seattle Blog

4. Play with alternative story formats

Encourage your readers to search, explore, and play by providing interactive news experiences. “Build loyal relationships with users that keep them coming back and on the page longer, rather than getting viral one-hit wonders,” Batsell says.

There are two main ways to achieve this – through data-driven journalism and gamifying the news. By taking data sets and presenting them in a way that can easily be explored, readers can determine what’s important to them individually versus a reporter deciding what’s important for all. Through gamification, news organizations can entice and entertain readers in a way that’s fun, but also respects and challenges their intellect.

See: Texas Tribune Schools ExplorerThe Telegraph’s Violin Challenge and The Washington Post’s story tools team

5. Measure and monetize the audience relationship

There is no one-size-fits-all engagement index, says Batsell. But, generally, you have to know where your audience is coming from and going to in order to have an informed understanding of how they are behaving to ultimately guide your decisions.

So whether you’re looking to measure local unique visitors or capture repeat visitors, always be conscious of your audience and the tools and metrics available to your organization, he added. Viafoura, Google Analytics, Chartbeat, and other tools can help you capture and capitalize on audience attention, as well as inform your content.

To improve revenue and innovation, Batsell recommends finding ways to monetize the relationship, too – beyond the standard paywall.

“There’s a lot to track,” he says. “But, approaching journalism from the audience perspective makes the work much more meaningful.”

See: The Guardian’s in-house analytics tool and Slate’s membership club

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Anna Jasinski is manager of audience relations at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter at @annamjasinski or on Snapchat by clicking here from your mobile device. You can also catch her sharing the latest news in journalism and blogging on @BeyondBylines.

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