October 1, 2015 Last Updated 8:46 am

How publishers are leveraging emerging platforms to engage new audiences

Guest column: Lindsey Loving, communications manager for the Newspaper Association of America, discusses some of the efforts newspapers are making to grow their audiences by leveraging new technologies

Today’s fast-paced, 24/7 news cycle requires new strategies to break through the noise and engage readers. For many publishers, this means venturing outside of their own platforms for the first time, leveraging new technologies to create unique social and mobile touch points with readers.

While it is too early to determine ROI in hard numbers, an analysis of how various publications utilize the emerging platforms indicates the success of this strategy to grow awareness, audience and engagement.

A recent Pew Research Center study found 63 percent of Facebook users utilize the social media channel for news. Publishers like The New York Times, National Geographic and BuzzFeed have recently tested the new Facebook Instant Articles, which promises to introduce new interactive features to newspaper articles, like auto-play video, interactive maps and embedded audio captions. Publishers currently using Instant Articles have complete control over the content and can sell ads in the articles, keeping 100 percent of the revenue; however, the platform is still in the testing phase.

Several publishers also jumped to partner with Snapchat on its Discover platform earlier this year, where viewers can swipe through stories from publishers like The Daily Mail and CNN and browse content that ranges from traditional news stories to short videos to listicles. News outlets are also finding Snapchat to be a useful tool during live events – for example, Philly.com utilized the app during the Wing Bowl to give viewers a firsthand experience. The fact that Snapchat users must deliberately choose to view the content – it is not delivered automatically – holds real value for publishers. Delivering relevant and appealing content to users that caters to their specific needs and interests can significantly increase both awareness and brand loyalty, as compelling content will keep people coming back for more.

Live video content can also serve as a way to bring captivating content to consumers. A poll by Horizon Media’s WHY Group found one of the top factors driving interest in live-streaming apps is that they provide a new way to see what’s going on in the world. Twitter’s live-streaming app Periscope gives journalists an edge over traditional broadcast media and has great potential to build trust and increase engagement. For example, during the riots following the death of a Baltimore man in April, a Washington correspondent for The Guardian used Periscope to capture live reactions of local residents, giving audiences personal, authentic content without bias. It is important, however, for publishers to promote the use of Periscope, as people mainly use the app when prompted.

The benefits of new platforms for reaching new audiences are clear, but there are trade-offs to having widespread exposure

For an even more personalized news experience, The New York Times recently experimented with WhatsApp to deliver updates on Pope Francis’ visit to South America. The Times announced the experiment and interested readers subscribed to the updates. The messaging app provided the paper an opportunity to deliver specialized content to an interested audience. This personalized news delivery made subscribers feel special, elevating the brand and the way its consumers felt about it.

The benefits of new platforms for reaching new audiences are clear, but there are trade-offs to having widespread exposure. Publishers may have to cede some or all control of the environment, from how an article looks, to where it is placed to who sees it. Publishing to these platforms may also require a shift in perspective; the content must be compelling and make sense for the platform and audience. This may mean recasting stories to adapt to a different tone or format.

Many are still learning the rules of engagement for emerging platforms, sometimes through trial and error. For example, a broadcaster for FoxSportsAsia and Sports Illustrated had her PGA Tour credentials revoked upon using Periscope to live-stream a pre-PGA tournament practice round, as this use conflicted with the Tour’s broadcasting agreements with TV networks. This illustrates the broader need to understand and anticipate the unique legal and ethical challenges that come with using emerging platforms, to avoid unintended consequences.

Loving-110As outcomes of engaging using emerging platforms have been predominantly positive thus far, publishers can anticipate using these platforms to effectively “borrow” audience from sites and apps that reach millions of people each day, many of whom may never have visited the newspaper’s own website. If the content has the ability to entice, captivate and move people, this “borrowed audience” can evolve into a loyal readership.

Lindsey Loving is communications manager for the Newspaper Association of America

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