May 12, 2016 Last Updated 11:27 am

The business case for community engagement and audience-focused journalism

Guest column: Allison Munro, from the audience development platform Viafoura, says there are good business reasons why media outlets need journalists to engage with their audiences

The days of a reporter writing, filing and forgetting the story are over. Journalists in today’s newsrooms are not only writing and filing their stories, but they are also the ones pushing it out to their timelines, actively finding new audiences and interacting with readers to help guide and research future stories.

This new form of journalism only exists because of the two-way dialogue of the internet and how it has changed the world that the media operates in. Media outlets need journalists to engage with audiences because research shows it has a positive impact on the news outlet’s bottom-line.


Allison Munro, Viafoura

There is a definitive correlation between user engagement and conversion. As a user becomes increasingly engaged, they are more willing to pay for a digital publisher’s content or services. More importantly, users who are more active in the publisher’s online community make the subscription decision sooner compared with users who are less active (or not active at all).

A recent MIT Sloan Management Review study report, “Turning Content Viewers Into Subscribers,” asserts that engagement is the key to turning casual readers into paying subscribers. Using what the research dubs the “ladder of participation,” publishers can prompt site users to progressively accelerate their onsite engagement to become paying subscribers.

“The concept of a ‘ladder’ demonstrates a user’s decision-making process, which is affected by his or her past experience with the website, and which expresses the user’s wishes and free will. The notion of the ladder is based on the idea that, as users become increasingly engaged with a website, they become more willing to pay for its services — and the website must take an active approach to engage and interact with its users, guiding them ‘up the ladder,’” says the report, authored by Lior Zalmanson and Gal Oestreicher-Singer.

But not all engagement is created equal. “Liking” a video may not be as valuable to a publisher as a user who actively comments on content. The report provides a framework for engagement levels with three categories with varying degrees of value:

  1. Content organization requires little effort from the user and helps fellow users receive useful information about the content. These features include the “like” button and options such as ratings (star ratings or a numerical scale), or tagging content with user-suggested keywords.
  2. Community participation includes all features that have the potential to create interactions among users on the website. These include chats, forums, internal blogs, comment options, sharing options, social or interest groups, etc. These features form the basis of a website’s community and require low to moderate efforts from the user.
  3. Community leadership refers to features and options that put users in the driver’s seat. These include options to initiate conversation, create new social groups on site, moderate the site’s discussions, and create content channels. It’s rare for traditional commercial websites to install such features, but they are common on websites that encourage vast community input, as these websites tend to delegate some, if not all, moderating tasks to users.

Knowing the engagement goal that you want to achieve from the list above will help you to then take the following steps to guide users to increase engagement:

Discover: Know your audience. Achieve an in-depth understanding of your audience, as well as what they’re reading, sharing, responding to, and who is actively involved in your community.

Engage: Set goals for engagement. Identify how you need your current community to grow and evolve. Establish engagement KPIs you want to monitor, including attention time, time spent on site and social interactions.

Grow: Establish your engagement ladder. Select participatory features (and order of introduction) based on your community and goals. Connect your KPIs and points of engagement (social interactions, comments, etc.) to the rungs of your ladder. And build a strategy to grow your audience, one that gradually encourages and motivates users to climb your newly built ladder of participation.

Allison Munro is Head of Marketing at Viafoura, a Toronto based SaaS company that empowers more than 600 media brands to discover, engage, and grow their audience through a robust set of engagement, analytics, and user experience management tools.

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