Online news organizations have had a rough go of swaying audience behavior. First you had to get them to click. Then you had to convince them to stay. Now you have to keep them coming back. And with any luck, they’ll tell you who they are while they hang out. But the question that needs to be answered to get them past any of these thresholds is: Why should they?
The biggest barrier in converting anonymous users to known community members isn’t a reluctance to hand over data. Because despite waning trust in Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018, social media platform still counted 1.93 billion daily active users in its third quarter of 2021. Elsewhere, a study conducted by data privacy company Entrust shows that almost 64% of consumers are quite willing to let companies know who they are if they feel they’re going to get “relevant, personalized, and convenient services” out of it.
There’s the rub: relevance, personalization, and convenience. Relevance can cut both ways. It can be about the content you produce, but it’s also about the interactive environment you create and how essential it is for your user base to get the most out of your platform. Personalization can be a provision for registration. (If you sign up, we’ll make sure you only see the things that interest you.) Convenience is about having fewer hoops to jump through to get to the things you’re interested in. All three are experiential conditions.
So, what does it look like to provide an experience that leads to registrations? First, tackle convenience with a simple sign-up process. Then, start hosting engaging, community-led features on your owned platform that make sense not just for the content you produce, but for the types of interactions people want to have around that content.
A perfect example is The Independent, the national U.K. publication that went fully digital in 2016. It implemented different engagement solutions, including live blogs for breaking news, live AMA series on current events, and automated comment moderation. One popular AMA series is hosted by travel correspondent Simon Calder, who answers questions about ever-changing travel restrictions due to Covid-19. Part of a recent strategy was to make the UI of their engagement solutions simpler for users.
Otherwise, users who want to participate in any discussion on The Independent’s platform have to sign up, and boy, have they ever! Over 12 months, The Independent reported a 100% increase in registrations, with over 2,000 monthly registrations driven just by the comments section. The newspaper attributes 1 million article views from AMA content, and reports 15 times more time spent on the site after a user registers.
Meantime, the Philadelphia Inquirer ushered in Gameday Central in September 2021. Its goal is to create excitement around Philadelphia Eagles games. From the Gameday Central hub on the Inquirer’s website, viewers can watch a live pre-game video that’s also streamed on social media. During a game, users can interact on the Inquirer’s platform with a live blog, polls, comments and pinned comments. Managing editor of sports Michael Huang recently told Digiday that Gameday Central has attracted thousands of users.
It’s not surprising that a major sporting event would attract this much attention. But what’s interesting is that the Inquirer combined several experiences at once to keep users hooked.
Our own research shows that it only takes a few engagement solutions to make your users spend more time on your website, and when they do that, they’re 25.4 times more likely to register. Features like sharebars, email notifications, trending carousels, and personalized newsfeeds generate more page views and considerably increase dwell times. In fact, a user that clicks on a personalized newsfeed profile spends on average 42 minutes more per month on a news website than an anonymous user.
It also can’t be understated just how significant a well moderated comments section can be, because when it’s safe and generates civil discussions, even users who don’t necessarily contribute will spend time reading the comments. When we culled the data from 5 of our media clients, we found that both registered and unregistered users spent an average of over 1.6 million minutes in the comments.
So, you can try to convince your audience verbally that registering is a good idea, or you can incentivize them with a rich experience they won’t want to miss out on. A live blog during a major sporting event, an AMA about a hugely unpopular policy: these are things people are talking about on social media already. What if they were talking about it on your troll-free platform instead?