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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Predict and respond to audience behaviors with confidence

July 22, 2022 | By Mark Zohar, President & COO – Viafoura @viafoura

As much as your media organization values its audience, you might find their online behavior wildly unpredictable. 

Whether your readers are active on your website only to become randomly inactive or subscribe and unsubscribe at a moment’s notice, it’s essential that you get to the bottom of your audience’s expectations, needs and actions. After all, there’s an abundance of other online services and media organizations competing for your audience’s attention. 

“[For] local media companies to survive and thrive into the future, they must deliver beyond what they traditionally have offered,” John Newby, a business strategist, shares with Editor & Publisher. “[They] must understand their most significant threat — that of their reader’s limited time.”

To consistently earn your readers’ time and loyalty, you’ll have to successfully predict what kinds of digital experiences will captivate them. And while this may seem like an impossible task, there are actually a few easy ways your organization can predict and respond to audience behaviors:

Pay attention to audience engagement signals

Every action — or inaction — your audience members make on your brand’s website or app is crucial information that can help you foresee their next actions before they ever make them. 

For example, actions as simple as liking a content topic or interacting with other commenters can indicate that your users are highly engaged and ready to subscribe. On the other hand, declining interactions can also reveal that a user is about to unsubscribe or stop visiting your website altogether. 

All of this information can be collected as first-party data through your digital engagement tools. They can then be fed into a user re-engagement or subscription strategy to target readers with paywall messages, subscription discounts and content promotions as needed.

“When we look at data as tools to predict [behavior] we have the opportunity to intercept an undesired action, or multiply the effect and impulse actions aligned with our goals,” Stephanie Lievano, a subscriptions expert, tells the International News Media Association. 

The attention span of humans is also dropping worldwide. A Microsoft study reports that the average person’s attention span has fallen from 12 to eight seconds. 

This means that it’s important to watch out for drops in user attention, visit frequency and engagement actions. If and when alarming engagement signals do come up, taking data-driven steps to keep audience members hooked on your digital properties can prevent them from losing interest in your brand.

Identify behavior patterns from groups of people with similar interests

From solidifying strong relationships with readers to growing registrations and loyalty, success in the media industry often starts with data. By going beyond third-party data in particular, your company can draw consented information around the thoughts, likes and dislikes of its registered users. You can then look to this information for actionable insights into the behaviors and interests of your organization’s unknown audience. 

More specifically, when a group of known audience members follow a particular pattern of likes and interests, your organization can form a lookalike audience made up of anonymous users with similar characteristics. You can then target this lookalike audience with relevant ads, content, and registration prompts based on the insights drawn from your known audience.

Ultimately, the more you learn about your registered users, the better you can match their behaviors to unknown audience members so you can appeal to their interests and habits.

However, an average of 99.6% of unsubscribed audiences are anonymous on publisher properties online. Therefore, forming groups of anonymous users that mirror known audiences can improve your company’s overall business results.

Moderate evolving language to keep audiences protected

It’s no secret that online social experiences help to build connected and loyal audiences for publishers. Yet, allowing toxic comments to exist on your website can push people and advertisers away. 

For this reason, your media company must do everything in its power to keep toxicity off of its digital properties. And that means stopping people from posting offensive comments before they can ever hit that publish button.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. 

Betty Birner, a professional linguist, explains that “language is always changing, evolving and adapting to the needs of its users.” So how can publishers moderate toxic comments on their pages confidently when users are constantly developing new words and phrases?

Media organizations can stay ahead of trolls by taking on a moderation system powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that learns as language evolves. That way, companies can stop toxic language from offending users and damaging the reputation of their brands.

Viafoura data highlights that good-quality, troll-free conversation increases audience engagement, leading to 35% more comments and 62% more likes per user.

The bottom line is that an effective moderation system can give you greater insight into how to keep your community healthy and active before destructive, trolling behavior can take root. 

Why foresight is critical to the media industry

If your business strategies are only focused on responding to past audience behaviors, it may be too late to captivate your users or prevent churn. To keep your audience happy, hooked on your content and loyal, you’ll need to accurately predict their future behaviors before they ever come to fruition. 

That said, staying ahead of your audience’s changing habits and interests will give your company the opportunity to serve readers better — and forge stronger, lasting relationships with them. 

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