News media organizations are in a constant state of transformation and reinvention. Whether they drive revenue through ads, memberships, metered access, hard paywalls and everything in between, the most successful news brands all have one thing in common. They recognize that one of the most effective, yet overlooked keys to deepening reader time on site and content consumption — the main indicator of a consumer’s readiness to subscribe — lies in activating reader passions through on-site social interactions.

A recent white paper issued by the Shorenstein Center and Lenfest Institute looked at over 500 U.S. newspaper brands from 2011 to 2018. In the white paper, it was shown that over 57% of newspaper brands have already tightened up their paywalls to offer each reader five free articles or less per month.

Unsustainable business model

Despite this, only news brands above the 80th percentile in this study reported having a “sustainable” digital business. Those reporting a “thriving” business are in even rarer circles, at or above the 90th percentile. In this category, news publishers have their paywalls typically “stopping” more than 6% of their monthly unique visitors to ask them to start paying. 

So what exactly does this mean for the majority of newspaper brands that aren’t in the top-performing ten percent? In simple terms, it indicates that not enough of the online readership is sufficiently engaged by number of articles read in a month to trigger a paywall offer and from there it’s pretty simple math: Fewer readers get stopped, leading to fewer readers subscribing. That contributes to lower than expected subscriber conversion metrics.

How to maximize the stop zone?

So the big question then becomes: “How can we drive more readers into the “stop zone?” Most newsrooms have already been feeling the squeeze of increased demands and declining budgets so the answer to this existential question will also need to keep this challenge in mind.

All of the typical go-to strategies a newsroom can employ, such as hiring more journalists; creating more or longer-form content; augmenting content with related media/infographics or repackaging content in new ways, are all fairly costly to undertake, in both dollars and invested time.

Engage your readers instead

Fortunately, this challenge can be solved by updating other parts of the modern news reader’s experience, which requires little to no additional oversight from the newsroom.

We analyzed the behaviors of over 300 million users who interact with Viafoura tools on more than 600 news platforms worldwide. By looking into this subscription conversion data, we found that when readers are truly ready to start paying for news, they spend inordinate amounts of time reading comments and interacting with other readers. These engaged readers typically spend more time on site and consume more content than any other cohort, and find themselves in the “stop zone” sooner than passive readers.

Given the unprecedented success that major social networks have at capturing audiences and driving revenue, this insight should come as no surprise. It also provides the means for news readers to interact with others who share and sometimes oppose their views in a civil manner. This civil, social experience lets readers feel connected to a broader community of diverse voices and ideas. 

Sticky value exchange

A full-featured community engagement suite has the power to create a “sticky” value exchange among readers and news brands, driving up time spent and loyalty among those readers most ready to pay for access to news.

Other key observations from our internal data include:

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  • Our community engagement suite increases engaged time on site by 32% among those who are most likely to subscribe.
  • News readers who are socially engaged on site drive 25x more pageviews and attention time than those who just read content.

Social interaction taps into a deep-rooted biological human need. The world’s top-performing news brands are social in nature too, leveraging reader engagement tools like: live group chats around the hottest topics, live commenting that automatically kills toxic posts, and ask-an-expert-style experiences to engage their most passionate fans and grow their audiences into loyal communities

For more best practices on creating an effective engagement and to improve subscription conversion strategy, access our free webinar.

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