Fighting for time and attention: A glimpse into The Independent’s successful audience engagement strategy

The Independent has recently experienced quite a lot of success in growing its registered user base and engaging its audience with appealing digital experiences. 

At WAN-IFRA’s Virtual World News Media Congress 2021, The Independent’s head of registered audience, Philippa Jenkins, and Viafoura’s president and COO, Mark Zohar, gave attendees a snapshot of the media company’s audience engagement strategy. Here are some highlights.

Why users spent 15x more time on-site after registering to The Independent

As Jenkins mentioned during the conference, audience engagement sparks greater economic value. The Independent, for example, found that its registered website users spent about 15 times more time on-site than anonymous visitors. This additional time that registered users spend exploring and interacting around the brand offers in-depth information about their preferences, opinions and habits. 

As a result, The Independent has been able to identify where users are engaging the most to target them with more relevant experiences, content and offers. 

But this build-up of engagement and first-party data didn’t happen on its own. To keep registered users from losing interest and encourage them to subscribe, The Independent implemented several Viafoura solutions, including a personalized news feed, browser notifications and a moderated conversations space. 

The personalized feed and notifications showcase where the most active users are on the company’s site and point users to the latest interactions with their comments. Both of these tools established a sense of community for The Independent’s users and produced opportunities for re-engagement. In addition, Viafoura’s digital experience tools offered the media company a way to gather critical first-party data as users interact with one another and consume content. 

Without engagement on your site, you have a passive audience that’s just reading your content — and passive experiences no longer meet the needs of today’s audiences,” says Zohar. “Passive visitors can’t connect with your journalists, they won’t leave their opinions and you can’t get their sentiments or useful engagement data.”

Ultimately, Viafoura’s digital experience solutions allowed The Independent to identify and elevate the most relevant spaces on the site to keep users hooked on its brand.

How 'The Independent' is making the most of its engagement tools

Even with effective personalization and social tools, media organizations must put time and energy into experimenting with ways to draw more attention toward on-site engagement opportunities. After all, there are countless other publishers all battling for your audience’s attention. 

In The Independent’s case, Jenkins outlines how the organization has achieved positive results hosting Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions through Viafoura’s moderated Conversations solution. 

The AMAs give registered users the chance to voice their questions to an expert or journalist around a particular topic, further connecting them to the brand. In fact, there’s a direct correlation between The Independent’s AMAs and the time users spend on-site. These sessions alone earned the publisher one million views on content related to these events.

Zohar also highlights that registered comment readers and writers generate 46 times more page views and spend 168 times more time on-site per month compared to anonymous visitors.

Jenkins explains that the commenting experience can become much richer during an AMA event because users get direct attention from the community host in return for their engagement. 

“For journalists, AMAs are a great way to establish a following that will engage directly with them,” Zohar says. 

In today’s highly competitive media industry, audience attention, revenue and loyalty all start with engagement. And it’s up to publishers to develop an effective strategy with the right tools and user experiences to consistently earn their audience’s attention.

Become a Subscription-Building Powerhouse: Creating Value for Your Community


  • To improve customer acquisition and subscriber retention, media organizations need to provide community members with value exchanges centered around their needs. 
  • Viafoura data highlights how customers can boost retention rates by 20-40% for users who interact with social tools over a six-month period.
  • 64% of consumers are interested in exchanging their information for personalized services.
  • Over half of audiences become dissatisfied if they need to subscribe to more than one service to access content. 
  • Social spaces, personalized news feeds, interactive Q&As/AMAs, live blogs, solutions journalism, featuring diverse voices in content, interactive online events and a single sign-on solution can all build value for media communities. 
  • Viafoura delivers engagement and personalization tools that help media organizations win over their audience’s attention, data and loyalty.

As all successful media companies know, a digital visitor isn’t going to return to a website or app unless it’s worth their time, energy and potentially even money. Publishers must, therefore, go out of their way to create value for digital visitors in exchange for their loyalty as dedicated followers. 

Naturally, this value exchange is most effective when products, content and experiences offered by media organizations are made with their audience’s interests and needs in mind.

According to trainers from the Media Development Investment Fund, “[your] audience will immediately [recognize] the value you provide, if all the decisions you make are centered around providing value to your community.”

So if you’re hoping to boost customer acquisition rates and subscriber retention, you’ll need to implement a wide range of actions and strategies that benefit your end users.

You can start injecting value for your digital community directly into your company’s content and experiences through the following tactics:

1. Social spaces

Media companies can add value to their online communities through a wide range of conversation-based widgets, including commenting sections and live chats. These social tools give digital visitors the ability to engage with content and form relationships with like-minded people.

In fact, customers who implement Viafoura’s social tools experience a 20-40% boost in retention six months after users interact with them.

2. Personalized News Feeds

Personalization is essential for any company that wants to win over visitor attention and stand out from its competitors. 

“Improving the interface with personalization… strengthens the audience connection,” explains Rande Price, research director at Digital Content Next. “As the competition for audience grows tighter, it’s necessary to take actions that support developing and maintain a strong relationship with the audience.”

And since 64% of consumers are willing to hand over their information in return for customized services, personalized content feeds are highly appealing to digital visitors.

3. Interactive Q&As/AMAs

By hosting live Q&As and AMAs, media organizations allow digital community members to have their burning questions answered.

These chat-based activities can also be used to generate audience excitement around major milestone events and connect visitors with trusted subject matter experts.

4. Live Blogs

Live blogs have been exploding in popularity amid the pandemic, civil unrest, presidential election and other critical emergencies.

Acting as a single spot for ongoing, reliable updates, this live publishing format helps visitors view and interact with the latest information in a seamless way. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer even calls its live update format “a conversion monster” as it encourages visitors to return to its site for trusted, easy-to-access content.

5. Solutions Journalism

Every news media organization strives to serve up dependable content. Unfortunately, that on its own isn’t always enough to overcome news fatigue or make a positive impact on audiences. 

Solutions journalism — a method for creating news content that goes beyond a news issue and explores related solutions or next steps — is quickly becoming a widely valued approach to journalism.

You can use solutions journalism to avoid overwhelming audience members with doom and gloom and persuade them to return for unique, in-depth news coverage.

6. Featuring Diverse Perspectives in Content

Audiences value content that represents their opinions, demographics and concerns.

Consider amplifying voices from your organization’s community by powering content with different perspectives and questions from audience members. Promoting racial, cultural and gender diversity within content teams also helps media organizations create content that better reflects their communities.

7. Hosting Interactive Events Online

Any event can theoretically attract audience members through subject matter. But when events are executed online, media companies can integrate an additional interactive component that allows attendees to engage with other people. 

“Given the pandemic and the restrictions, the incentive to join an event and the need for interactivity is more important than ever,” states Nikki Claire, who runs events and client services for Hearst UK.

8. A Single Sign-On Solution

There’s nothing more frustrating than losing the interest of an audience simply because they can’t sign in to tools and experiences easily.

Deloitte reports that 53% of audiences become dissatisfied if they need to subscribe to several services to access content. 

With a single sign-on solution, you can give your business’ digital community complete access to all the tools and content they crave without having to create multiple accounts. 

No matter what your company’s digital community looks like, their attention comes at a cost. Media organizations must meet and exceed the needs of their audiences in return for visitor’s attention, data and money. 

By teaming up with Viafoura, organizations can feed into this value exchange with critical engagement and personalization tools. As a result, customers can successfully transform casual visitors into registered users and loyal subscribers.

What You Can Learn From Your Audience’s Comments

Now that reader revenue is a priority for media organizations, online conversation tools have become critical for growing relationships between digital visitors and brands. 

Discussion-based website tools can thoroughly engage readers, building up reader loyalty and amplifying their willingness to pay for a subscription. Yet, the importance of commenting tools goes beyond visitor engagement — they also offer insight into the state of an online community.

“We [as a media industry realized] we needed to understand the niche of our community to serve them in the way they wanted to be served,” states Anita Zielina, the director of strategic initiatives at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. 

And what better way to learn about your community than from your members’ words and interactions? 

To help you make the most of your commenting tools, we’ve broken down different types of information you can unravel from your community’s conversations:

Important Questions That Need to Be Answered

Your comment section is a precious space for community members to socialize with others and discuss your content. As a result, you can expect to find questions that visitors have posted right on your digital properties in hopes of finding an answer from your staff or a fellow community member.

Questions found within comment sections are highly useful and actionable. Not only can they directly inform media companies when content needs to be clarified, but they can also highlight precisely what answers your community members want you to create content around. 

One publisher, Santa Cruz Local, has even earned support from the public by answering questions its community puts forward about local issues.

Dig deep into your readers’ feedback, comments and interactions to determine what’s on their minds,” reads an article on What’s New In Publishing. “This will help you publish the stories that answer to your audience’s needs.”

By taking a few moments to sift through your community’s comments, you may find that your audience is itching to help you identify gaps in your content coverage.

Topics That Audience Members Are Interested In

Media organizations can also detect what topics visitors are fascinated by through their commenting tools. 

More specifically, the ebb and flow of interest in different topics is often mirrored by the number of recent comments posted. Companies can pay attention to which content pieces have trending conversations centered around them to find the topics that resonate most with their active communities.

In other cases, users will explicitly post about what topics and events they’re curious about. 

Some companies may even wish to use their comment section to ask community members about their interests. 

In fact, an analysis of 20 sustainable news media companies found a significant commonality between the successful organizations. 

James Breiner, an expert on digital journalism and newsroom leadership, explains that “[all 20 of the companies] use two-way communication or interactivity with the public to get story suggestions and news tips, and to do collective investigations.”

Ultimately, each of the sustainable media organizations communicated with their communities to fuel their editorial strategies.

Know Whether or Not Your Trolls Are Under Control

According to a study conducted by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, offensive comments, no matter how many civil posts precede them, can distort how a visitor views a news website. 

Commenting tools are essential for media companies to engage and nurture their audiences, though. This means that media companies must turn to an effective comment moderation solution to handle trolls as quickly as possible to keep their social spaces safe. 

Not sure if your moderation system is doing a good enough job of keeping trolling behavior in check? 

If you look at your comments and notice that good comments are being attacked or overwhelmed by negative comments, your community’s health is being threatened by trolls. After all, a single troll can drown out the majority of positive comments on a page. 

Keep your digital properties protected by ensuring that your moderation system is able to understand and block all forms of incivility specific to your community guidelines, region and language. 

Engaging your audience through social tools will help you form a connected, loyal community. However, there are several other advantages that come with hosting comments on your website or app as well. 

Tap into your community’s words and interactions within their comments to determine how you can improve the online experience around your organization.

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