Lessons from The Independent on the relationship between commenting tools and user registrations

While every media company’s journey toward growth and profitability is unique, a single success story has the power to inspire and educate organizations across the industry. Those kinds of stories are partly why media professionals worldwide gathered at WAN-IFRA’s 2021 Virtual World News Media Congress from November 29 to December 2.

One particular case study stood out at the conference, detailing how an engagement strategy overhaul increased The Independent’s registrations by 100% in 12 months.

The speakers were Philippa Jenkins, head of registered audience at The Independent, and Mark Zohar, Viafoura’s president and COO. Here are a couple of takeaways from their session.

The Independent drove 2,000+ website registrations with comments

For any media company, the user registration process is very much transactional. After all, audience members need a good reason to take the time to register and give up their personal information. This give-and-take process is known as a “value exchange.”

However, a paywall, registration wall or newsletter sign-up form isn’t interesting or valuable enough on its own. Jenkins explains that The Independent eventually adopted Viafoura’s digital experience platform as a way to build up its value exchange by offering users a safe space to have quality conversations.

Viafoura’s moderated commenting platform delivered immediate value to The Independent’s users, prompting them to register in return for a positive and interactive online experience. According to Zohar, users respond to moderated commenting tools like Viafoura’s because audiences are social by nature.

“We live in a dialogue society, where we expect to have conversations with each other, and increasingly, people want to have a dialogue with publishers they’re loyal to,” Zohar explains. “They’re really looking for an easy way to leave their opinions on editorial content.”

Generating over 2,000 registrations with Viafoura Conversations, The Independent has proven that publishers can incentivize users to hand over their data.

The Independent's community feed.

Comment-led registrations create a chain reaction of engagement

Commenting spaces, along with other conversation-based experiences, play a critical role in converting anonymous online audiences into known, active consumers who read and interact with comments.

Plus, a small portion of registered users produce user-generated content (UGC), which is essentially free content that publishers can use to propel more audience participation, more UGC and, in turn, more registrations.

“Asking why we should have commenting if only a small part of our audience comment is a lot like saying why have YouTube if only 1% of the population will upload a video,” outlines Zohar. “Commenting creates a cascading effect of engagement to an audience segment that wouldn’t spend as much time on your company’s sites without it.”

By reserving its moderated commenting tools for registered users, Jenkins says that The Independent experienced this explosion of engagement and registrations from users who were interested in becoming part of its community. 

These registered users are also much more likely to become subscribers than anonymous users, since they’re already engaged community members. 

So by embracing moderated comments, The Independent was able to create a healthier value exchange and develop a more profitable business strategy. 

Dig deeper into this success story and find out how The Independent kept its registered users engaged and active here.

How to overcome the most common hurdles of buying a new tech solution


  • 40% of companies that have experienced revenue loss lack the digital technologies needed to keep up with their competitors. 
  • Having budget restrictions, too many platforms or decision-makers to manage, vendor lock-in and the build-versus-buy dilemma all act as hurdles on the road to adopting new solutions. 
  • 50% of executives across industries will invest in technologies that give their enterprises an edge over their competitors and contribute to their digital transformations.
  • On average, companies use 110 different software solutions at a time. 
  • Companies must reduce the complexity of their technology assessment and buying processes to overcome their business problems.

Regardless of your industry, odds are there’s software that can help you address any challenge and boost company-wide results. In fact, every business’s survival has become largely dependent on the technologies they rely on to grow, improve processes and earn revenue.  

But some business leaders are hesitant to adopt new tech solutions, which can negatively affect their bottom lines. According to McKinsey & Company, 40% of organizations that have seen significant revenue loss in the past few years lagged behind their competitors when it came to their use of digital technologies.

That said, buying a new tech solution can spark a wide range of challenges, resulting in organizations delaying the purchasing process and leaving major problems unresolved. 

“If you’re unwilling to use SaaS products to explore ways to improve the value your business delivers, you’re potentially missing out on a lot of learning and growth,” says Dan Seaman, VP of product management at Viafoura. 

So we compiled a list of the main challenges organizations encounter when adopting a new tech solution, and how to overcome them.

Budget restrictions

Having a tight budget can create a major mental barrier for professionals and deter them from buying the technologies they need to resolve recurring business challenges. 

Yet many organization leaders understand the importance of taking on new tech solutions. McKinsey & Company reports that over 50% of business executives are willing to invest in solutions that offer them competitive advantages or can further their digital transformations.

A quick fix:

With so many executives pushing for the adoption of digital tools that can better their companies, you may be able to get some wiggle room in your budget through a convincing business case. The most persuasive ones zero in on the potential value and ROI of the technology in question.

“Some vendors offer revenue-share models that cost zero dollars to use… and split the risk and reward between customer and vendor,” Seaman explains. “This type of model removes the mental barrier of having to get more budget and do ROI calculations.”

Business presentation in front of group of people.

Managing too many platforms

Statista reports that enterprises all over the world rely on an average of 110 different SaaS applications. 

Taking on a complex new tool that will change internal workflows in an environment with dozens of other software solutions can be highly off-putting to an organization’s workforce, and may result in pushback from staff.

A quick fix:

Focus on adopting streamlined, intuitive platforms that prevent teams from getting overwhelmed by its features or from needing extensive training. Tech solutions that offer users a frictionless log-in and authentication experience as well as drag-and-drop front-end tools can also help reduce the overall complexity of a platform.

Too many decision-makers

When assessing a tech solution, every interested stakeholder will have different types of questions and concerns. So if a large number of these decision-makers are involved in the buying process, it can complicate and delay the potential adoption of a solution.

A quick fix:

Alex Lea, a senior account representative at Viafoura, outlines that the easiest way to speed up the buying process with multiple decision-makers is to be upfront about who will be making the purchasing decision. 

“By being forward about the people who are (involved in the buying discussion), vendor representatives can focus on what’s actually going to solve their problems,” Lea says.

Vendor lock-in

Many organizations can become so dependent on a single software vendor that moving to another seems nearly impossible.

A quick fix:

Avoid vendor lock-in by making sure your company will be able to own and access all relevant data from a potential solution in a portable, usable format.

“If everything the vendor does is opaque and is locked in, that’s a risk,” Seaman says. “If you know you can export all of your data to another vendor, that risk is eliminated.”

The build-versus-buy conflict

It can be challenging to decipher whether it’s worthwhile to go the final mile and purchase a tech solution or build one in-house with or without open-source code. Unfortunately, this conflict may stop business leaders from adopting a robust product that will ultimately save them money and time in the long run.

A quick fix:

Even through an open-source solution, creating a tech product in-house requires hidden time and cost investments around infrastructure and support. Plus, open-source software typically doesn’t give organizations access to their data or rich solutions that offer substantial value. 

To find the best path forward for your business, weigh the importance of data ownership and the benefits of building versus buying a solution against the existing resources that you have.

Are you winning the attention war with competitive digital experiences for your audience?


  • Media companies must provide extraordinary digital experiences that compete with Big Tech organizations to win audience attention and revenue. 
  • First-party data can tell organizations how, where and when they can engage audiences on a personalized level; however, only 25% of companies are data-driven. 
  • Interactive and social experiences can add value to publisher properties. 
  • Customers who use Viafoura engagement tools experience up to a 364% boost in time visitors spend on their web pages each week and 248% more page views.
  • 80% of all user registrations happen on pages that have digital engagement tools.
  • Publishers must prioritize engaging users on their own websites and apps over Big Tech platforms to reinforce their direct connections with audiences. 
  • By teaming up with Viafoura, media organizations can deliver memorable digital experiences for audiences in a highly profitable and sustainable manner.

No matter what type of content a publisher produces, every media company is striving for the same goal: to earn human attention. 

But your organization is competing with far more than other media organizations to win the attention of advertisers and subscribers. It’s also up against any other company that serves people outstanding digital experiences, like Netflix, Amazon and social media platforms. 

And the only way to give your organization an edge over its competitors is to provide users with frequent digital experiences that are highly captivating. Without doing so, your media company will lose the attention of potential audiences and advertisers — as well as their associated revenue — to companies that offer better user experiences. 

“Gone are the days where you could simply create a set of content, put up a paywall, wait for people to arrive,” says Edward Roussel, head of digital strategy and development at The Times and The Sunday Times. “You’ve got to work really hard to catch people’s attention.”

Here’s how your media organization can effectively add value to its online community and secure attention, advertisers and subscribers by creating captivating digital experiences.

Follow an engagement blueprint based on first-party data

The most engaging digital experiences for audiences are often built around their unique interests and habits. But guesswork isn’t enough to help you determine what types of experiences will actually resonate with your media company’s users. 

That’s where data comes in. 

By collecting different types of first-party user data and extracting actionable insights, you can inform and strengthen your business’s community engagement plan. This is essential for bolstering registration, subscription, onboarding, customer retention and ad engagement strategies. 

First-party data can give your organization a clear picture of your audience members and their preferences, which can be fed into their experiences around your brand to win their ongoing attention in the future.

“Once we understand who (the customer) persona is, then we can walk through the customer journey to make sure we’ve got the right content, at the right time, on the right channel, to build that relationship between your brand and your target audience,” says Michael Beckerman, Torstar’s chief client officer. 

Unfortunately, the International News Media Association highlights that only 25% of organizations are led by their data. 

Media leaders must start embracing their first-party data now especially as third-party cookies die out — if they hope to power highly personalized, engaging experiences that can transform passive visitors into active, loyal brand advocates

Man reading news on mobile device

Elevate user experiences with interactive opportunities

To earn consumer attention consistently, media companies may want to consider investing in user experiences that involve an interactive component. These interactive or social opportunities — think push notifications, comments, likes, replies and author follows — encourage people to stay interested in content for longer and return to a website or app after leaving. 

In fact, a Viafoura study reveals that digital engagement tools can boost audience interest significantly, resulting in: 

  • A 364% increase in time spent on customer web pages each week
  • A 248% boost in weekly page views
  • Notable user registration growth, with 80% of all registrations taking place on pages that have on-site engagement tools

Since publishers can build visitor habits through subtle, interactive digital tools, the value of their properties can grow over time as these experiences become a part of their audience members’ daily routines. 

“The most successful (subscription programs) are supported by consumer experience strategies that create the stickiness necessary to keep customers hooked, happy and renewing,” shares West Monroe, a consulting firm, in a report on the state of subscription services.

Host engaging digital experiences directly on your website or app

Although it’s crucial to develop interactive experiences to succeed in the media industry, not all engaging spaces across the internet are worth investing in. 

For instance, engaging followers on social media or another third-party platform does not offer your company complete control over its audience, data, content or related revenue. 

Rather than relying on these third-party platforms, media companies need to start hosting engaging experiences directly on their owned and operated websites and apps for greater access to their communities and profits. Otherwise, organizations won’t have the resources they need to understand and consistently attract their audience members.

According to a media reporter at Digiday, “(publishers) are finding the direct access to readers — away from competing social media algorithms — can serve as an honest way to see what readers want most and are adopting their subscription businesses to meet those needs.”

John Witherow, The Times of London’s editor-in-chief, also reports that more than half of consumers don’t remember what news brands publish the stories they read on Big Tech platforms, which threatens the identity of media companies.

Organizations hoping to connect to their audiences with competitive and memorable experiences must, therefore, prioritize digital engagement on their own properties. 

Your media company doesn’t have to build out highly competitive digital experiences on its own, though. By embracing Viafoura’s suite of digital experience tools, your organization can continuously amplify the value of its website or app and strengthen its profitable, long-term relationship with audiences.

The Different Ways You Can Monetize Your Audience

If you take a good look around the media industry, you may notice something social media and other big tech companies are no longer dependable revenue sources. This is the time to break away from mainstream advertising tactics and, instead, begin investing in your own digital properties and audience… before it’s too late.

Ultimately, those who control how users are engaging with their platforms will be most likely to survive in the long run.

Forbes even reports that there’s a “direct and proven correlation between the level of customer engagement and business profitability.”

Profitability starts with consumer engagement. Unfortunately, there are still many media organizations that have yet to tap directly into user engagement-related revenue. Look below for a breakdown of the simple ways you can monetize your engaged audience on your own platform.


Use Conversation Tools

People who read comments represent your most engaged audience. With 10% of a platform’s total attention time originating from comments, it’s easy to understand why live conversation widgets are so valuable to media companies. 

And yet, many media players hold negative perceptions about these types of interactive tools. Individuals tend to see conversation tools as a way to tolerate discussion that’s been riddled by trolls, bots and harassment. But in reality, conversation tools that are properly moderated can be a goldmine for user engagement and, therefore, revenue. 

Conversation tools that use advanced moderation systems also ensure that the quality of discussion between audience members is high. 

Take your conversation tools to the next level by embedding ads between comments. A quick and easy way to boost your company’s earnings is to embed cheap advertisements into these spaces on high-performing content pages.

When we think about monetizing the comment area, it’s a way to isolate your most engaged audience and put ads in front of them,” says Dan Seaman, product director of engagement tools at Viafoura.


Link Engagement Tools to Your Registration System

In addition to hosting live conversations, there’s a whole slew of user engagement tools that can help you maximize and monetize time spent on your digital properties. For instance, you may choose to use content recommendation tools, live chats or real-time blogging tools to keep your users interested in your offerings. 

Once you’ve selected which engagement tools best suit your business’ needs, we highly recommend that they be connected to your member or subscriber registration system. 

Your audience engagement tools and paywall provider should be able to work together to send registration messages to highly engaged users. They should also be able to alert you when a subscriber’s engagement drops and they may be about to churn. 

Implementing separate engagement and registration systems doesn’t mean that consumer dollars will start pouring in. To effectively  monetize your audience, your systems must work together to build engagement and send paywall messages to your most interested consumers when they’re ready to subscribe.

As the CEO of The New York Times puts it: “people don’t want things to be free, they want them to be easy.”


Create Subscription-Only Experiences 

Many media companies like Hearst and Time are planning to run subscriber-only, ‘premium’ experiences to connect with their paying audiences on a deeper level.

“So much of brand-building now is around community,” Thomas Ordahl, the chief strategy officer at a brand consulting company, tells Digiday. “The question is whether you can take all of the equity and then wrap other types of offers and services and benefits around it that become sources of revenue.” 

Whether your company relies on digital subscriber-only events (like an exclusive Q&A with a celebrity) or in-person experiences (like meetups with popular journalists), subscription-based experiences can help convince your consumers to pay. Some companies even reserve their engagement tools for subscribers. 


Collect User Data

First-party user data is the gift that keeps on giving to media companies. Not only does it allow businesses to learn more about audience members and serve them relevant content, it also improves the ability to advertise to users. 

This means that gathering insights on your  audience will make your digital property more appealing to other advertisers. Forget running your own advertisements on social media, where you have little control over your content and revenue.

“First-party data becomes the new currency and advertisers know where to buy the media at scale,” states Amit Kotecha, the marketing director at a publisher data company.

In general, the best way to monetize your audience is to make the most of user interactions on your own digital properties. The more opportunities you can give consumers to engage with your brand, the better.

How Audience Engagement Tools Impact Revenue

Engaged users increase your pageviews, time on site, and ultimately, revenue. But what is an engaged user exactly? Simply put, it’s a website visitor who…

Last updated June 14th, 2018

Engaged users increase your pageviews, time on site, and ultimately, revenue.

But what is an engaged user exactly?

Simply put, it’s a website visitor who is actively involved with or interested in your brand. In a study led by researchers from Google and Yahoo, they categorized user engagement in four ways:

  • Bounce: user did not engage with the article and left within 10 seconds after arriving
  • Shallow engagement: user stays and reads 50% of the article
  • Deep engagement: user reads more that 50% of the article (means he had to scroll down which indicates commitment)
  • Complete engagement: user posts a comments or a reply on the article

We would define an “engaged user” as anyone who likes, dislikes, shares content or comments, posts a comment, replies to a comment, or follows content/authors/other users. The more actions they complete, the higher their engagement.

It’s also important to note that some actions are “worth” more, or signify higher engagement. For example, a user who posts a comment is more engaged than someone who simply likes content, because they are taking more time to provide a personal opinion. A user who follows an author, story, comment or other user is more engaged than someone who shares an article because they are proactively choosing to be informed and updated in real time, showing significant interest.

So how do you engage your users or encourage them to perform these actions?

Audience engagement tools increase social interactions

Audience engagement tools give users more opportunities to engage with your brand and other community members, much like social media.

Media brands and publishers using these types of tools can expect to see significant increases in comments, replies and likes. One such brand, Graham Media Group, saw the following results after implementing engagement tools across seven of their news sites:

Increase in total comments & replies
increase in total interactions
Increase in commentper user
Increase in repliesper user

We also found that users who visited pages with engagement tools produced a 248% lift in weekly pageviews per user and a 364% lift in time-spent on site per week.

Total Weekly Pageviews
Per User
Total Weekly Attention Time
Per User
Did not view engagement tools 2.07 4.07 minutes
Viewed engagement tools 7.20 18.80 minutes

*From analyzing the data across 600+ media organizations

Additionally, across our network of 600 media brands, 80% of all user registrations occurred on pages with engagement tools. And users who register generate 5x more return visits per week compared to non-registered users.

Now we come to the final question: how do these KPIs impact revenue?

Increased ad revenue

Research from data scientists confirms that not only do pageviews per visit increase ad revenue, but so does session time per user, as depicted in the graphs below. It’s also evident that getting users beyond the first few pageviews or seconds offers exponential revenue potential.

You’ll notice that session time has a surprisingly similar positive correlation with revenue as pageviews. Increased attention time means that there is more time for the ads to load on the page, and there is also a greater chance that a user will see an ad and potentially click on it.

Increased subscription revenue

Researchers Zalmanson and Oestreicher-Singer found that a user’s willingness to pay for premium services is more strongly associated with their online social activity than their content consumption.

In other words, users who engage more with other community members and with content are likelier to subscribe. In order to raise engagement levels, Zalmanson and Oestreicher-Singer suggest content producers should invest in a platform that provides the social engagement tools necessary to encourage active participation.

Doing so can increase subscriptions significantly, as witnessed by a New England media company that saw digital subscriptions jumped by 410% over three years after implementing automated audience engagement and targeting tools. Additionally, by displaying relevant content to anonymous visitors, they were able to increase the number of registered users by 9%.

Interestingly, Zalmanson and Oestreicher-Singer also found that users are more likely to subscribe if they have connections with other subscribers. The more subscriber friends that users have, the likelier they are to pay for premium services. This is likely due to the psychological phenomenon of social proof or social influence, where people mimic the actions of others because they assume it’s the “correct” behavior. Knowing this, publishers may want to consider how they can highlight their subscribed users so that their followers or friends are aware of their purchase decision.


If you have the right audience engagement tools in place, your audience will return to your website organically and regularly. It’s also less expensive to encourage your current website visitors to engage than it is to purchase new eyeballs on an ongoing basis. Not only will you save on marketing and advertising costs, but you’ll also increase your pageviews, attention time, online interactions and – most importantly – your advertising and subscription revenues.

Interested in learning more?

Connect with us today to learn how Viafoura can help you build, manage and monetize your audience.

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