After Facebook’s News Ban in Australia, Media Organizations Must Start Owning Their Audiences

In what was perhaps one of Facebook’s most aggressive moves so far, the social media giant last week blocked all news content and links from its platform in Australia. All news pages, and even some government pages, were wiped clean and news organizations were unable to deliver critical information to millions of Facebook’s users. 

Facebook’s decision to ban news came after Australia’s government proposed to make big tech giants legally obligated to pay news companies for the content they host.

And while there has been some reconciliation between Facebook and the Australian government resulting in the recent restoration of news content, there’s a greater issue at hand: Big tech giants could abandon countries at any time, without any notice. 

In fact, a similar event happened back in 2014, when Google closed its news aggregation services in Spain

If there’s one takeaway we can learn from this issue, it’s that news media companies need to stop relying on big tech platforms to engage their audience and start building thriving, digital communities of their own. If they don’t, they risk losing the bulk of their traffic overnight.

The Dangers of Not Owning Your Audience

By allowing a third-party platform, like Facebook, to act as a middleman between your brand and its followers, you have no direct ownership over your audience. This scenario creates several challenges for your company.

First off, if you don’t own your audience members, you have limited access to their data. Having access to this first-party data will be the single most important thing for media brands in the coming months and years. Not to mention you can’t prevent your content from showing up near misinformation or falling prey to trolls on other platforms — and that can significantly damage your brand’s reputation.

Don't outsource traffic to social media

Meanwhile, you’re at the unpredictable whims and algorithms of a third party, which can disconnect you from your audience in the blink of an eye. That was certainly the case for Australian media companies when Facebook wiped news from its platform without hesitation.

Web traffic to Australian news sites began to drop significantly just hours after the ban,” reports Business Insider.

Media companies that initially thrived on the platform and had most of their website traffic travel through Facebook can no longer tap into that audience. 

With news making up only 4% of Facebook’s content, it doesn’t make sense for media business leaders to put their trust in a platform that has no loyalty to news companies.

Where Media Organizations Need To Go From Here

There’s no question that news companies need to stop relying on Facebook for growth and revenue. So what can shell-shocked publishers that depended on Facebook for traffic, or other big tech platforms for that matter, do to become self-sufficient?

The answer is surprisingly simple: They need to start rebuilding their communities on their own digital properties, where they have complete ownership over their visitors, their data and their revenue. Organizations that take control of their audiences can also encourage visitors to depend on their digital properties instead of social media for trusted content. 

“The long-term task for news [organizations] and journalists is to convince the public – especially young people – that it’s worthwhile to actively seek out professional news and journalism as part of their daily online lives, rather than simply reading whatever comes across their feed,” states Diana Bossio, a lecturer for media and communications at the Swinburne University of Technology.

If media companies can form strong, direct relationships with their digital community members on their own properties, they’ll be well on their way toward generating sustainable revenue.

Why On-Site Engagement Tools Can Help Media Companies Reclaim Their Independence

Between 2019 and 2020, consumers worldwide spent an average of 145 minutes on social media each day being, well, social. 

And this isn’t surprising: Engaging social experiences encourage people to connect and participate in ongoing digital conversations. But that doesn’t mean you need to rely on social media to engage your audiences socially.  

To encourage loyal audiences to form a direct path to your website or app, you can adopt moderated social engagement tools right on your digital properties. From built-in conversation and live chat widgets to live blog tools and personalized social feeds, there are several ways media organizations can embed social experiences into their websites or apps. 

Viafoura data reveals how social engagement tools help media companies activate and retain their audiences. Not only do engagement tools drive between 30% and 50% of all user registrations on Viafoura’s customer sites, but engaged users spend three times longer on media websites compared to unengaged users as well.

audience engagement tools increase ROI

With the help of Viafoura’s audience engagement solution, media organizations even saw up to a 50% retention rate for engaged users after two months of visiting a site.

audience engagement increases ROI

Conversation-based tools give users the addictive experiences of social platforms without sacrificing any of your company’s data, revenue or reputation to a third party. 

Facebook’s ban on news in Australia had countless media organizations feeling betrayed and abandoned by the tech giant. And just as this wasn’t the first time a big tech company trampled over media organizations, it certainly won’t be the last. 

By investing in building communities on your owned and operated digital properties, you can help your media company rise above the whims of tech giants and take control of your most valuable asset — your audience.

Warning Signs That Your Audience Isn’t Reaching Its Full Revenue-Generating Potential

With the proper engagement and retention strategies in place, your audience has the power to sustain your media company financially. 

“Consumer revenue streams, including digital subscriptions and ticketed live events, are increasingly important to news organizations as reliance on traditional advertising revenues continues to decrease,” explains Angelica Irizarry, the Inquirer’s director of events.

There’s a clear connection between active audiences and elevated revenue. However, not all media organizations are tapping into the full value of their digital communities.

Keep your eyes open for the following warning signs, which indicate that your media company may be losing out on potential revenue from its community.

High Churn Rates

Your existing subscribers are often more valuable than new subscribers. 

“It can cost five times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing one,” reads an article on Forbes. 

In other words, having high churn in your digital community can translate to significant revenue loss for media companies. 

So if your company has an unusually high churn rate, you may want to consider reinforcing your retention strategy. 

Work with your engagement tool and paywall providers to identify unengaged community members that may be about to churn, and then send them unique offers and discounts to re-engage them. That way, you’ll maximize the revenue your existing customers are funneling into your organization.

High Amounts of Toxicity in the Comments

If you notice a climbing number of user-generated posts getting disabled by your moderation system, odds are, your digital social spaces are infested with trolls or spam.

Allowing offensive comments to overtake the meaningful, productive conversations within your digital properties can scare away advertisers and community members. And that means less revenue for your company in the long run.

“You can protect your social spaces by keeping your community guidelines up to date and ensuring your moderation system can properly enforce them,” says Leigh Adams, director of moderation services at Viafoura. “To discourage trolling behavior, moderators and editors can also highlight and reward positive behavior whenever possible.”

Your Most Engaged Audience Is Coming From Social Media

We’re well aware that social media holds millions of active users and advertising opportunities for brands. But this comes at the cost of precious first-party data, direct relationships with audience members, trust and, ultimately, complete revenue ownership. 

Having social media at the center of your community engagement strategy jeopardizes your company’s control over audience members and over any of the revenue earned from them.

Instead of giving a portion of your profits to big tech companies, there’s a better alternative for media companies: to invest in their own properties. 

That’s what led one media to build a brand-new podcasting app rather than relying on a third-party podcast streamer. 

“We needed it to be an experience that we control so we built apps to do this and the experience of doing the discovery, the experience of convenience, the experience of actually being in the Zetland universe when you listen to it, I think it’s quite important,” states Zetland CEO Tav Klitgaard. 

Companies can even replicate the social experiences offered by social media directly on their own properties with the help of audience development companies like Viafoura, to keep visitors on their sites and interacting for longer.

Engagement Spaces Aren’t Being Leveraged for Ads

Integrating audience engagement tools into your website or app can help your organization activate interest and conversation around your brand. However, some media companies don’t realize that there’s a significant amount of advertising revenue that can be earned from audiences through these tools.

By failing to run advertisements in these social spaces, you’re missing out on the opportunity to maximize engagement around your ads. Organizations can instead become more successful by advertising to highly engaged community members. 

“Today advertising value is measured by engagement so if publishers want to improve their ad offering, they must devise a successful engagement strategy first,” says Chris Waiting, CEO of The Conversation U.K. 

As you work to build, retain and monetize community members, keep your eyes open for warning signs that your company may be losing out on potential profit. Adjusting your business strategies accordingly will help you increase the revenue your organization can earn from its audience. 

Four Things Companies Are Doing to Take Their Subscription Strategies to the Next Level

Earning reader revenue isn’t a simple task in the media industry. Even with a paywall in place, those precious subscriptions won’t start pouring in on their own. Not unless your company has a strong subscription strategy.

So what kinds of subscription-driving tactics can delight visitors and convince them to become dedicated community members?

We see subscribers weighing up personal benefits, such as distinctive content, convenience, and value, with perceived benefits for society,” state the authors of Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020.

This means that companies must cater to the needs and interests of consumers while serving their entire communities to create loyal subscribers.

For those of you who are hoping to strengthen your existing subscription strategy, there are several tactics worth trying out. Let’s look at some of the effective subscription strategies that publishers have recently implemented for some inspiration.

Personalizing the Visitor Experience With Audience Data

Audience data is a powerful tool that media companies can use to enrich their subscription strategies, satisfying the needs and desires of consumers.  

ARA, a Spanish publisher in Barcelona, credits its 3,200 new subscribers largely to its use of first-party audience data. The media company closely assessed its community members to tailor their experiences to their behaviors and content interests.

“We want to know where our audiences are, how they consume, how they read our news and we started to produce more according to these audiences,” says Georgina Ferri Todera, the chief revenue and innovation officer at ARA. “But the first step was knowing more about our audiences.”

The Wall Street Journal has also recognized the need to start collecting audience data to personalize its subscribers’ experience. As a result, subscribers are more likely to have a positive digital experience and remain loyal to the brand.

Communicating Directly With Audiences

If you’re not sure what could make your company’s content and on-site experience more appealing to consumers, you can always turn to your audience for answers. 

TIME, for instance, asked consumers directly about what resources it could provide to help people during the early stages of the pandemic. 

“People told us what they want and we fulfilled it for them,” explains Maya Draisin, SVP of progress marketing at TIME. “And they responded with 1.5 million views.”

In general, your audience is your compass. By following their directions and fulfilling their needs, you can reinforce the value of your company’s content and subscription program.

Opting Out of Big Tech Platforms

For professionals in the digital world, the instinct to promote content across multiple social media and news aggregation channels is only natural. Many people expect to attract greater audiences and more subscribers by promoting content on third-party websites. 

However, this approach can actually be counterproductive to your subscription program. Not only do consumers lack trust in the content on big tech platforms, but your company also loses revenue as well as precious audience data to the host platform. 

The New York Times is one of the latest media companies to recognize the value of creating direct relationships with readers on its own properties. 

After opting out of Apple’s news aggregation platform, the Time’s COO, Meredith Kopit Levien, stated that the company can form a direct path for sending those readers back into our environments, where we control the presentation of our report, the relationships with our readers, and the nature of our business rules.”

Build a direct relationship with readers to, therefore, earn their trust and forge daily habits that lead to long-term subscription growth.

Working Audience Engagement Into the Subscription Plan

While there’s no single right way to use a paywall, some publishers see merit in engaging audiences before revealing a subscription message. 

This process helps consumers feel connected to media companies, and then when they’re active enough online, guides them to become loyal subscribers. 

Slate is one of many publishers that have implemented this strategy. 

“If you want people to join or subscribe, asking them to do it voluntarily is not quite enough,” explains Dan Check, CEO of Slate. 

You can encourage on-site audience engagement through interactive tools and exceptional journalism before and after visitors subscribe to your services.

Go beyond your paywall by strengthening your company’s connection to its audience. 

Whether you choose to replicate these strategies on your digital properties or not, your ability to increase your loyal subscribers all comes down to engaging and understanding consumers. Tie these core actions into your subscription strategy to create and retain a strong community of brand advocates.

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