13 questions every publisher should ask a potential tech partner

Choosing a new technological service provider is no easy feat for any employee in the media industry. From third-party tools that extend the reach of your content to tools that offer state-of-the-art analytics, there are countless forms of helpful technology that could, theoretically, help your company grow in revenue and success.

“Though direct ROI is an important consideration, there are a lot of activities that are crucial to the health of a media organization that may not be direct revenue drivers, but that generate value that indirectly yields revenue,” states a recent report by Publishing Executive, a company that provides publishers with industry insights. “Efforts related to content creation, management, and distribution, user experience, and audience engagement deliver value to publishers’ products, if not always immediate revenue.”

With so many potential tech partners to sift through — many of which offer similar tools, with the most minute differences — how can you possibly make a proper decision in the limited amount of time that you can spare?

In Publishing Executive’s new report, data suggests that one of the main challenges publishers face when selecting new technology is that they don’t have enough time or resources to actually go through the product-selection process in depth. The publication suggests that the “solution may be to build more of a structured evaluation process for new tech in order to streamline and accelerate awareness, evaluation, and decision-making.”

To help save you time and guide you down the path to success, we’ve rounded up the key questions you should be asking a potential tech partner before you go ahead and seal the deal.

1. What impact on my business’ ROI will this tool have, and is it easy to measure?

One of the first steps to purchasing software for your company should involve digging into exactly how much you can expect to get out of it. Whether that means 3x the revenue, number of members or any other metric will depend largely on what your business is trying to achieve.

Odds are, a vendor will ask you about your KPIs and reader revenue strategy to find out how they can best answer your question. So if you’re going to meet with a tech vendor, make sure to have a basic understanding of where your business stands, and where it plans to go.

A successful tech partner also needs to be able to provide you with enough data from the tool so that you can accurately measure its profitability. If you don’t have a way to measure their tools’ success, how can you know whether or not your benefiting from it?  

2. What operating systems and devices does the app work on?

It’s 2019, and that means if your platform isn’t completely responsive to suit any device, your users’ experience is going to suffer.

According to Pew Research Center, out of the Earth’s 7.53 billion residents, around 5 billion of them own a smartphone. So before you sign on with any tech partner, ensure their system can be seamlessly integrated with your website, and is friendly to all available operating systems and devices.

After all, the last thing you want to do is turn away all the visitors who choose to access your platform via mobile device.

3. Can you customize the solution to make it look and feel like our brand?

An industry expert on The Drum explains that “consistency is key in building familiarity with your customers, which leads to understanding and trust. Customers will not trust a brand that offers a fragmented brand experience.”

Something as simple as changing the font type and color on any integration or embedded tool so it adheres to your brand’s design guidelines can make a world of difference to your users.  

4. How does your solution increase reader revenue and build a reader’s loyalty, recency and frequency?

We get it, every single software company is just dying to improve your user’s experience, and help push them to subscribe to your publication. But do you have a good understanding of how their tools work and influence the visitor’s journey to subscribe?

Before you jump the gun, be sure to investigate the direct impact any new tech will have on your users’ journey. If your vendor can help you better understand how they can boost your users’ engagement and subscriptions, it might be worth testing out.

5. What resources do I need to bring this product to life?

Think beyond the cost of a product and have the vendor outline exactly what it will take to integrate and implement it on your owned and operated properties.

“Time – not budget —  is #1 obstacle to tech adoption: Publishers are price conscious, but price is not the top concern when making a technology investment,” explains Publishing Executive.

Ensure you have a thorough understanding of what you need to do on your end for the setup process, and how long it will take to implement the tool, from proposal to launch. 

6. How often are you updating your system and do we get the updates for free?

When you sign on with a tech partner, they will most definitely run system updates from time to time so they can improve your experience with their software.

While regular updates shouldn’t be cause for worry, you do want to make sure they have an effective process in place to support you should you run into any issues or bugs. Plus, check to see if the system updates would be applied to your company free of charge or at an additional cost.

Fun fact: Often times, companies will throw a 10% price increase at the time of your contract’s renewal to cover updates. So remember to ask about it ahead of time so there are no surprises along the way.

7. What kinds of support do you offer?

Each software provider will have its own unique support services. At Viafoura, for instance, we offer data analysis services on top of our standard tools to help our partners draw insights from first-party data.

If you require a product and a specific service or guidance, it’s better to kill two birds with one stone by picking a single service provider that can appease all of your product-related needs.

8. How does your business model work?

The best business models of a tech partner are geared towards growing as your organization grows.

These types of vendors are typically able to scale their offerings to your organization’s size.

9. What makes you unique from your competitors?

This one’s an obvious one, but still can’t be stressed enough. The best tech partners know why they’re the best, and should, therefore, be more than able to communicate what sets them apart from everyone else clearly and concisely.

10. How, and in what forms, can data be exported from the system? Who owns the data?

In a publisher’s world, audience data equals revenue. The more data you can pull from your audience, the more conversion-related insights you’ll be able to take away and use to improve your conversion strategy.

Check in with your vendor to determine whether or not they can give you valuable audience data as your community interacts with their tech on a regular basis.

11. Do you provide client references throughout the sales process?

If you’re seriously considering signing with a tech publisher, don’t be afraid to request their client references. Book a short 10 or 15-minute call with their references to discuss what the client’s experience has been like in working with the vendor, and how their business has benefited from their services.

If you feel like a client is no longer interested in the service, it may be a red flag. It’s also a great way to find out any implementation challenges that a vendor may not be completely honest about.

12. What are the different ways you handle moderation?

When it comes to technology that involves user interaction, moderation is a must-have piece of the solution. Without it, you can expect trolls and toxic posts to destroy the quality and safe environment of your platform.

Ask the vendor you’re chatting with about what kind of moderation technology they’re leveraging, if any, to give your users the best experience they can possibly have.

13. How user-friendly are your engagement tools?

There is a direct relationship between your users and your revenue. A better user experience encourages users to return to your platform, interact more with your content and, eventually, subscribe. Which is why any front-end tech tools you invest in need to provide your users with a flawless and intuitive experience.

If you’re short on time, this checklist is a quick way for you to get started in the product-evaluation process. You’re welcome.

Seven Tips That will Help Your Moderation Team Survive a National Election

One of the biggest challenges for publishers during a national election is, without a doubt, keeping conversations around their content civil and preventing misinformation from tarnishing their platforms.

Whether your company plans to run live updates or craft a few blog posts during a significant political event — such as an election in Canada, the U.S. or anywhere else in the world — your moderation team will have their hands full with an extraordinary volume of opinionated comments.

A recent study conducted by the Center for Media Engagement found that moderators who focused on preventing uncivil comments were affected “on a very personal level, leading to emotional exhaustion and less positive work experience.” This means that an effective moderation team needs to protect more than just the domains they’re assigned to monitor — they also need to protect themselves.

And yet, comments are still essential to your brand’s success.

To help your moderation team maintain civility and accuracy on your platform while keeping their cool, it’s important to empower them as much as possible well in advance of an election.

We spoke with Leigh Adams, the product manager of Viafoura’s moderation services, to help arm your moderation team with the best practices and tips to make it through the election period. Adams also holds over 10 years of experience moderating and developing guidelines for news commenting forums. Read on to discover her must-know election survival tips.

1. Predict probable misinformation

Before moderators can begin battling misinformation, they first need to have a clear, consistent understanding of the kinds of misinformation that are likely to come up. Moderators can then brainstorm different types of rumors and topics that should not be spread on the domains they’re protecting.

For example, according to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, you can expect to see misinformation that generates “fear, intolerance and misinformation about immigration across Canada” during the upcoming 2019 election period. 

“Create a shared document that everyone can print featuring keywords or names to watch for within those categories of misinformation you’ve identified,” Adams says.

This will make it easier for moderators to scan through comments and quickly identify problematic statements.

Viafoura’s moderation team also uses a unique search tool that allows moderators to search comments by specific keywords.

“The quicker you can find and shut down those conversations, the better,” she states.

2. Identify your biases

When was the last time you spoke to a human that was truly neutral towards the political landscape? Everyone has their biases, which can influence their day-to-day actions. Not even moderators are immune.

A study from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania found that “users who consistently express minority viewpoints are more likely to be moderated than users who consistently express majority viewpoints.”

To ensure your moderation team isn’t enforcing any political bias unintentionally, each moderator must understand what their own biases look like in order to avoid censoring opposing viewpoints.

3. Don’t be afraid to ban users

In the digital world, the general belief is that the more eyeballs a piece of content can get, the better. The end goal for media executives is typically to gain and engage more site visitors in order to maximize subscriptions; however, visitor quantity isn’t always better than quality.

“Don’t be afraid to ban users,” says Adams. She goes on to explain that “a lot of newspapers are afraid to ban users because they want the audience, but when you allow trolls and other toxic users to take over, you’re actually scaring away more valuable visitors.”

Fewer quality commenters offer more value to brands than many commenters that destroy the safety and trust between an organization and its loyal followers.

4. Leverage user account history as a moderation resource

User account history is an extremely useful resource for moderators. Access to information like past comments posted by users and account registration date can help moderators prevent spam and make decisions on what to do with questionable comments.

Adams explains that “if a user posts a couple hundred comments within a few days, chances are, they aren’t posting valuable comments.”

5. Create a thorough emergency procedure

Make sure your moderation team has thoroughly outlined a procedure for comment-related emergencies.

“Let’s say someone threatens to be an active shooter at your headquarters. How do you deal with that type of threat?” Adams asks.

There are a few crucial questions you can ask your team to help them prepare for these types of threats: 

  • Is there a clear chain of command in an emergency? 
  • When do you alert the police versus the organization you’re protecting?

Adams recommends distinguishing between different types of non-urgent, semi-urgent, general and specific threats, and outlining how moderators should react to each of them. 

6. Keep team communication open

Whether your moderation team prefers Slack, Google Hangouts or any other communication tool, it’s best to have a shared chatroom where they can ask each other questions or flag any important information instantly.

“To ensure sanity and consistency, create a shared space where your team can feel supported enough to ask for help,” Adams suggests. “When someone needs to make a judgment call on a comment, having open communication with the rest of the team is very empowering.”

7. Take Breaks

If you need a break as a moderator, you need to ask for one. Don’t feel like you need to power through the rush of comments until the end of your shift. Maintain visibility over everyone’s workload as well so team members can assist one another when needed. That way, your moderation team will be well-equipped to prevent the volume of comments from getting out of control.

Adams elaborates on how this can be accomplished: “We use a moderation tool that was created in-house, which lets other moderators on the team see one another’s workload. It can also alert others when you’re away from the keyboard so that someone else can take over.”

A moderator’s role can be mentally draining, so if you need a break for the sake of your mental health, you owe it to yourself to take one. After all, you need to protect yourself before you can effectively protect others.

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