Publishers Need A New Playbook To Engage Their Audience In 2020

Jun 15, 2020

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Publishers Need A New Playbook To Engage Their Audience In 2020

In a survey conducted by Digiday on 62 publisher executives at a subscription event in the NY City, it was found that converting an audience into paid subscriptions is one of the biggest roadblocks that publishers face with a subscription-based revenue model. Audience ownership has never fit in so well before. 

Digiday_PlusThe visitor’s flywheel that turns your loyal audience into recurring paid subscribers. Publishers need to focus on getting their audience’s permissions to build ownership, understanding that audience by leveraging in-house data, and engaging the audience consistently with quality content to offer a premium audience experience. 

Brand-needs-to-buildRead this Audience Engagement Guide if you want to understand what takes a visitor deeper into the visitor's flywheel.

But, to maximize the visitor’s LTV on the website...

You Need A New Playbook to Engage Better

“The big picture is that Problem #1 (too many publications) and Problem #2 (platform monopolies) have catalyzed together to create Problem #3 (investors realize they were investing in a mirage and don’t want to invest any more)” 

- Josh Marshall, Editor, and Publisher at TPM


I couldn’t agree more with Josh because the thing is that it is our fault. We made the duopoly what it is today. We invested so much in them that there is, no matter how badly we want, no more an easy escape for us. But, knowing that publishers have taken their baby steps already, we soon will.

Through the first nine months of 2019, publisher spending on paid Facebook distribution to support subscriptions was up 150% compared to the same period last year, according to Keywee data. The fact is a strong proof that media companies are shifting their focus from display to subscriptions for the reader’s revenue. But is this subscription-based revenue model here to stay or is it just another fad in an industry long defined by the fads?

reader revenue in 2019

A survey of 163 senior publishing figures revealed that only 35% of publishers believe ads would provide their primary online revenue stream in 2019 whereas 52% vouched for content subscriptions. 

Surveys like this strongly support that subscriptions would be the highlight of publishers’ revenue streams in the near future. But are publishers practicing what would actually get the ball rolling here? Let’s take a brief look at the playbook publishers currently use to engage their audience and what should ideally be their best fit.

Outdated engagement playbook:


New playbook for effective engagement:

New-playbook-for-effective-engagement (1)

It is as weird as going to the prom wearing a tracksuit. As the industry shifts towards subscription-based revenues, publishers need to up their game by engaging users with new engagement playbooks. Using an engagement playbook that worked in 2017 might not be your best shot for engaging users in 2020 or in 2025 when advertising would feel like stretching its wings less wide.


How To Create a Publisher Playbook 

A playbook is a proven engagement process that gets automatically triggered once a pre-specified action takes place. An example of this could be sending out a notification every time a new article goes live on the blog or sending a weekly or a daily digest to your marketing list. Creating an engagement playbook is a four-step process -

Define the Engagement Process

Create a doc and define the entire process at one place. Remember, a playbook is nothing but a cloned and automated process. A well-detailed process would help you mark the strongest and the weakest links of your playbook and therefore, find the most suitable solution for the same. Here’s the checklist that’ll help you define your engagement process:

  1. Define a trigger for the playbook
  2. Define the audience segment that the playbook will target
  3. List the available touch-points/channels
  4. Research and finalize the engagement solutions to be used
  5. Set the desired metrics (Open rates, CTRs, etc)
  6. Set a time frame for the engagement process
  7. Define what happens after a user has performed the desired action

Understand the Audience

To define who the playbook is for, a deep understanding of the targeted audience segment is vital. You might want to consider meeting/getting on calls with a handful of people falling under the audience segment. Here are the steps to achieve it -

  1. Create your brand’s ideal audience persona (content category, engagement hours, demographics, etc)
  2. Find the core challenges of your audience that keeps them from entering the next stage of the flywheel.
  3. Read FAQs by the audience
  4. Ask them to rate the value your content delivers
  5. List your competitors
  6. Understand why your audience prefers you
  7. Understand why it doesn’t 

Create your Content Repository

Alright. So, you know your audience. You have a defined plan in place. Now, you need to put the content together, call it a content library, that will be used while assigning the content for different stages of engagement flywheel. Pointers that’ll help -

  1. Bifurcate and assign assets to each stage of the visitor flywheel
  2. Consider editing and optimizing content for better engagement

Analyze. Measure. Optimize.

You know what they say? What gets measured, gets managed. Exactly what your next step is going to be. Get your team in a room for the feedback and see how the playbook performed. When you have flaws marked, update the playbook for optimum results -

  1. Analyze the market. See if the playbook is being widely used. See if it is not. Ask the reason behind not using it.
  2. Measure the metrics you defined in step 1. See if the results met the target.
  3. Collect feedback from the team and optimize the playbook basis that.

How To Create A Campaign 


Now that you know how to create an engagement playbook. Let's get to the “campaign” you would be using that playbook for. A campaign has a well-defined objective attached to it. The objective is what sort of helps you further define the components of your campaign, which are:

What - Content: 

You created a content repository, remember? Use it to define the kind of content that will be used in the campaign. Don’t forget, personalization is the key here. Use the personalization tokens like brand, content category, etc and trigger emotions that make people click.


Who - Audience Segment:

You have built a deep understanding of your audience while creating a playbook. Pick the segment that you would want to target in this campaign. The audience can be segmented on the basis of:

  1. Demography - Location, Gender, or basically a piece of background information that doesn’t change with time.
  2. Behavior - Actions that the users take on your website would fall under behavioral segmentation. Is this audience segment always leaving the website once being directed to a specific web page? Do they spend more time reading short articles? 
  3. Psychography - Interests of the segmented audience. Do they like sports or is it technology content that they are mostly interested in? Do they like watching video content more than those long reads?

When - Time of the Trigger:

The timing of the trigger might vary from person to person. Pravya left the web page at 07:00 pm. She’ll get a notification at 07.15 pm. But, Neha abandoned the article at 08:00 pm. As the notification follows the time of the trigger, a notification will be sent at 08.15 pm.

The timing of the trigger entirely depends on the preset counter and, obviously, the action that the user takes. The action need not necessarily be browse abandonment (more on the triggers in the next section).

How - Channel:

“How” essentially talks about the channel and the platforms editors use to engage the audience segment. Basis the objective, the engagement period and your pocket, the “how” of your engagement playbook might change up to a certain extent. So, special attention while selecting the engagement channel is always recommended. Here are the most widely used and publisher recommended channels for audience engagement:

  • Push notifications
  • Emails
  • Chats


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Neha Tanwer
Neha Tanwer
Neha is a Product Marketer @iZooto who works with a single focus of helping publishers grow faster and better. Coming from the lap of Himalayas, she is a theatre artist, who loves dropping gears to travel the mountains. When not in office, she can be found roaming in the streets of Delhi finding next good cafeteria to eat at.

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