“Newspaper and magazine operations that still have actual bona fide readers—people who value their publishing brands and return to their content regularly—will find them regardless of platform. Those who have profited from drive-by traffic are toast unless they shift their business models.”

- Peter Houston, opinions @The drum

 

Remember how Dove reminded women that they are beautiful? 

In 2013, the personal care brand carried out a research campaign on its target audience and found that merely 4% of all polled women described themselves as “beautiful”. 

To fix this disappointing statistic, Dove positioned their brand around the tagline - “beauty is for everyone”. But, that wouldn’t have been enough to drive the engagement, right? The brand had to figure out a way to communicate the message to its audience. And, a video series casting random strangers on the road worked pretty well.

Dove rolled out videos that featured an FBI forensic artist, Gil Zamora (had drawn 3000+ criminal portraits), drawing portraits of women as they described themselves. In the next clip, the same FBI artist drew the same women, however this time, strangers gave the description. The difference stunned the women that participated as the two portraits pasted side by side made them realize how harsh their self-assessments were. The second portrait was so much more beautiful than what they helped the artist draw. 

 

Dove real beauty sketches

 

The campaign gained massive traction amongst the news channels, talk shows, and magazines. In the first 12 days of release, the video received over 50 million views and became the third most shared video of 2013. The campaign simply identified the brand’s audience (women), created engaging content and targeted it across multiple channels. A case study by Google revealed that the film got released in 25 languages on 46 Dove YouTube channels. 

The social media stats showed that the target audience genuinely wanted to interact with the brand. The video reached one out of every 10 Facebook users and received thousands of heartwarming comments like “I am in tears” and “this is so cool and inspiring”. The campaign’s hashtags were used in more than 48,000 Instagram posts. 

Want to understand why and how Dove was able to pull off one of the best audience engagement campaigns to date? And how a publisher can own the audience and its loyalty with engagement? Stay tuned and hydrated as there would be a lot to consume.

What is Audience Engagement?

Audience engagement has become a hot topic for the media industry ever since the “frenemies” - Google and Facebook, started impacting their ROI. Yet, marketers are not able to land on common grounds while defining the process. 

According to a study, conducted by Parse.ly, 77% of the 130 digital professionals surveyed considered their audience engagement measuring ways to be average or better. It was a pretty good number for an industry daunted by the frenemies. However, when asked if their company had an agreed upon definition of audience engagement, 54% of respondents denied.

Engagement metrics Parse.lyYou know there lies a problem when publishers are confident about their ways of measuring engagement but aren’t sure of what exactly are they measuring.

So, let’s first try to define and understand the current hierarchy of the website audience (with respect to their commitment to the brand):

  1. Visitor: A visitor is someone that lands on the website and not necessarily has to consume the content. 
  2. Reader: A reader can belong to any of the categories but must consume content on the website/social media/newsletters.
  3. Follower: A follower holds more value than all mentioned above. A follower is a part of your built audience and is believed to trust the brand.
  4. Subscriber: Subscriber opts-in to receive content updates via email or push notifications. Just like a social media follower. The only difference is that a subscriber gives the brand, a direct access to the inbox. Therefore, can be personally reached out and, hence, has more value.
  5. Paid subscriber: Typically the next stage for a subscriber - Trusts the brand enough to pay for the content

Audience: A set of all the content consumers which when consistently engaged starts trusting your brand (enough to pay for the content).

Audience engagement graph

So, what does engaging website audience really mean? Let’s break the term and create a version here itself. 

  • Website audience - a set of users for whom your offering (content, product, services, etc) stands relevant.
  • Engagement - the extent to which you are able to gain attention from these users. 

Definition - For a publisher, audience engagement is the process of regularly involving content consumers so that they may start paying more attention, hence - start trusting the brand.

Not all that land on your website are a part of your audience. All that never visited your website don’t necessarily not belong to your audience. Keeping it plain and simple - you must keep finding ways to engage your website audience. Those that have no clue your brand exists, must be informed. Those that belong to the “fly-by visitor” segment, must be given new reasons to revisit. Those that show up on a regular basis, must be prompted to pay for the premium content. Those that trust you enough to pay for the content, must be kept invested in the brand. 


Flywheel2

 

Why Should Publishers Care About Audience Engagement?

No really, think about it. Why should publishers care? Always in the haste of learning new ad optimization strategies (revenue at stake) or mastering the promotional platforms (traffic at stake) or publishing quality content (brand at stake) or all - why are publishers advised to invest in engaging their audience? 

To Build Loyalty:

Sadly, the internet has slipped in an age where creating premium content is just not enough to own a user’s loyalty. There are so many publishers with premium content. Publishers that are covering the same set of topics and targeting the same set of audience. Publishers that have stepped up their game long ago and have already started to engage their audience.

The probability that a user would give your brand a shot and not those alternatives with better engagements is just too less. The engagement channels are full of noise and publishers can’t simply pave their into user’s attention with their badge of quality content. But a badge along with some audience loyalty stars would surely hit the spot. And owning that kind of loyalty stars requires a mix of - premium content, website audience, and above all, consistent engagement. 

Audience-graph

People we like and frequently engage with start forming a bond with us. Our personalities starts to resonate and interacting with them becomes a part of our habit loop. You need to habituate your audience to open your posts, consume the content and share it. To understand better, picture yourself and your best friend the day you first met. Were you comfortable enough to share the snacks, or better, feelings on that very first day? 

What changed after a few weeks or months of regular interactions? Regular engagements? - You built a bond with that stranger. 

Something similar happens between the brands and their users. Between publishers and their audiences. Visitors build a habit of consuming your content, implementing your ideas, using your solutions. They talk about your amazing insights. They choose you over the peers. They find you even if the channel (walled gardens) abandons you for whatever (performing well) reasons. Because over the engagement period they’ve become loyal.

To Boost Brand’s Credibility:

In a study, conducted by OutBrain, it was found that 94% of people consider “trustworthiness” to be a key factor while determining whether or not they would visit a website again. The same study revealed that 87% of respondents felt “trust” significantly influenced their satisfaction level with that brand and 90% considered “trust” to be a primary reason while recommending a brand.

Engaging with the audience regularly makes them feel valued. It gives them more reasons to visit your website. As per Techipedia, consistent brands are worth 20% more than those with inconsistencies in their messaging. Audience starts investing their most valuable resources - time and emotions, in a brand when engaged consistently. And let’s not forget, humans are wired to trust things they’ve invested their time and emotions in.

To Convert Fly-by Visitors into Paying Subscribers:

According to a study, conducted by Felix Simon and Lucas Graves from Reuters Institute, 69% of the leading newspapers in the US and EU have started using some sort of paywall to restrict the free access to their content in 2019. It was 64.5% in 2017. 

In an era where the number of paid subscriptions have finally started to define the success for 69% of the publications, not engaging the audience becomes a major set back.

To Reduce the Dependence on the Duopoly:

“I hate the algorithm so much. It’s much harder to reach your targeted audience. A year ago, I could’ve posted something and it would’ve gotten like 1,800 views in two hours, and now, it’s like 42 views. “

- An influencer in one of Digiday’s Confession series

Facebook and Google (the Duopoly) have started becoming a roadblock to higher ad revenue for publishers. Their regular algorithm updates, which do not favor publishers most of the times, have made the media publications reconsider trusting the platforms with their audience. Publishers have come to terms with the fact that Facebook is not their friend. It targets the same “audience” and earns from the same source - ads. Being a publisher, you’ll never win the battle on a platform that is owned by a competitor.

Audience engagement gives publishers an opportunity to compete on a level playing field. It helps them build a direct connection with their target audience which reduces the dominance of walled gardens from the picture. By reducing the dependence on the duopoly and shifting the focus to more audience interactions, repeat traffic tends to increase, which (you know…, paid subscriptions!) work really well.

But, the reality has remained harsh. Despite knowing all the above-mentioned benefits, publishers circumvent the “engaging with their audience”. One reason could be time as an investment. Building a reliable audience takes a lot of effort. But, what makes it harsh here isn’t publishers relying too much on the walled gardens but the fact that many still do not realize the importance of owning an audience. That many publishers still do not prioritize their audience over the traffic. 

How to Engage Your Audience? 

Identify - Segment the Audience

Identify-the-audience

  • Collect behavioral information:

To implement the best audience engagement practices, you must learn how visitors engage with your website. Get their behavioral information - check the pages they spent most time reading, categories they explored more than the others, their most engaging hours, their average session duration, etc. Before investing too much in their engagement, it makes sense to learn beforehand if they can be relied upon for coming back. Get the relevant data and segment the visitors accordingly. Segmented audience makes yours and your audience’s life easier while engagement process begins. It helps you identify which content category must be used to target which audience segment by maintaining relevance.

Marketo - why audience engagementSolutions to be used: Google Analytics, Hotjar

  • Create an audience persona:

Just like I said earlier, not every visitor that landed on your website would be a part of your audience. Therefore, the very first step is to filter out irrelevant visitors and define your audience by creating an audience persona.

Solutions to be used: Google Analytics

 

Build - Own the Audience:

Build-and-Own-the-Audience

  • Build Email Subscribers 

For those that think email marketing is dead - According to Statistia, the number of global email users are amounted to be 3.8 billion as per 2018 and is expected to reach 4.4 billion. Marketo revealed 94% of the Americans, 12 years or older, who are active online say they use email regularly. 58% of adults admitted that their email is the first thing they check in the morning. Still, think email marketing doesn’t work - it does!

Get more visitors to sign up on the blog and build a subscriber base for your website. Regular personalized engagement (I repeat, personalized engagement...) via amazing newsletters should be next.

Solutions to be used: MailChimp, SendGrid, SendX

  • Build a push notification subscriber list:

Web push notifications are cracking more than 5X CTR as compared to the conventional banner ads. Haven’t started building one for your website? Then, get on it. It’s simple, free and takes you on a road to compounded returns. Reach out to the solutions providers and kick start building your audience.

Solutions to be used: iZooto

  • Go social:

Social media channels are one of the powerful platforms to build a connection with your audience on. Become a part of the groups and trigger active communications. Ask questions and provide solutions. Although you can not own the audience here, engaging with them can convince them to give your brand a shot. Post videos, stories, snaps, etc. and leave an impact by conducting and participating in surveys as this will help in guiding the audience to your website.

Solutions to be used: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, Reddit, etc. and the list is never-ending.

  • Segment the Built Audience:

Guess what? You just crossed the first milestone... \m/ Now is the time to segment this audience. Open up the list of built audience and start bifurcating it as per content categories, demographics, platforms, etc. Segmenting your audience is a crucial step of the “building” process as it directly impacts the engagement efficiency.

Solutions to be used: Lotame, Salesforce DMP, Oracle DMP (Data Management Platforms)

 

Engage - Nurture the interactions:

Engage-Nurture-the-interactions

  • Everyday Interaction is the Key:

It’s not the interactions but being regular at it is where most publishers lack. Organize webinars that target your audience’s core challenges. Send out newsletters. Be as much involved as possible in the comment section of every post. Interact with all. Exchange ideas. Make them feel like they follow someone that cares. Give them a heads up on what’s next that you’re planning for your people. Yes, your people.

Solutions to be used: Gotowebinar, Zoom, Gmail Facebook Live, Linkedin (Events – Social media)

  • Spread the word:

Your audience is scattered all over the internet. And, instead of waiting for them to come find you, stretch those outreach muscles and spread the word. Join forums and engagement channels where your audience might be exploring the other publications. Conduct surveys, get involved in the group discussions, organize small-scale interviews with the audience to find users that would want to connect with your blog.

Solutions to be used: SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

  • Celebrate The Followers:

A research conducted by Google revealed that 86% consumers prefer personalized content and experiences and 62% are willing to even pay more for it. Do you realize how important is that slight personalization to them? Lesser efforts, compounding returns - built audience. Post their pictures, tag them, celebrate them in front of the entire built community during those events. It builds loyalty. It builds a brand.

Solutions to be used: Facebook, Instagram (Social Media)

  • Do Not Underestimate the Nominations and Challenges:

How overwhelming would it be if your favorite brand nominates you for a social fad? Letting them know that they matter, matters. Set up contests and challenges, and create a buzz around it. Participating and getting acknowledged would build respect and love in the hearts of your followers. They deserve it. Give it to them.

Solutions to be used: Polls.io, ThreeCents (Polls), Shortstack, Rafflecopter, Woobox (Contests)

 

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