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Hold teams accountable for “content plus” strategies

The audience teams you select should start by defining success – that is setting specific traffic, engagement, revenue and/or other goals – then craft ‘content plus’ approaches to succeeding. The content that best serves a target audience differs from traditional newsroom thinking about beats and news coverage.

The audience teams you select should start by defining success – that is setting specific traffic, engagement, revenue and/or other goals – then craft ‘content plus’ approaches to succeeding.

The content that best serves a target audience differs from traditional newsroom thinking about beats and news coverage in several ways:

  • It is first, foremost and always driven from the perspective of the audience – again, contrast content relevant to commuting versus commuters.
  • It makes choices about and describes the target audience and the interests, needs and problems to be solved of that target audience.
  • It is proactive rather than reactive in the news ‘we break’ for – as well as information and content we provide to – the target audience.
  • It looks forward and specifically calendars information and stories the target audience will need in the coming weeks and months.
  • It seeks out stories, data, information and coverage that surprises the target audience in unexpected ways.
  • It is framed from a local
  • It is defined both by what you choose to cover and what you choose to stop covering

A content strategy becomes “content plus” when audience teams specify:

The methods the team will use to listen to the audience – not just once as part of the initial work but in ongoing ways that continually inform and update the team’s efforts

Social media provides an extraordinary opportunity to find, listen to, and even see your audience in order to learn how those audiences identify and define themselves, what are their needs, interests and problems, and how they connect with one another. Still, don’t limit yourselves to social networks. In addition to Facebook groups and pages, Twitter sources and hashtags, Snapchat and so forth, audience teams should learn from what competitors are doing – including informal efforts by bloggers and so forth. And, use readily available tools to sort through and track what is being learned about the target audience – for example, Storyful, Facebook Signal, Geofeedia, Dataminr, Groundsource, Public Insight Network, Hearken and others. However you choose to listen and discover, it is essential to write down, share and discuss what you are learning about target audiences, then act on the insights to see what happens in terms of audience response.

A robust range of content sources (including aggregation) they’ll use to serve the target audience

Content sources might include:

  • Individuals and organizations who are part of the target audience and have signed-on to be sources (through a tool like the Public Insight Network);
  • Subject matter experts who understand the needs, interests, and problems of the audience and can frame and translate their knowledge in accessible, meaningful ways;
  • Data sources of recurring interest to the audience (surveys, public records and reports, statistical databases maintained by others, etc.);
  • Sources the audience regard as influential (recognized leaders and personalities, individuals in positions of power, informal opinion leaders and influencers);
  • Potential content partners who know the audience and subject matter (individual bloggers, niche sites, organizations, etc.)

The mix of content and story forms required to meet target audience needs

Serving a target audience well requires a rich suite of story forms – far more than the standard 300, 600, or 1200 word text-based story with an accompanying photo. The range of story forms should reflect:

  • The audience’s time requirements. Audience-first means serving content to audiences when the audience – not the newsroom – is available and seeking content, and doing so in ways that fit how much time the audience has available. This means understanding and responding to the audience’s daily and weekly routines. And, it requires story forms/treatments that target audiences can absorb within the time frames they have available – from a 30 second check while waiting in line to an end-of-day 10 minute read before the lights go out. And, it involves not just different story forms but how to treat the same story across each of the time-based forms.

Case illustration

The Dallas Morning News used food metaphors to convey the idea of audience’s needing story forms that fit the time they have available – whether it’s just a quick bite on the fly or plenty of time for a sit-down feast. To drive this point home to legacy print-oriented folks, Dallas also declared, Time is the new inches

  • Audience format preferences. Learn and respond to the ways your audiences prefer to absorb and use content. Choose among the potential elements of a story and how best to combine them to meet these target audience preferences:
    • Visual treatments (graphics, slide shows, gifs, videos, etc.)
    • Text forms (text blocks, bullets, pull quotes, etc.)
    • Audio (podcasts, etc.)
    • Embeds and links to others’ content (Tweets, Instagram, etc.)

Do not reinvent this every time for every story. Rather, develop, catalogue and share a repertoire of story forms that select and combine elements in ways that match different kinds of content and audience preferences. This ensures a better match of story form to your audience’s needs and makes treatment decisions faster, easier to communicate, and quicker to execute.

The styles and voices that convey the authenticity, credibility and authority needed to earn and keep the targeted audience’s trust, reliance and loyalty

General news for general audiences meant writing in one “general” style or voice. Focusing on a target audience is different. You and your colleagues must get good at adapting and varying style and voice in ways the audience prefers and responds to.   Doing this fosters opportunities for adding personal voice and identity in appropriate ways. For example, you might post/publish the collective profiles of the team serving the target audience, personal profiles of individual contributors, and commentaries and personal narratives – all aimed at letting the target audience get to know the newsroom team just as the team gets to know them.

The platforms and publishing schedule that will best reach and serve the target audience

See Table Stake #2 (platforms) and Table Stake #3 (continuous publishing) for more.

What the teams will stop doing

Audience teams will fail if they attempt to craft and implement a content plus strategy while perpetuating all other traditional desk-related content.

Clear objectives about how the audience team will blend the value they will create for audiences with the costs of doing so

Different story forms and approaches have different costs. For example, the cost of an originally reported and edited piece is higher than the cost of content that is aggregated. “High cost” might but does not necessarily equate to “high value” to the audience. Nor does “low cost” necessarily equate to “low value.” And, value-to-the-audience might arise from more than the content itself – for example, when target audiences find what they want, when they want it, and in forms they prefer, value rises. In this sense, a quickly done, highly relevant aggregation post might have as much or more value as a traditional enterprise piece. Audience teams need to set and manage goals for the average blended value/cost of content, paying particular attention to how best to use your scarcest resource: the skills, time and attention of your journalists.