WBEZ & Me:

Taking a fresh look at public media consumers

Over the last few weeks, our class was tasked with finding and interviewing people who consider themselves members of their local public media outlet or radio station to find out what makes them tune in. Because we’re in the New York media market, I asked specifically about their relationship with WNYC. Our presentation was directed to WBEZ Chicago and other public media stations, but our analysis is applicable to public media in general.

Community Insights

In speaking to them, I found that one of the primary drivers for donations and contributions was a sense of identity, duty, and community. Many people I spoke to donated money because they felt a sense of duty to support their public radio station or media outlet. They enjoyed the sense of community and discussion that they got from WNYC and other public media outlets, and felt a sense of loyalty to their station.

Other people liked the idea that displaying a WNYC tote bag, pin, or sticker let other people know they they had good taste in media and that they were informed citizens. One person really identified with WNYC’s slogan, “It’s not just the news, it’s your next conversation.” She said that resonated with her and she found it to be true at work and with her friends. She listens to Brian Lehrer on her way to work every morning and discusses the program with her coworkers when she gets to the office.

From Theory to Practice

We took the concepts of identify, duty, and community and applied them to public media in the digital space to come up with a possible product to help forge better, stronger connections between public media and their listeners. Public media should create a user identity tracking system that allows users to maintain an online identity that will serve as an extension of themselves online. In order to do so, we recommend that public media outlets develop a plugin to replace the standard comment sections on their websites.

Comment sections that use Disqus, Livefyre, or the Facebook and Twitter APIs are limited in several ways. They require publications that trade in information to give some of their most valuable and sensitive information about their users away to large, third-party corporate interests. Instead, public media should develop their own user management system that incorporates elements of identity management, duty, and community.

WBEZ & ME, which is what we’re tentatively calling this plugin/user identity management system, will allow users to create and maintain a profile across multiple partner sites. Profiles will range from completely anonymous with no email address required to fully identified and public profiles. Anonymous users will enjoy ease of access when creating a profile, but will be given the lowest level of access and the most basic privileges (e.g., only commenting and voting).

Fully engaged and identified users will be have access to more privileges and features. Users who donate money or contribute to the site in other ways will be given more access and privileges still, including admission to events and other participatory rewards. Badges and other flair will appear alongside the profiles of users with extensive account history, high levels of engagement, positive comment history, etc. They will be able to display those badges and will have access to additional features and privileges as they accumulate.

Because the users will create and maintain one profile across multiple sites, they will also be encouraged to securely add their credit card or financial information to their profile. This will allow quick and seamless micro-transactions to occur without making them leave the site. Users will be able to set a weekly, monthly, or annual budget limit. This will make the process of donating or contributing even less labor intensive, and will give users peace of mind by ensuring that they will never go over a certain limit. They will also be able to make contributions on individual articles or pieces of content, allowing public media to track which pieces of content resonates most with their users.

The value of the plugin increases as additional media partners use it. Allowing users to retain their digital identity across multiple sites and platforms benefits both the user and the publications. Users can accumulate a consumption history and a collection of badges or flair that they can display publicly, identifying them as tastemakers.

Meanwhile, partner publications can take advantage of the user and content consumption data that will be generated from users across multiple sites and platforms. Smaller sites will benefit from gaining access to data from larger publications with larger user bases, while larger publications will be able to see what their users consume on smaller, niche sites that they would otherwise have no access to.

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