Design challenge results: Helping public media create new membership strategies

CUNY Social Journalism students start by listening to the listeners

A few weeks ago Jeff Jarvis and I gave our students a design challenge. The goal was to practice what they’d learned about design thinking by producing insights that could be of real value to a media organization.

Martika-Ornella Wilson and Philip Richardson present their work.

Kassie Stephenson of WBEZ Chicago was kind enough to play along with us, listening to the students ideas and giving them feedback.

I wanted to share some of their insights. We welcome feedback.

Joe Amditis, Sasha Fountain, Noa Radosh, and Annie Lavandier developed the following presentation and thoughts:

We took the concepts of identify, duty, and community and applied them to public media in the digital space. 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.

Finally, 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.

Katelyn Gillum, Martika Ornella, Philip Richardson, and Ashley Smalls developed the following:

They write: In the very early stages of our design thinking process, we were asked to literally yank the earbuds out of the ears of random strangers on the streets of New York City in order to find out what they were listening to and if public radio was part of their listening habits. Our team spoke to over 30 individuals and found that the most challenging aspect of their public radio experience is access. For many individuals, particularly those in the younger generation, knowing where to find public radio stations of interest to them was confusing.

As a result of the information we gathered, we knew that we had to find a way to make public radio more accessible, which would then result in more subscribers and ultimately more donations. Initially in our process we created a one-size-fits-all solution to public radio through prototyping an app that would function very similarly to Netflix of Spotify. Essentially, every public radio station would be hosted on this one app and for a certain monthly fee, users would have access to different types of content across several public radio stations.

When we shared and tested this idea, we realized that WBEZ already has an incredible app that is doing many of the functions we already created, plus more! After receiving valuable feedback, we went back to the drawing board.

We spent the next week really honing in on what the younger generation would need in order to be active public radio listeners. From this phase in the design thinking process, we came up with the idea to create a campus ambassador program on college campuses. Essentially, WBEZ would partner with different college campuses throughout Chicago and they would create a channel devoted specifically to college radio stations within the app. By partnering with different universities, WBEZ would also have access to different campuses to host events and to better connect with the younger generation.

Ultimately, the goal of this partnership would be to not only expose college students to WBEZ’s content, but to also have college radio stations featured on WBEZ. If college students are able to buy into WBEZ’s programming, then the idea would be that they would continue to listen regularly and hopefully become a part of the WBEZ community throughout the rest of the adult lives.

Sabrina Gordon, Allen Arthur, Nancy Spiccia, and Nuria Saldanha came up with the following ideas:

We learned to apply design thinking to public media fundraising. As is emphasized in our social journalism training, LISTENING was our way into discovery and design. We pooled together what we learned from our conversations with diverse radio listeners, and came up with an idea that is a combination of old school enter-to-win marketing and savvy mobile tech.

We learned that users listened to the radio primarily on their smartphones when commuting or exercising. Most said they listened to music or podcasts.

The perception that many users have of public radio is that it is a monolith, funded by corporations and other large donors. The station inadvertently underscores this view by having their app open to a full screen corporate donor promo page. Listeners have the belief that any donation from them would be small in comparison, and would not make any meaningful difference to the radio station.

People want to feel connected — part of a community, membership or partnership. In terms of what would motivate them to give, many users said that what mattered was: 1) knowing that their money made a difference — that their donation had a demonstrable impact on the well-being of the station, or more specifically, on the success of their favorite show; 2) knowing how it would be used; and 3) feeling they had more of a personal connection with the radio station, particularly through their favorite program, host, etc.

Users were less interested in generic radio station gifts, i.e., mugs with logo/branding, and more incentivized by rewards that are customized to them/the audience, and have some connection to the show. Also, ease of donation was a major incentive for giving.

Our solution? To design a plan that encourages people to give frequent, small donations in a way that is fun, personalized and very easy.

Introducing Five Dollar Fridays!

Once a month, a particular show would host the WBEZ $5 Friday donation drive. Fans of the show would simply text “WBEZ5” to their phone to donate $5 by midnight. The donation would conveniently be charged to their phone — no need to enter a credit card, set up paypal, etc. After sending the text, they would automatically be entered to win the “reward of the day,” something custom-designed to reflect the program, host, viewers, etc. There would be a limited number of these rewards. However, everyone who donates would get a “thank-you” text and/or email from the host, and their names would be published on the WBEZ website, social media etc. The 24-hour window builds in a sense of urgency and motivation. In keeping with the collaborative spirit of partnership, rather than calling them “Donors,” they would be referred to as “Co-Producers” of the featured program.

Five Dollar Fridays is a win-win solution for everyone. It’s fun, inexpensive, personalized, and easy for both the user to donate, and for the radio station to implement. It harnesses the value of building community and a stronger relationship between listeners and the station.

Simon Galperin, Gloria Medina, Bettina Figl, and Colin-Pierre Larnerd developed the following ideas:

Click here for full presentation access

WBEZ Bash is a roaming block party that will hit all of Chicago’s neighborhoods. It’s an opportunity for listeners to see how public radio and their community intertwine.

WBEZ Bash programming is not just an opportunity for face time with hosts. It can help support the neighborhoods by running community problem solving workshops and showcasing local food and music.

One specific piece of feedback we received is that radio feels old-fashioned. A mobile WBEZ museum in the back of a tractor trailer can walk listeners through the history of WBEZ in their community and show them what the future of the industry holds.

For WBEZ, these events will be an opportunity for public radio to have a presence in every community, even those that are not filled with the average public radio listener demographic.

That’s our sincerest intention — that WBEZ find communities that are not avid public radio listeners and figure out ways to serve them better. In some neighborhoods, WBEZ Bash will be a roaring success. In others — not so much. That is the point. It’s an opportunity to not just support the communities they serve but listen intently to them, too.

There is as much to gain in understanding of public radio’s role in a community from an insatiably vocal community as there is from an apathetic. Both may even mean the same thing: that we need to do better.

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