Understanding Reach’s Users

Steve Bromley
Aug 5, 2019 · 4 min read

When building websites, apps, or new features for the users of Reach’s products, it’s important to understand the people we’re building it for.

Successful product ideas are usually those that are useful to our users, encouraging them to change their behaviour and use our services more, or ideas that attract new people to use our products.

Increasing our understanding of our audience helps reduce the feedback loop for the ideas our teams have, and allows us to anticipate whether an idea will cause the behaviour change that our teams are hoping for. When the audience is a mystery to us, we have to build and release a feature before we start to get feedback on whether it’s suitable for our users. By starting with a better understanding of our users, some of the evaluation can be done when the idea is still theoretical. This reduces the financial and time cost of building things that turn out to be inappropriate for our audience.

Another benefit of understanding our user’s lives better, is that we can learn about the problems they currently have. These problems can inspire ideas about new products or features, and suggest that solving these problems might be useful to our users, increasing the chance they will use the product.

Many of Reach’s products are focused on news, and so Sara and I from the user research team recently took our first steps to learn why and how people consume news.

The study

To explore the broad topic of how and why people consume news, we recruited over twenty participants from across the UK, who had a variety of behaviours when consuming the news currently. Each of these participants were interviewed in a one-to-one setting to explore topics related to news, including their understanding of why they followed the news, what they did with the news they consumed, why news was the appropriate thing for them, how these habits had developed, and the issues they encountered following the news currently.

We then asked them to fill out daily diary entries and questionnaires about the news they consume, tracking things such as the source, the time, the location, and other information to help build up a picture of how they consumed news.

We then wrapped this up with a second interview with each participant, looking back at some of the themes that had emerged as we looked through the first interview and discussing their experience filling out the diary.

What did we learn

The analysis of the interviews and behavioural data showed clusters of behaviour around motivations to follow the news. We uncovered a variety of motivations for following news, and roles that news is fulfilling for them in their life. For each of the motivations we uncovered some patterns in their behaviour from the diary study — such as when they consumed news, the situation that they were in when consuming news, the news sources they used, and the medium. We also discovered issues that each group had with news consumption currently, and what had triggered this motivation for consuming news in their life.

We also noticed that these motivations were not mutually exclusive — when a reason for following the news had been activated in people by events in their life, they would then display the behaviour of that group in addition to the behaviour from other motivations that had previously been activated.

Having learned this, and more, information about our users, we have now started to make artifacts to help communicate this to the rest of the company, such as posters and storyboards.

What next

This study has helped uncover some of the motivations and behaviour displayed by people following the news. However, there’s a lot more that we can uncover that will help give our teams confidence when making decisions for their users.

Follow up studies for each of our brands could help identify the proportions of each group that our current readership is made up of. We could also learn a lot more about the context in which people are consuming news by doing contextual studies with researchers watching people do this in their real life — relying on diary entries will have meant that a lot of rich and interesting data will have been lost because participants wouldn’t have thought to tell us about it.

Building successful products requires careful balancing of business objectives, technical feasibility and providing utility to our users. This involves managing a lot of ambiguity, but we believe that this study has helped provide some clarity around our users, which will help our teams make more informed decisions with confidence.

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