Making audience research count: six lessons from Norway’s leading business paper
Ingeborg Volan’s insights from her year-long audience research at Dagens Næringsliv
Finding out what metrics to use and how to use them to measure engagement remains a challenge for many news organisations. And once you’ve gained new insights about your readers, how do you use them to add value to your journalism?
To find out more about the specifics of audience research in a news organisation, we talked with our former News Impact Academy participant and News Impact Summit speaker Ingeborg Volan, Director of Audience Engagement at Norwegian business paper Dagens Naringsliv (DN).
Over the last year, DN carried out extensive audience research to get an in-depth understanding of their readers, and also to pinpoint what makes great journalistic storytelling.
They’ll use the results to shape a new strategy ahead of DN’s reorganisation this fall. And they’ve already implemented some of it to their day-to-day.
“We’re starting to build a new culture for trying to understand what makes subscribers become loyal and active readers,” Volan said. “We’ve created a close collaboration between the newsroom and the user revenue department, which deals with subscriptions.”
Here are some important lessons they’ve learned about audience research during this process.
1. Listen like ethnographers, not like journalists
Volan set up ethnographic interviews with 30 potential readers after she had practised this audience research method at the News Impact Academy, led by Marie Gilot from CUNY. This method is used to better understand human behaviour.
“Rather than asking people how they feel about the newspaper, our conversations focused on the people themselves… to find out what their lives are like,” Volan said. “What kind of person are you? What’s your day like? Do you prefer using your mobile device, desktop or print?”
Volan and her team now have a clearer image of their readers and they’re using these insights to make their journalism more relevant and interesting.
2. It takes a large amount of data to know your readers
The team also did a data analysis to find out what topics and articles their users are interested in. They took four months of data from 150,000 devices from users that had more than 50 page views across all DN’s digital platforms.
The data enabled them to identify five interest-based segments. Combined with the results from the ethnographic interviews, they managed to identify standardised users, or so-called ‘personas’.
For example, one group of readers is more interested in markets and finance, while another distinct group of readers is more into politics and society. “Now we know how big these groups actually are,” Volan said.
3. Think about your readers’ needs
Additionally, the team analysed when and how users accessed DN’s platforms. They tried to understand the emotional reasons users may have for interacting with certain types of stories, using a BBC World Service study on reader needs as a source of inspiration.
“The politics segment prefers using the app, whereas the finance segment more often uses desktop and preferably during the daytime,” said Volan. “There is also an evening and weekend segment of readers, which are more into leisure, free time and personal finance.”
The team used these new insights to introduce a policy for front page publishers, indicating what stories should go out in the morning, night, and weekend.
“On a weekday evening, they’ll have one or two good stories to relax or learn something, aiming to respond to the emotional background around news consumption,” said Volan.
4. Uncover underrepresented reader groups
The research also revealed some underrepresented segments, such as female readers and young people.
“About 37% of the workforce in Norwegian businesses is female, and only one in four of our readers is a woman, so we should be able to have at least 37% female readership,” said Volan.
When it comes to young readers, DN is particularly interested in reaching the ones who will end up in Norwegian business and administration.
”We’re working really hard on making our journalism accessible to people entering the workforce or even during their college and university years.”
5. Downgrade the importance of metrics around virality
In terms of analytics, Volan’s team uses standard measurements, KPIs and dashboards to make sure they’re aligned with the company’s strategy. However, they’ve eliminated pageviews around viral stories from their internal reports.
“Pageviews of stories that go viral on Facebook only show random, flyby users who never visit our website anyway,” said Volan. “We want to make sure that it’s our regular users and subscribers who are accessing the content.”
6. Produce more habit-forming content
The team also put effort into determining which stories are kept subscription-only and what content will be shared for free to recruit new types of readers.
“Some content doesn’t necessarily convert into new subscriptions, but it has high value to our readers and it builds loyalty and habits,” said Volan. “We’ve been working really hard on having enough of that sort of habit-forming content.”
Overall, Volan sees data as “really good feedback” from readers, and a helpful tool to understand the audience, which helps to improve their journalism.
“We want to make sure that we don’t focus all our journalism based on what our numbers show,” Volan said. “We don’t want to fall into a clickbaity sort of approach. It’s not what we do. And being a subscription business we’re not as tempted to do that.”
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Do you want to bring innovation into your newsroom? In 2019, we will organise three News Impact Academies and three News Impact Summits. All events are free-of-charge and will take place in European cities. Topics and locations will be announced shortly.
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