What are the big audience development shifts that online publishers should be paying close attention to? Which industry moves, fresh tactics, and emerging channels are having a major impact on reaching and engaging the target groups?
To find out, we recently went through a host of recent reports from industry researchers and analysts.
What emerged are these five key audiences development trends that every online publisher should be watching:
- Paywalls Are Making Audience Quality More Important
It's impossible to talk about audience development in 2018 without addressing paywalls and subscriptions as the chart below shows:
Nearly half of publishers (44%) of 162 brands that operated in a commercial model, surveyed by Reuters say they see subscriptions as a very important source of digital revenue in 2018, a higher share than cite digital display advertising (38%) or branded/sponsored content (39%).
This has fundamentally altered the landscape. For many years, online publishers were all about bigger numbers: what mattered most was engaging more and more people. As many organizations have shifted towards a business model less dependent — or not dependent at all — on advertising, this has changed.
That doesn't mean reach isn't important — publishers will always want a wide readership — but it does mean the focus has shifted. Now what matters is not just connecting with any groups, but connecting with the groups most likely to convert. This requires a different mindset and different approaches from in the past.
Put simply: quality is becoming more important than quantity, and publishers will need to continue adjust their audience development tactics to take this into account.
- Established Digital Workhorses Are Having a Resurgence
Over the past decade the digital landscape has moved breathtakingly quickly. There has been a constant flood of new channels emerging, and publishers have had to scramble to keep up.
What often lost in all the noise around the next new thing is that a few established digital workhorses have continued to deliver the bulk of engagement for publishers. Moreover, two of these — search and email — have have been growing, not shrinking, in importance.
An in-depth analysis found search's share of traffic to publisher sites has been steadily climbing for a while, and it has now overtaken social as the top driver of external visits. And because of Facebook's continuing changes to its News Feed algorithm, search's share may grow even larger.
As for email, a survey of publishing executives found that it was far-and-away the most important channel for driving revenue growth last year. Why? Because it provides a direct line of communication with audiences and allows for easy segmentation.
The lesson here is that while you should absolutely keep a close eye on fresh channels, don't forget to pay attention to the tried-and-true approaches.
- Audio Is Being Embraced by Audiences and Publishers Alike
Sometimes what's old becomes new again. While things like video and VR get a lot of buzz, publishing executives are actually most excited this year about a format with a very long history: audio.
This interest is two-fold: 58% of publishers say they are focusing on podcasts in 2018, with the same share looking at content for voice activated-devices/tools.
While the full impact of this shift is still unclear, what's beyond dispute is that things are changing: people are increasingly turning to audio-based content — such as podcasts — and they are accessing information via an interface — voice — that is fundamentally different from typing. Publishers looking to attract and engage audiences should keep both of these things in mind over the next few years.
- AI Is Set to Help Improve Audience Engagement
For quite some time artificial intelligence occupied a strange space: publishers knew that it was coming and would be important, but it was hard understand what real impact it would have in the here-and-now.
That's changed. Publishers say they are now looking at using AI in a wide-range of areas, including for improving content recommendations, automating workflows, improving commercial optimization (ad targeting, etc.), and aiding journalists in finding stories.
This is just the tip of the iceberg: artificial intelligence can help in all sorts of ways, from providing valuable analytics insights (such as via our NativeAI Analytics platform) to making comment community moderation easier (as implemented by NYT).
In a time of rapid change and tight budgets, this could be transformative. AI has the potential to help publishers tackle difficult tasks while utilizing fewer resources and to engage audiences in much more effective ways.
- Audience Development Is Growing Beyond Editorial
Finally, it's important to note that the role of audience development within organizations is in flux.
In the past, the discipline had a narrow focus: audience development was primarily about helping journalists and editors find the most effective ways to get as many people as possible to engage with pieces.
That's not always the case now. As Digiday put it: "Once a role that mainly focused on SEO, audience development has become more complicated because of the explosion of ways publishers can find and distribute content."
Because everything about publishing has gotten more complex, the nature of the role has had to expand significantly. Audience development is no longer simply about channels such as search and social, it now encompasses a wide-range of areas, including mobile and app development, executing push notifications, enhancing features such as suggested articles and recommendations on site, honing newsletters, and working with news aggregators. Ultimately, today it requires expertise across the full range of capabilities — including distribution, revenue models, content formats, emerging technologies, and more — to be executed successfully.