How publishers can grow engagement and reduce cancellations

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As a publisher, you take pride in your content. Your staff and freelancers put countless hours into production. 

Yet, industry studies estimate that 40% of your subscriber base paid for a subscription but do not access your publication. These sleeper subscribers are quietly hurting your publishing business in several ways.

When nearly half of your subscribers fail to engage in your content, you can lose revenue. Sleeping subscribers are at a greater risk of churning out, causing revenue instability. Second, a significant number of sleeper subscribers means you are losing advertising revenue. 

What happens if your publication overlooks sleeper subscribers and continues business as usual? The disengaged subscribers will only cause compounding problems over time.

Getting The Silent Treatment From Your Subscribers

Bored woman at desk

As the months and quarters roll by, sleeper subscribers who fail to engage with your publication cause even more problems. 

Compounding Losses in Advertising Revenue

Advertisers want to connect with a living, breathing audience. When a third or more of your paid subscribers ignore you, it becomes more challenging to fulfill advertiser needs.

Some publishers try to solve this problem by building their audience further, but that’s a brutal way to grow. It can lead to a shallow relationship with your brand. Lower levels of engagement mean less trust in your brand and less engagement with ads.

Lost Opportunities For Organic Growth and Referrals

A trusted recommendation from a friend tends to be trusted far more than any kind of influence. According to BrightLocal, 49% of people trust personal recommendations from friends and family. 

Your disengaged subscribers are unlikely to share links or offers with people they know. Since you have fewer referrals to fuel growth, your publication will depend on other, more costly efforts to sustain growth.

Declining Staff Morale

Your editorial staff thrives on feedback and engagement with the audience. When they see a fall in audience engagement, staying highly motivated at work is tricky. This type of employee disengagement is potentially even more severe when considering why people choose journalism as a career.

Many people join journalism because they want to share a passion, make the world a better place or connect with people. When the audience goes quiet, the inner fire that keeps your staff coming back to work each day starts to dim. 

There are many costs when a large portion of your audience sleeps on their subscription. Growth gets complicated because word-of-mouth marketing stalls. Employee morale falls further because less feedback from the audience. Growing advertising revenue becomes more difficult. 

Fortunately, there are several ways you can wake up your audience and bring them back to full engagement.

Firing Up The Imagination Of Your Subscribers The Right Way

Excited person watching laptop

All of your subscribers once saw value in your publication. Then, somehow, life got in the way, and they became distracted. The following strategies can help you to reduce your sleeper audience faster. The best part? These strategies don’t rely on magical thinking or unsustainable tactics. 

Strategy 1: Transform your website with engagement technology

Like it or not, social media has conditioned your audience to seek instant gratification. Catering to those expectations doesn’t mean you have to recreate Facebook. However, offering a sense of connection between your audience members does matter.

Start by adding Arena Live Chat to your website. This technology makes it easy to host interactive social experiences for your audience. Further, Arena has built-in moderation features to keep the discussions brand-safe. Engagement will naturally increase when your audience sees your website as a place to connect with exciting information and friends.

The next opportunity is to leverage Arena Live Blog to fully leverage breaking news stories. Whether you cover elections, sports events, conferences, or trials, your audience is hungry for trustworthy information. With a live blog, you can increase audience engagement by rapidly publishing updates as a story evolves. Arena live blog makes it easy to manage multiple contributors so you can keep workload levels reasonable.

With these two technologies in place, growing audience engagement gets easier. Instead of reading a digital newspaper, your audience will see your website as a social experience revolving around the news. 

Strategy 2: Improve audience engagement with segmentation

The next strategy to lift subscriber engagement starts by looking at your audience with more nuance. Start by looking at the most extreme segments of your audience: the highly engaged and the sleepers. For simplicity, let’s define highly engaged as above-average engagement (e.g., if the above subscribers have ten pageviews per month, anyone with more than ten pageviews would be tagged as highly engaged). Sleeper subscribers would be those with zero pageviews over the last 60 days.

Analyzing your highly engaged subscribers

Highly engaged subscribers are the lifeblood of your business. It’s important to start with these subscribers and understand their behavior. Your goal is to identify patterns and pain points in your subscriber’s life so that you can create even more super fans!

Use the following questions to understand better what your highly engaged subscribers have in common:

  • Referral source. Start by seeing where your top subscribers come from. For example, a business-focused publication might acquire its most engaged subscribers from LinkedIn.
  • Promotions. Many publications run promotions and discount campaigns. The question is this: are those campaigns generating truly engaged subscribers or not? If the answer is no, you may need to rethink your campaigns.
  • Onboarding experience. Examine the types of content that new subscribers tend to spend the most time during their first month on your platform. For example, are they connecting with certain high-profile writers or personalities? If so, consider doubling down on those subscribers.
  • Social engagement. Look at social actions like sharing links to articles, and social reactions (e.g., likes and thumbs up) to see what kind of content resonates with VIP subscribers.
  • Editorial patterns. Analyze the top topics and sections that pull in your best subscribers weekly. For instance, if you find that sports coverage or certain columnists successfully attract high engagement, it may be wise to promote those assets to new subscribers.

With these insights in mind, you’ll be equipped to run new data-driven campaigns to improve onboarding with new subscribers.

Uncover the causes of subscriber discontent

Analyzing your sleeper subscribers may feel a bit uncomfortable. These people don’t see much value in your publication, as shown by their lack of interaction. Despite this fact, it is crucial to understand the cause of subscriber discontent for two reasons.

Churn Risk

Disengaged subscribers are likelier to cancel their subscriptions, especially during economic downturns. 

Improve Future Subscriber Acquisition

There may be certain messages, promotions, and tactics attracting the wrong type of subscribers to your business.

Use a mix of analytical and qualitative methods to understand why these subscribers are not engaging with your content. The prompts below can help you to design your analysis.

Data Questions 

  • Do sleeper subscribers have any common demographics? 
  • Are there any patterns regarding when or how the subscriber disengaged? (For example: you may have offered in-depth coverage of the World Cup, which turned off subscribers uninterested in that event)
  • Did the subscriber submit any tickets to customer service? What were the requests?

Qualification Questions

Use these questions as free-form questions in a survey or add them to a script if you call subscribers:

  • What attracted you to subscribe to the publication? (For example – was the person brought in through a promotion or subsided based on event-based news like an election?)
  • How do you like to access the publication (e.g., desktop, mobile, app, email)?
  • If we could make one change to make the publication more appealing to you, what would that be?
  • Do you subscribe to other publications? If so, which ones?
  • Do you know anyone subscribes to the publication? (This question helps you to understand the quality of community engagement).

Strategy 3: Add digital events and hybrid events to the subscriber experience

In strategy one, you learned about Arena Live Chat. Digital events are one of the most valuable ways for publishers to use chat with their subscribers. Take a look at the following ways to use digital events, and chat, to grow engagement with your subscribers.

VIP Guest Ask Me Anything

As a publisher, you’re probably connected with industry leaders, elected officials, sports stars, and other fascinating people. Put those connections to work by creating a virtual event with a star guest. Make it a win for the guest by promoting them, such as an actor’s upcoming movie release.

Arena Live Chat offers a blend of automated and manual moderation features to keep the chat brand safe and comfortable for all participants. That means your audience can focus on engaging in the event rather than dealing with online trolls.

Exclusive Access To Premium Content

Examine your publication’s upcoming coverage and plan a virtual event around your premium coverage. For instance, Forbes could offer a virtual event about trends in wealth in anticipation of their annual “Forbes 400” feature on the richest people in America.

Enrich Offline Events With A Chat Experience

Many publications organize or participate in-person events. One challenge with these events is that they may not be convenient for all subscribers to attend. One way to increase subscriber engagement is to offer your subscribers a complimentary virtual event ticket for your top events.

Building Strong Subscriber Engagement For The Long Term

You don’t have to live with the frustration of disengaged subscribers. Use the three strategies outlined in this guide to understand what’s working and what’s not working for your audience. You can then leverage Arena’s platform to give your audience more ways to meet each other and trust your brand more deeply.

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