While everyone says you can learn as much, if not more, from your failures as your successes, few publishers tend to publicly address the things they’ve tried that didn’t work and they stopped doing.
Taking action after declining young readership
The app was created because, like all publishers, VG wanted to grow its young readership today to ensure it has a future audience. However, a few years ago, the editors of VG found that the number of these young readers coming to them regularly had dropped dramatically compared to the previous three years.
Specifically, in 2013 VG had over 300,000 daily readers aged 18 to 25. By 2016, that number had dropped by about a third to just over 200,000, Kalafatis said. While still an impressive amount for a country of just 5.2 million people, this drop concerns VG’s editors.
“We decided to do something about it,” Kalafatis said.
They started by forming a team of 10 people to address the question “How can we bring young people back to VG?”
Understanding that “We can’t understand what users want without actually interacting with them,” Kalafatis said in the app. developed based on the results of 100 interviews, 50 surveys and receiving more than 800 feedback emails from users.
“When we launched Peil, we were trying to make it easier to understand what’s going on in the world,” Kalafatis said.
By any standard, Pale had much to admire. It provided readers with a clear hierarchy of a limited number of stories through which they could quickly move in order to be – and feel – informed and up-to-date on the major events of the day.
“It was a tight selection of news.” Kalafatis added: “They were visual and focused.”
Specifically, each day Peil featured what VG editors deemed the top 10 stories of the day.
Some of the most important feedback they heard from users was that “News seems endless” and “I just want to know when I’m updated on the most important things,” he said.
However, he added that it also became a burden because some days there weren’t that many top stories, so they added some non-essential stories just to find the top 10.
Peil’s main problem was the workload required to produce content for the app.
“For this to work,” he continued, “we had to create a CMS that could cross-publish and control all the different platforms.”
There was also a problem of distribution, as VG is the best brand in Norway when it comes to news media, and Peil was a new brand. Kalafatis said:
“Launching a new brand is not easy in the media industry, and if we had to do it over again, we’d try to launch it in the VG universe, and possibly the VG domain as well, so that’s what we’re looking at now,” he added.
Finally, after three years and almost 100,000 daily users, Kalafatis said they had to shut down the app.
VG has nearly 600,000 Snapchat subscribers.
“Every day we have over 200,000 users reading our best stories of the day on Snapchat.” Kalafatis said: “These numbers could reach more than 300,000, and 60 percent of the demographic on Snapchat is users under the age of 25.”
“So we meet them, but we don’t turn them into our front page,” he said.
To this end, VG experiments with something they call redirection. Kalafatis said:
He added that last fall they had a successful experiment with custom audience content that they are now implementing and scaling.
In this experiment, VG published articles on its homepage aimed at selected user groups, such as young women. When they did that, he said, they were able to significantly increase the percentage of readers who clicked on those stories compared to the average of stories that would normally appear in the same position on their home page.
“That means if we actually offer them the right content, they’ll read it.” Kalafatis said.
VG’s goal with this, he said, is to create a habit that when people come to VG, they find news that is relevant to them.
“The bottom line here is that if we target young women with content for them, we can more than double their click-through rate. So we’re scaling and automating it, and right now we’re seeing a doubling of clicks,” he said.
5 rules to consider for every story
Kalafatis also outlined some other ways VG is working to bring more young readers to their brand.
For example, earlier this year they introduced five easy rules for every reporter to think about when they write news, he said.
- Write plain and simplegive young people easily digestible content, otherwise they will lose interest.
- Provide context, background, and overview. “Don’t make readers feel stupid,” he said. “Give them the basic information they need so everyone can understand the issues and why they’re relevant.”
- Include young people in stories. The idea here is to make users care by showing how issues affect them, he said. Furthermore, they encourage the use of young people as sources and cases for stories.
- Attract attention. The goal here is to encourage journalists to think visually, he said. “Many people like the mix of text, video and images. Interactive elements such as quizzes and polls. Don’t give them most of the text.”
- Make it searchable. “What we’re seeing is that the journey for young users to find news is through Google. So we have to make it available on Google,” he said.
A poster depicting these rules is now up in VG’s offices, Kalafatis added.
“We should think about these five counsels every day. And it has to hit all the leaders, your colleagues every day,” he said.