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You should be surveying your audience more
You basically have your own homegrown focus group just waiting to be unleashed.
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You should be surveying your audience more
You may have noticed that a lot of newsletter writers are bragging about their metrics lately. It feels like every day I stumble across an interview with a publisher who touts their 50% open rates, usually as an argument that their audience is highly engaged. Sometimes they even reference the fact that the industry average is below 20%.
Wow! An open rate 30 percentage points above the industry average! That must be a pretty addictive newsletter!
Of course, the context they’re conveniently leaving out is that their open rate is highly inflated. For the better part of a year, Apple has been utilizing privacy tools that automatically open every email that’s connected to an iOS device. Some experts estimate that this has increased open rates by as much as 10 percentage points.
And that’s not the only flawed audience data that publishers encounter. While click-through rates are thought to be more accurate than open rates, there are some email platforms out there that automatically click on every link within an email, thereby distorting the numbers. The decentralized distribution of podcasts make it incredibly difficult to gather accurate listening data beyond raw downloads. Even website analytics are highly skewed due to the prevalence of bots and web crawlers.
While all this audience inflation might pad a publisher’s ego, it complicates their ability to draw conclusions about what readers, listeners, and viewers actually want. And even if you had access to perfect metrics, you’d still only be able to make broad inferences based on the content consumption habits of your audience.
There’s a much better way to gather information about who your visitors are and what they’re looking for: simply ask them.
Yes, I’m talking about audience surveys. The technology for conducting them has been around for quite some time, and yet I’ve noticed that most small-to-mid-sized publishers — including most who operate within the Creator Economy — don’t bother with them.
There are several good reasons to survey your audience early and often. Here are a few:
Collect audience demographics for advertisers: Nearly every ad is purchased with the goal of reaching a particular audience, and it’s a lot easier to convince brands that you have access to that audience if you can give them survey data to back up your claim. Depending on your niche, you should be surveying your followers about everything including their career industry, annual salary, education levels, and region.
Explore new content ideas: Too many publishers launch a paid subscription product without even knowing whether their audience actually wants that product to begin with. Before engaging in any new content initiative, you should present your subscribers with a range of options and let them guide you to the right decision.
Test headlines: I’m not the only writer who agonizes each week over which newsletter subject line will result in more clicks. Recently, I started leveraging social media polling tools to test out headlines in advance.
Increase engagement: You’ve probably noticed that I include a poll in just about every Wednesday newsletter (including this one). I’ve found this is a great way to further engage my audience, especially since that audience can view real-time results as soon as they click on the poll. This also provides a great way to transfer readers from the email version of my newsletter to the web version, which makes them much more likely to then share the web version on social media.
Add new data points to your reporting process: Depending on how narrow your niche is, you can use surveys and polling to gauge opinions within a particular industry or community. The poll results wouldn’t be considered scientific by any peer-reviewed journal, but they can still provide a pretty decent snapshot of where a particular audience stands on an issue.
Of course, just because you send out a survey doesn’t mean your audience will actually participate. You have to figure out ways to incentivize your subscribers to contribute their time and expertise.
The Financial Times published a recent case study on how it convinced 80,000+ readers to participate in its surveys. It started with a single-question poll at the end of the newsletter and then added incentives to induce further sharing:
We added an incentive for respondents to complete the rest of the survey: Those who finished it would be entered into a monthly prize draw to win £100 (or $100) of book vouchers. This has proved to be incredibly successful, as it turns out that FT readers love books! In order to be entered into the prize draw, respondents have to fill out the whole survey (which opens in a separate tab), but we’ve found they’re happy to do so for the chance to win a prize.
Most smaller publishers, however, don’t have the resources to offer huge giveaways. For those, I’d actually recommend embedding polls directly into the newsletter itself. Substack, for instance, has a native polling feature that can be utilized within the inbox; this drastically reduces the friction for readers who are willing to answer one quick question and then move on with their day.
So instead of pulling together a massive survey that takes 15 minutes to complete, the publisher can simply drip the questions out over a period of weeks. What I love about it is that it allows the participants in the poll to see the results, and I think this provides further incentive to participate.
I’ve gotten in the habit of leveraging these polls on a regular basis. Last week, for example, I got curious about what portion of my newsletter readers also listen to my podcast. So I polled them on it:
These results tell me that I’m doing a relatively poor job of educating my audience about the existence of my podcast…something I should definitely improve on!
If you have a highly-engaged audience, then they’ve probably developed opinions about what they do and don’t like about your content. Giving them a venue to express those opinions is a great way to both drive further affinity for your brand and improve your offering. You basically have your own homegrown focus group just waiting to be unleashed.
What do you think?
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How Roca News grew to 1.1 million Instagram subscribers
When the media outlet Roca News launched in the year 2020, it started creating just about every kind of content you can imagine. There was a newsletter, a podcast, and accounts on every single social media platform.
But this everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach didn’t seem to work, so the founders decided to focus mostly on a single platform: Instagram. Over the next two years, they leveraged Instagram’s visual storytelling features to deliver a digestible form of news to its young followers. This singular focus allowed it to grow to over 1.1 million followers.
Then, starting in 2022, it branched out into other mediums. It reinvested in its daily newsletter and also launched a TikTok account where it publishes more humorous, entertainment focused content. It also started building a dedicated mobile app, which it’s launching soon.
I interviewed co-founder Max Towey about the Roca News origin story, its Instagram growth, and how it’s begun monetizing its content.
It’s not just TikTok that’s nipping at Instagram’s heels. Instagram influencers are increasingly pushing their most dedicated fans onto platforms like Discord, Slack, Substack, and Patreon so they can forge a deeper connection with them. [The Information]
A decade ago, food bloggers published well-polished photo spreads of restaurant dishes to Instagram. A new crop of food influencers are opting instead for posting scathing video reviews to TikTok. [Bon Appetit]
For years, ad tech companies told this wonderful story about how publishers would be able to squeeze more revenue out of their audience via programmatic advertising. Publishers are starting to acknowledge that this story never actually came true. [Digiday]
My eyes after I click on a link to a Forbes article. [Twitter]
News consumers are growing increasingly savvy about bypassing paywalls, especially metered paywalls. [Toolkits]
The BuzzFeed-like site has built two popular channels on YouTube, one of which serves as a counterbalance to partisan TV news.
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