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Community building and engagement for digital publishers

Published: 21 Mar 2022

With first-party data and genuine audience insight more important than ever, the relationship that a publisher has with their community puts control back into the hands of publishers. With this in mind, what’s the key to ensuring that you continue to strengthen the connection with your audience and grow your community?

As Sophia Dempsey, Director of New Product Innovation at BusinessBecause & GMAC Media put it, “With more and more barriers to third-party data, there has never been a better time to build and capitalise on the great asset of quality publishing – the empathy, connection, and trust built with our audience communities”.

We reached out to our AOP Awards 2022 jury to understand how publishers can build communities and what they consider the key to becoming a trusted authority in that community.

Integrity and values

Unsurprisingly, our judges voiced support for publishers who could put values at the heart of their business. A new study from Ipsos affirms the growing importance of purpose, as consumers increasingly use their purchasing power to support brands whose values align with their own. “The key to trust is to build it and to show what values you have without wanting ‘status’ or ‘profit’,” explained Shannie Mears, Co-founder & Head of Talent at The Elephant Room. “You have to build a cultural capital, which is something that you cannot buy but earn.”

Iddy De Viell, Associate Business Director at VICE, concurred: “We are always mindful that we need to act with empathy, and tell authentic stories that speak to the topics that our audiences really care about. Younger people are constantly searching for a trusted source of information, especially in the news space.”

In an era of increasing misinformation and disinformation, providing trusted, verifiable content is crucial. According to Edelman’s Annual Trust Barometer for 2022, 67% of people globally said that they believe journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people – up 8% from the previous report in 2021.

“Content is key to everything you do,” explained Alexander Royle, Head of Audience, Data & BI at BBC. “Being honest, reporting facts, and making sure that journalists are knowledgeable on the subject they are writing about is the key point here.” He then went on to suggest that providing author bios allows you to demonstrate the experience and knowledge of your journalists, whilst engaging with your audience in comments helps show your authority on the topic.

Similarly, Iddy De Viell highlight how VICE journalists on the ground in Ukraine have been distributing dispatches through TikTok which led to follower growth of 700k in the space of a week: during times of great upheaval, putting integrity and honesty at the forefront of your strategy is critical to growing an engaged community.

Amplifying diverse voices

There are two compelling reasons to promote a range of voices as a publisher – one is the social and moral imperative of lifting up those whose voices go unheard. And the other is that it just makes sense – if you have a thousand people in your community, then you’ll have a thousand different perspectives as well.

“Journalists who represent a community gain trust as they seek different opinions from that community,” stressed Ali Hanan, Founder & CEO at Creative Equals. “Every community has a huge range of varying points of view within it, conservative or progressive. By demonstrating reliable reporting free from stereotypes, publishers will gain trust and, with this, readers.”

Amanda Barnes, CEO at Faversham House, said that due to the trust of our communities, “we’re uniquely positioned within our industries to act as facilitators, make/enable connections, and encourage meaningful relationships through shared passion and content.”

Publishers have a huge opportunity to turn the tide on media representation. As The Elephant Room’s Shannie Mears shared, “it’s also about not being afraid to do things that have not been done before and being okay to stand up for what others might question… I think the publishing industry can be a big part of history and systems changing if they begin there. That is the strength of building a community and maintaining it.”

Engaging your community

Once you’ve established your community though, how do you continue to keep them engaged? Part of the challenge is to ensure that you have a seamless experience. “Our already engaged users trust our content and the opinions of journalists,” explained BBC’s Alexander Royle. “To help build your community, speak to your users and understand their pain points and frustrations on your site.”

Another area is to continually find new ways to provide spaces for your community to interact. Kerys Arundell, Head of Ad Operations - Automotive at Bauer, suggested publishers “use a variety of platforms to not only share creative content but also as a place for that community with a common interest to gather and share ideas.”

Finally, John Holt, Head of Digital at Incisive Media, re-iterated the importance of continuing your “investment in quality content, having a respected and established brand, [and] being fully immersed in these communities [and] working closely with key opinion formers.”

Interacting with the broader community of publishers

Of course, as well as having their own communities, publishers are themselves a member of the broader digital publishing industry. “An industry body like the AOP can help facilitate this type of community and bring different parties together more quickly than may otherwise be possible,” highlighted David McMurtrie, Head of UK Publishers – Partner Solutions at Google. “An industry body can also help bring an independent authoritative view on contentious issues and mediate where conflicts of interest arise.”

By working together as a collective, we can work to make greater change within the industry and ensure we’re fully able to support our own communities by learning from the experience of others.

We look forward to learning what new strategies publishers are employing! The deadline for entries to the AOP Digital Publishing Awards is March 24thfind out how to enter here to shout about your own successes!