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A publisher’s guide to engaging members

Published: 03 Jul 2023

Every publisher is trying to move their users along the engagement funnel - from those who stumble across your post online, to your casual users who dip in and out of content, to your super users who are most likely to invest in a subscription or membership. However, once you’ve got people into that super user group, what does it take to keep them there? How can publishers make sure they’re delivering value to their most engaged users?

The latest Digital Publishers’ Revenue Index from AOP and Deloitte showed that subscriptions saw the strongest growth in Q1 2023 – up 18.3% when compared with Q1 2022. Positively, this suggests the number of consumers who are still willing to subscribe for quality journalism hasn’t yet plateaued and there is still room for growth for publishers. But with costs still on the rise and two-thirds of UK consumers planning to cut non-essential spending in 2023, it’s critical that publishers are able to demonstrate the value that they’re delivering if they want to retain those audiences.

One way to achieve this is to develop a membership proposition. Whilst a subscription can be quite passive, building a membership offering which creates ways for your audience to connect with one another fosters a sense of community which is infinitely more valuable – and potentially, far stickier too.

We reached out to three of our expert partners to discover what you should be focusing on if you’re aiming to create a community for your most engaged audience members or otherwise enhance your membership offering.

You cannot underestimate the importance of data.

Understandably, data was a key factor in the responses we received. “Data should be at the heart of any community strategy to enable increased engagement and deployment of special offers for your most engaged audience” shared Philip Raby, General Manager International at mediarithmics. “By leveraging your first-party data – including past browsing and transactional information – you can communicate to your desired cohorts across owned and external channels.”

Data is at the heart of all strategies – and by knowing your audience, you can be targeted in your communication, you can surface relevant content, and provide a more personalised user experience. “Implementing a robust data management and collection strategy that utilises first-party data sources, such as user feedback and surveys, can assist in creating a personalised experience for highly engaged audiences,” explained Tim Willcox, RVP – UK at PubMatic. “When implemented, these recommendations will undoubtedly result in an engaging value exchange that fosters long-term loyalty and personalised user experiences for their audiences’ communities, driving overall revenue growth for publishers.”

Find the right balance.

Personalisation can be a great benefit for a membership, but there’s a fine line to walk between offering your members an enhanced experience and cutting out those who aren’t yet subscribed. You need to be able to find a balance that provides just enough of the benefits to your more engaged non-members in order to tempt them into a membership.

“We have observed that an effective strategy is to ensure that some content is reserved for subscribers, while still providing non-subscribers with highly personalised recommendations to increase recirculation and foster growth,” mused Juan Margenat, Co-Founder and COO at Marfeel. “The best dynamic paywalls – as much as twice as effective as hard paywalls – evaluate users’ propensity to subscribe based on their intent and interests and trigger a paywall based on that data.”

And, of course, it’s not just the content experience that needs managing – you need to find the right balance of advertising for your audience as well, particularly if they’re already paying a membership fee. “One of my recommendations to publishers would be to leverage programmatic advertising to deliver targeted ads based on user preferences and interests,” PubMatic’s Tim Willcox suggested, referencing strategic ad formats, ad placements, and devices, as key areas that publishers should be looking at to deliver a seamless ad experience.

Look to your performance metrics.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to data. Once you’ve identified a plan of action based on your current insights and implemented a more personalised experience that encourages engagement, you need to be analysing your performance metrics to understand what is working and where your strategy can be tightened up. As they say – test, test, and test again.

Marfeel’s Juan Margenat recommended setting up multiple conversion funnels to provide better insights about those who don’t make it all the way to a subscription, but also to understand what content is converting members through the engagement funnel.

“It’s essential to identify high-converting content and increase its visibility,” Juan explained. “The stories that generate subscriptions aren’t usually the short and snappy articles with tons of traffic, but rather the articles that add value but can get lost in the shuffle unless you have a solution that spotlights them.”