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The Importance of Understanding Your Publication’s Audience

– by Abhishek Marla, Senior Business Development Manager, AccelerAsia

Neil Postman’s famous talk on “Amusing Ourselves to Death” compared the dystopian speculations of Orwell’s “1984” and Huxley’s “Brave New World”, ultimately concluding that the latter has become a more accurate model of today’s reality. The argument goes that we are, in the free world, not limited by state control of information, but inundated by a surfeit of data and information that we hardly know what to do with. It is not the lack of data that bores us, but an excess that overwhelms us.

The internet has changed the way users consume content, and made this an even bigger problem since Postman’s thesis from over 30 years ago.

Gone are the days when people used to rely on television and newspapers for content. There is no longer a struggle to find good content; rather, we have an entire universe of content at our fingertips, and it’s a matter of sieving through mountains of information. So really for users, it’s about choosing which flavor they’d like the most in a bag full of chocolates.

According to “Statista”, the number of internet users went from being 1.02 billion in 2005 to 3.58 billion in 2017. 1.2 billion users are added to the internet every 6 years. While the volume of content being presented to these users is increasing exponentially, it’s also important to realize that the internet gives users options to filter, control and select content according to their preference. This is only going to get more refined with the advent of AI, as voice, video and images become searchable.

The Media’s Role

When I say content, I mean any piece of creative, text, video or audio — even a simple display ad showing a “50% discount on Pizzas” is content.

The user is savvy, and consumes content via publishers by choosing filters such as sections, cities and topics. For example, a user that loves reading about cryptocurrency would access the finance section on a news website and select a category for crypto news. What if this process were automated? What if that user just simply logged into the news website and was already able to see cryptocurrency content provided to him or her based on patterns of reading habits?

We live in a world where automation plays a key role by reducing human effort.

With programmatic becoming an important talking point, brands are getting a lot more invested in reaching out to the right audience through data management platforms. In 2018, there will be a huge focus on both AI and big data; however, the gap will widen between the companies that know how to use them and those that don’t. Apart from this, there will be a lot more focus on understanding the complexity of voice, video, and context. When this happens, the biggest challenge will be about coming up with an experience and narrative that people truly want to engage within.

The Democratisation of Content Creation

Another important point of engagement is showing your audience user-generated content. A 2016 article on the New York Times stated the average amount of time users spend each day on the Facebook, Instagram and Messenger platforms (and that’s not counting the popular messaging app WhatsApp) is 50 minutes. Maybe that doesn’t sound like so much – but there are only 24 hours in a day, and the average person sleeps for 8 of them. That means more than one-sixteenth of the average user’s waking time is spent on a Facebook-owned platform.

Users love going through what other users talk about. So many breaking stories were really disseminated through social media such as “Osama Bin Laden’s death”, “Arab Spring”, etc. There is a universe of user-generated content out there which if filtered correctly can provide relevant and interesting news much more efficiently and quickly than what journalists and professional writers come up with.

It’s time to step up and really invest more in tools that help publishers and brands understand their audiences better, while tapping onto user-generated content and channeling it appropriately. One of the key data points some of these tools give is information such as gender, marital status, job title and income. However, it is possible to gain more knowledge about your audience by viewing the pages they are liking and sharing on social media, their purchasing activity and brand affinity. Another great indicator is to understand the amount of time users are spending on your site and their last viewed pages.

The End of the Click-bait Era?

Publishers need to be selective and careful about working with content recommendation platforms — the “Native Advertising” model can be a tremendous boost to revenues, but in the wrong hands becomes click-bait advertising. The prospect of massive revenues and traffic can be tempting, but whether it is in the long-term interest of safeguarding the publishers’ reputation is up for debate.

Publishers have begun to realise that audience data is far richer when they control it themselves. In some cases, native ad networks not only post irrelevant content but also leak data from publishers, which can be bought by third party networks at a cheaper price, bringing the advertiser’s CPM (cost per thousand impressions) down.

Sometimes, native ad technologies can also hurt SEO — you don’t want to deploy tools intending to increase traffic, but end up going down in search engine ranking, ultimately eroding traffic and inventory quality.

In conclusion, it is important to be an audience-first publisher as content will always be the foundation of the media business. The mandate should not be about increasing page views or generating revenue. It’s about giving a better user experience and keeping viewers on the website longer — for which, one needs to understand them better. If your audience is already giving you access to their consumption habits, you owe it to them to cater to their preferences.

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