March 20, 2020
Members Only

Using Video to Engage With a Work From Home Audience

Earlier this week, I wrote a thread on Twitter that investigated how The Athletic might be at risk with its first year renewals. Click through to read the full thread.

The general logic behind the thread is simple… Sports are cancelled. The Athletic covers sports. A large chunk of its subscribers are just hitting their first year renewal. The question then is whether or not people are going to churn because of the lack of active sports occurring.

It’s not a foregone conclusion. The Athletic is still producing great news. As I said in the replies, I’m one of those first-year renewals and I know I’m not cancelling anytime soon.

It left me thinking, though. With everyone working from home coupled with the fact that sports are cancelled, what could The Athletic do to try and engage its audience in a more hands on way that might minimize the likelihood of said churn?

Let’s dive into that…

One mistake that many media companies make (The Athletic is not one of them) is that they only push information and rarely find a way to pull. In other words, media companies are great at delivering content to their audience, but when it comes to hearing from the audience in a personal way, there’s no real thought behind that.

I understand why publishers think this way, but it doesn’t make sense. Most publishers think it’s the content that matters. And look, it does. I don’t think all of you would have paid for A Media Operator if my content was horrible. However, the most successful media brands have figured out that by pushing their journalists to the forefront of the conversation, they can have a much more successful business.

At an event back in February, Sara Fischer from Axios discussed the company’s strategy. She explained:

That’s why a lot of media companies are starting to realize when it comes to diversifying revenue, we’re sitting on something more valuable that’s becoming more and more valuable every day, which is true IP. In a sense, fandom. The reason The New York Times, The Washington Post are making so much money on subscriptions is not because people think they’re going to get some sort of white house coverage they can’t get anywhere else, they can, of course, but I think they’re doing it because they’re fans of that brand. They want to support that brand.

You can watch the full video here. I highly recommend it:

This is why the most successful newsletters and podcasts are typically personality driven. People want to feel as if they are connecting with someone. Now, more than ever, there is that need for connection.

The Athletic recognized this need early on in its existence and introduced Q&A functionality baked right into the platform. Just a few days ago, one of the reporters covering the Knicks did a Q&A and took close to 40 questions. It’s a cool feature and one that I think will help them weather the storm of no sports to some extent.

I think there’s a way to make this even more engaging and build a deeper loyalty between the reader and the writer.

I would give each journalist access to a webcast platform. Once a week, each journalist should set aside one hour to do a live Q&A.

Again, this goes back to what we’re likely all craving during this time: connection. The written word is great and I’m obviously a fan of it since I write thousands of words a week. However, for the first time in my career, I’ve started turning the camera on for all my calls versus just doing audio. It makes the conversation feel more personal.

That’s an emotion that all media companies can lean into that would be incredibly interesting for people. In the case of The Athletic, paid subscribers get access to the webcast and for an hour, people can type in their questions and then hear their favorite journalist answer them.

It’s not just The Athletic, though. I think any publisher that is thinking about churn could use this as a great way to build a deeper loyalty with their audience.

Theoretically, this could even be a selling point that a publisher uses to get new users to convert. If I was sitting on the sideline and I saw an ad that said I could do a live webcast with a reporter covering the Knicks, I might really be intrigued. Enough to sign up? Perhaps.

I even think that this strategy could be extended to media businesses that are advertising based. We’re already beginning to see a shift in advertising thanks to the death of the 3rd party tracking cookie. The publishers that come out on the other side of this are those that find a way to replicate that targeting data, but exclusively on site.

What does that mean? If I am an ad buyer, I might want to target specific demographics within your audience. Or, if nothing else, I want to know that your audience fits a certain profile. Publishers are already trying to figure out how to collect this data, but I think these webcasts could be a great way to do it.

Any person that wants to attend one of these webcasts should have to give over some information. It doesn’t have to be a ton of information, but identify some key data points that might help your sales team in the future. While I recognize ad budgets are getting cut today, we still have to plan for the future and this would be a good way to get a better understanding of who your audience is.

What platforms to use?

There are plenty of platforms out there that are all seeing growth since everyone has moved to working from home. Virtual events are all the rage.

I’ve looked into three different ways to do this that are worth considering, but there are some trade offs to each.

Zoom

Like I said above, this one is ubiquitous. It’s what I use for my day-to-day calls and, for the most part, it works pretty well. It also has a unique function where you can put up a virtual background. I’ve seen colleagues set up backgrounds with the beach, the Milky Way galaxy, or even a picture of our office.

The downside with Zoom is that it requires a download. I’m not a fan of forcing an audience to download software just to engage. Once you’re in the Zoom room, as well, it also hijacks your computer. I find it’s almost impossible to hide screens once I’m in Zoom, which seriously irritates me.

They charge a yearly license and can scale up to thousands of simultaneous participants.

Workcast

This is more of a traditional webinar/webcast company and I have worked with them in the past with good success.

Unlike Zoom, which is a piece of software you download, Workcast is browser based. That means, the user comes to a registration page, signs up, and is able to watch without ever needing to install a piece of software. This also means that the software doesn’t take over my computer in any way.

There are different types of licenses here, but the common one is where you pay for each webcast. This can start to add up, but the quality of analytics that comes from this is far greater. In conversation with Workcast, they said they can scale to tens of thousands of simultaneous participants.

ON24

This is similar to Workcast in that it is a browser based platform and it, as well, can scale to tens of thousands of simultaneous participants.

The one difference between ON24 and Workcast is that ON24 is a yearly contract. However, once you have set up, you can run as many webcasts as you want in that yearly contract.

Get started

My advice? Start with Zoom. It’s the quickest to get started (you don’t even need to talk to a sales rep) and you can begin experimenting with webcasts by next week.

The structure here is very simple:

  1. You setup a splash page to capture the desired data
  2. Your audience uses the Q&A chat functionality to submit questions with text
  3. The journalist then reads the question and answers, using their web cam to make it more personal

That’s really it…

Normally, I don’t advise getting distracted by the latest and greatest ideas. That’s what has caused far too many publishers to die. However, I believe there is a verifiable need for connection and this is a great way to further build trust and loyalty with your audience.

And I’ll be honest… I never think that finding new ways to actively engage with your audience is a bad use of time. Our audience is the lifeblood of our business and engaging with them is one of the most important things we can do.

Which brings me to my final point. If you all think it would be valuable, I’d be happy to set something up where subscribers can go into a Zoom and we can chat with each other. This would just be for paid subscribers, so it’d be a smaller get together. Just leave a comment or hit reply and let me know what you’re thinking.

Stay safe out there and, as always, I am here to help if you just need someone to bounce ideas with. For all the new subscribers, thanks again for joining the community. I hope you see value. Thanks and have a great weekend!

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