News organizations around the world are beginning to pay attention to the needs of their readers and embrace a user-first model.
That is the case for The locala news outlet for English-speaking expats, published in nine European countries.
Its Swedish edition uses reader surveys and audience data to create editorial products that its readers want and need.
Read more: How the BBC World Service engages younger audiences by meeting six reader needs
Sure, “product thinking” is jargon. What it really means, according to Paul O’Mahony, editorial product manager at Local Sweden, is simply to ensure that the publication is useful to its readers.
“Why do people buy products? It’s to fill a need or solve a problem in their life,” he said in a podcast on Journalism.co.uk.
The “product” in product thinking can be anything from a new article series to a podcast or series. The key to success is to provide your readers with valuable information that they cannot find anywhere else.
The Local’s membership is a good example, giving subscribers unlimited access to all nine issues. Throughout the pandemic, the news website has become a source of updates on the coronavirus where authorities are not communicating much in English. Subscriptions have grown from 13,000 to 50,000 in the past two years.
Publications from different countries collaborate all the time, exchanging tips and stories, so individual publications can benefit from a much larger pool of audience data. An example of a successful new product launched in several countries is the “Word of the Day” series which explains a local word to foreigners.
Another example is a monthly “What’s Changing” article series there Local Sweden informs foreign residents of upcoming changes in legislation or other areas of public life that may affect them. Originally created in France, the series was a hit with existing users and it also helped convert new readers into subscribers.
Product thinking is not limited to written articles. The podcast “Sweden in focus”, created a year ago, responds to listeners’ needs with a solution approach. At a time when right-wing populist parties are on the rise, O’Mahony looks at projects that have worked elsewhere and lessons we can learn from them.
Podcasts are also great for subscription conversions; 65 percent of listeners are paying members, 60 percent of whom say the podcast makes them more likely to renew their membership. Among non-members, half say the podcast makes them consider signing up.
Read more: “Activatable user needs” make for more efficient newsrooms
To know if a product is successful, The Local runs user surveys and makes changes based on reader feedback. The composition of the team gives the publication an edge as most journalists are expats themselves and can use their experience to find out what readers might need.
Investigations, on the other hand, tend to ask practical questions and often help journalists unearth new topics or angles they hadn’t considered before.
“We got an email from a reader last week who said the cost of living is making them reconsider their subscriptions. They’re going to cut back on Netflix and some other things but they said they’ll never cut back The local as it was their most important subscription. And that’s where we want to be in people’s lives.”
Listen to the full interview with Paul O’Mahony here.
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