The future will be here one of these days
December is a time for predictions. Soothsaying seems fraught given how this year has gone and that 2024 is an election year. But some predicting, like that at Nieman Lab, we focus prediction work we get something useful. I do love their annual Predictions for Journalism and find it useful for broader content and engagement strategy.
Sure, the few dozen pieces are largely written by and for journalists and people working in the news business. But anyone thinking about community, content or organizing can learn about engagement to support fundraising, applying data and metrics to communications or content strategy in a world of rapidly disaggregating platforms.
A.J. Bauer’s Hyperlocal information warfare rises up looks at how the extreme right is using local and state-level news sites to seed and spread disinformation. This isn’t news to anyone doing on the ground community organizing but most state, regional and national advocacy organizations are less aware of how to engage with and counter these projects.
In Collaboration with ethnic and identity publishers becomes a must, Ashley Woods Branch, Executive Director of the Fund for Equity in Local News, explains the rising presence of ethnic and identity-driven news publishers. Small news outlets like these and local alt-weeklies rely on trust, are tightly connected to their community and aren’t reliant on Meta or other single social media platforms. They’re an outreach partner, even a communications model, for nonprofits.
Call it audience, community or users. Whatever. Just consider people before platform.
I’m concerned about how organizations use their scarce content and communications resources in a landscape flooded with audience and platform choices. The typical group will be looking to 2024 thinking along the lines of “We have websites, email lists and post on Facebook, Instagram and doing more with TikTok though that’s a whole other kind of video we have to create. And I don’t know what we should do with Twitter.” Platforms are many. And a mess.
Sarah Marshall runs global audience development strategy at Condé Nast. In We get past “post-platform”, Marshall offers a framework for thinking of audience needs instead of platforms. It resonates because, well, we talk a LOT here about what members and supporters need, and (see above) platforms are coming and going.
“With a seemingly limitless number of platforms on which to meet and engage audiences — but still a finite number of hours in the day — teams will need to develop frameworks to understand where to start, stop, and pivot.”
The credibility of influencers is debatable (see Taylor Lorenz’s The creator economy will be astroturfed in last year’s Nieman Lab predictions). But nobody wants to hear from an institution. People also want to hear from other people, not organizations. Don’t have a TikTok strategy. Have a people, community, member, audience strategy.
Marshall sums up the audience needs approach at Condé Nast in 100 or so words:
In 2023, we updated our “user needs” at Condé Nast, determining that our audiences have six needs:
- Update me
- Inspire me
- Divert me
- Educate me
- Guide me
- Connect me
We added “guide me” to an earlier iteration of needs — and started thinking about newsletter audiences with that need. For example:
- Audiences need to be “guided” when shopping, and the “new arrivals” curated shopping experience has become a destination in itself for Vogue.
- The Goings On newsletter from The New Yorker (with Substack-inspired subscriber exclusives) is my personal favorite guide.
- “Connect me” isn’t a new user need, but you should know that younger audiences want to participate. While community is nothing new (ask the Ars Technica community member who has commented 100,000 times over the past 24 years), audiences want to find new ways to express their own values.
Sure, user needs are in the forefront. But, just as a nonprofit’s list, community and content are driven by fundraising budgets, user needs are driven by revenue.
“Guide me” doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the nonprofit and news space. And it has so much potential. We work so hard getting a new person’s attention and first engagement or donation. Those are things we can put a dollar value to. But we aren’t as good guiding (and measuring or valuing) their ongoing journey with us (at least not until the next donation or sale).
We can think more about email welcome series, of course. But what about onboarding videos? Or new member FAQs and live or recorded “welcome” videos? I’d love to see an organization try a “new to our site” collection of tooltips similar to when you download or update an app. Guide Me content could also include surveys (even single question “how are we doing?” or “what are you looking for?” questions). Guide Me content also sets up a framework for user registration in which people can become a part of a community and you can better track if and how you’re meeting needs.
It is words, pictures and videos that, mushed together, tell a story or solve a problem or create wonder in someone’s day. A donor, subscriber or member is basing their allocation of money, time and emotion in your work based on if and how that mushed together story reaches them and meets their needs. Think first about those needs.