Not trying to be everything to everyone helped the Greeley Tribune grow its audience

Leading up to the April 22-23 Local Media Association Digital Revenue Summit in Chicago where winners from the Local Media Digital Innovation Awards will be presented, we’ll be showcasing some of the winners and the great work that will be on display.

Today, we’re featuring Greeley Tribune, which won for Best Strategy to Grow Digital Audience.

The judges said this about their entry:

Many newsrooms realize that they cannot be everything to everyone, but few walk the talk. This strategy harnessed that objective together with a multi-pronged audience research approach to produce outstanding, data-driven results.

Teresa RistowWe interviewed Teresa Ristow, Director of Engagement at Greeley Tribune, part of Swift Communications, to learn more about what they are doing.

Can you tell us overall some of the key things that are part of your digital audience strategy?

Our big push right now is to focus heavily on some key target audiences, rather than producing content for the whole community and beyond. We can’t be everything to everyone, but the data tells us we can win when it comes to providing great go-and-do content, interesting news about the growth and development of our coverage area, important public safety updates and enterprise reporting, and strong sports coverage.

We’ll also remain a public watchdog of government and education, but we’ll no longer write stories without talking about the importance they have — or don’t have — to our target audiences.

In addition to real-time and daily data dives, we also review all content on a monthly basis — tracking stories by target audience, by publishing time and by author.

Our other focus is on setting strategy for each of our publishing platforms by appointing platform owners from around the company to set SMART goals to drive engagement and growth. Why do we post on Twitter? Let’s really assess our efforts here, our goals and our growth and have one, clear strategy. In all of these efforts, data is king. If you don’t have data to support your strategy, or the data says it’s wrong, let’s re-evaluate.

There’s been a real focus put on real-time analytics in your newsroom. Can you tell us what this looks like in your newsroom on a daily basis?

We have three flatscreens in our newsroom that display real-time analytics from Chartbeat and the latest trending social media posts via Crowdtangle. Even more valuable than the information these screens display is the conversations they start.  Why is something trending? What stories could we write based on that?

When we send a breaking news email or push alert to readers, it’s not uncommon for a few people to gather around the real-time display and watch the concurrent traffic rise. We also use Chartbeat’s Heads Up Display to get real-time analytics of stories on our site. This information is used when deciding print placement of stories and what to put in our daily email newsletters. More and more, we’re finding that data, including real-time data, is driving the decisions we make regarding how we share our content.

Innovation sometimes means experiments don’t work out. What have you learned about failing and then trying again?

We’d heard a lot in 2018 about other publishers seeing a small but dedicated audience interested in high school or college sports and willing to pay for it with a separate subscription. At the same time, I’d also been seeing more and more personally crafted newsletters like theSkimm with a unique voice and full of quick-hit content.

We decided to put these ideas together with an experiment in launching a paid email newsletter about a particular league of high school sports in northern Colorado. We assigned a reporter to work on the newsletter full-time and relied heavily on word-of-mouth and a little email and Facebook marketing to get the project off the ground. After a few months of testing, it was clear the project wasn’t taking off, and we made the decision to discontinue the newsletter. While it wasn’t a “success,” we had the opportunity to experiment with different platforms for managing a paid newsletter and tested all sorts of engagement ideas (giveaways, contests, questions, user-submitted content) to draw more people in. While this particular paid newsletter didn’t succeed, I think we’ll consider trying again with another audience and another strategy, and this time we’ll go into it with a lot more knowledge.

What advice could you share with a news organization that wants to increase its engagement and web numbers?

Data can be intimidating, especially for people who are better with words than numbers. But, data is your friend and can be used to your advantage. Focus in on a few key metrics to start and set some measurable goals for how to grow your audiences. Set a hypothesis and check in regularly to see how stories are performing.

Beyond that, take the extra time to focus on headline writing; a headline can make or break a story. Without a strong headline, you’re not giving that story a fair chance. Have fun with headlines, but not at the expense of clarity and keywords. The reader should always understand what the story is about from the headline before they open it. But at the same time, don’t give it all away in the headline or social media tease. Put the reader in a position where they’re intrigued and want to know more.

Register today for the Digital Revenue Summit where we will be recognizing the best digital innovation in the industry.