How Norway’s DN built its audience engagement team

With the help of a cross-functional team, Ingeborg Volan, Director of Audience Engagement at Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, is hoping to pin down readers’ needs and wants in a bid to understand loyalty and drive engagement, conversion, and retention.

by Simone Flueckiger | September 21, 2018

Located in the newsroom, Dagens Næringsliv’s (DN)  audience engagement team consists of journalists, editorial analysts, and former marketers turned audience engagement specialists, and was established after Volan took up her position as Director of Audience Engagement in April.

“It goes across the entire newsroom, and also has really strong ties to our customer service department, and our digital sales and user revenue department, we work really closely with them,” Volan says.

“But what I think is really important for this to succeed is that it’s newsroom and journalistically initiated, and that this drive to understand the readers translates into how we go about producing content, and how we let our understanding of our readers play into the journalism that we do.”

The work of DN’s audience engagement team is still in its early stages, but Volan, who will be speaking at WAN-IFRA’s Newsroom Summit in Oslo, is hoping to be able to share more takeaways and insights by the time the conference rolls around in October.

In this interview, she explains how her team is getting started, what its core focus areas are, and shares some of the lessons she has learned while heading up a cross-functional team.

(The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.)

WAN-IFRA: You’ve only been in your position for a few months now, so what is the audience engagement team currently working on?

Ingeborg Volan: We are in the middle of big projects, that is, really building the infrastructure of what we’re going to do. We are consolidating our user and subscriber database with our content database so we can actually do advanced analysis of what drives engagement, what a happy subscriber looks in our data, and what the indications are that we should pay someone special attention to make sure that they get the content and service they should from DN. We are also implementing new tools for marketing automation. What sort of automatic communication do we have for new subscribers, or existing subscribers, how do we tailor this communication and possibly segment it based on what your interests are and what your previous content use has been to make sure that your welcoming committee is up to speed.

We have started a big process of looking at what is the core of DN’s journalism, and what are the needs and wants of our prospective readers, not just our current readers. How do we understand our readers the best, and how do we align that with DN’s editorial goals and mission. It’s really easy to become very numbers driven, and that’s a good thing in a newsroom, but not if it compromises your journalistic integrity.

A lot of people will be loyal non-subscribers before they turn subscribers, so what we’re trying to understand is what first attracts you to DN’s journalism, what is so interesting that it makes you want to purchase a subscription, and what is the content you need to stay happy and engaged and interested after you have converted into a subscriber.

How would you describe the team’s core focus areas?

For me, it’s three things. The one thing is making sure we understand our readers, our potential readers, and their needs and wants, and how we can use our journalism to address those.

The second part is content and publishing strategy, what sort of content do we need at each point in the day or in the week to hit that mark of what readers’ need. So I’m working with all the editorial departments, trying to develop a strategy for how much content you need on a Tuesday, for example, or how should a Sunday afternoon look like, and how should we publish and distribute that content.

The third part is the interaction with those readers through social media, through newsletters, through all sorts of third-party distribution platforms to make sure that we understand them, we speak with them, and try to make them as happy with their DN subscription as they can be, or make them really want a DN subscription. So it’s a question of hitting the right reader with the right content at the right time, while being really nice.

How would you characterise the data analytics culture within DN?

We are in the process of learning more, both about our subscribers and about our content, and utilising that knowledge to improve our products, our journalism, and our relationship with our readers, and it’s a big process. We are a traditional journalistically driven newsroom with amazing reporters, and looking at the data can sometimes be disheartening for some because you have this wonderful story and you don’t understand why it doesn’t get the numbers that you had hoped it would.

And we have to understand that there are some stories that will naturally have a big readership, and there are others who potentially reach a smaller segment but perhaps a more dedicated segment. And that means we’re not only looking at pageviews and conversions, we want to make sure that we also give proper value to our journalistic merits, we want to reward good journalism, and how we measure internally. So we’re looking at that right now.

Where have you derived your inspiration from?

The FT has obviously been an inspiration to us, we’re also really impressed with what Norwegian local media group Amedia has done. They’ve been incredibly successful in local markets. But I also tried to draw upon theories and methods from other professions, product design, product development, marketing. The tools from other professions can be really useful for us in trying to understand the users of our journalism.

I’m a big statistics junkie, but I will say that one of the dangers of becoming too reliant on your newsrooms statistics is that they’ll only tell you about the content and users you already have, it doesn’t tell you anything about the content you could produce or the readers you could have. So that’s why we’re looking at other sources of inspiration, and we really want to involve the newsroom and other departments in how we find out, it’s not sort of going into a closed laboratory and shutting the door and coming back in eight weeks and saying ‘Eureka!’. We really want to make sure that our best people know what’s going on, and have a say and participate.

What are some of the challenges or lessons you can share?

As a manager, I will say you can never communicate enough. Change takes time, and people need to feel that they are part of it. I will not say that I always succeed on that front but it is one of the lessons that you learn. So, information, communication, transparency really are key. We are really trying to make sure that the whole newspaper is involved in this, so we have cross-functional teams like mine in the newsroom, and then we have cross-functional task forces across the organisation working together, to also tear down some of the walls between editorial and other departments.

We are all talking to the same people, and we are selling the same products, and a lot of people on the commercial side of the business are really, really into the journalism, and have really good viewpoints on what works and what wouldn’t, and the product people have really good suggestions for what we might be able to do that journalists really don’t have the knowledge to suggest, a lot of the time.

It’s still early days, but what are some of your goals for the future?

I hope that in a year we can say that we are the publisher in Norway that understands its audience the best, and in a couple of years, I hope we can say we have the most loyal subscribers of any Norwegian publisher. We probably also have the most expensive subscription, so it takes a lot to make sure that we earn that.

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