The past year has been difficult for publishers. Given the chaos of COVID-19, elections, and social turmoil, more people have consumed more news and entertainment over the last year than ever before. But their skepticism of the sources providing that information has also reached an all-time high, as the rising tide of misinformation pushed trust in social media and even search engines to record lows.
The dilemma has publishers across all genres of content struggling to figure out how they can regain readers’ trust, keep them engaged and drive revenue. Complicating matters, this all comes at a time when publishers are also dealing with the demise of third-party cookies, which many have relied on for audience targeting to deliver the ads that keep the lights on and the servers up and running.
As we embark on a new year, one that we all hope will be less tumultuous, publishers must turn to technology that enables them to connect with audiences directly, to cut out the middleman of social media and capture and leverage more first-party user data. Here are three tech strategies that will give publishers the upper hand to build their own audience data strategies and end their reliance on third-party sources.
Strategy 1: Personalization At Scale.
Publishers can’t realistically expect that the massive media consumption will continue. Consumers have become overwhelmed with the information overload, and many have cut back for their own mental health’s sake. Even for entertainment and lifestyle media, it seems many have audiences have just reached a saturation point. That means publishers will need to find ways to capture the attention of subscribers and keep them coming back.
Delivering precisely personalized content is one of the most effective ways to do just that. With so much clutter, consumers don’t have time or the patience to sort through it all to find what they really want to see, so they’ll gravitate toward outlets that curate the content for them. By giving subscribers more of what they want, publishers can build more trusted, long-term relationships with subscribers who will depend on their favorite content providers not to waste their time with frivolous content they don’t care about.
Strategy 2: More Opportunities for AI Technology
Of course, delivering personalized content to every single subscriber is practically impossible without automation and artificial intelligence technologies to help. AI platforms can now track audience behavior on-site—their clicks, searches and other engagement—to learn their preferences and build a precise identity graph for each individual user.
Unlike cookies, this data is tied directly to an individual based on their email address, providing a much more precise, accurate and reliable set of audience intelligence. Then, when that user logs in again, the AI recognizes the user and automatically serves up content that historically has enticed engagement. The same technology also allows publishers to automatically send this personalized content to subscribers through a variety of channels, including email and push notifications. Each time a user clicks on content, the system gets smarter, learning more about their preferences to fine-tune the content personalization.
Strategy 3: Shift Toward Owned Data Strategies
Figuring out how to offset the loss of cookies is only part of the battle. For years, publishers have relied on social media to distribute content and build a community of engaged subscribers. However, due to shifts in Facebook’s policies, publisher content has been de-prioritized, and now, it’s also holding audience data hostage. Since every site visit from Facebook is referral traffic, Facebook alone holds onto that audience data, which means publishers have no way of learning about those visitors’ preferences and interests. As a result, publishers are helpless to target them with the personalized content we know that audiences want.
Publishers must find ways to shift away from reliance on this third-party referral traffic and build their own audience data cache. Utilizing this ‘owned data’ to target audiences with personalized content is especially important as trust in Facebook and other social platforms wanes. Publications that don’t implement ways to collect and use audience data to deliver more personalized content will lose out on opportunities to reach and engage readers and drive revenue.
While we’re all trying to figure out how to navigate the “new normal,” one lesson has been made abundantly clear: organizations that plan for the unexpected, that maintain strong one-to-one relationships with their customers, have a much better chance of weathering whatever change may come. For publishers, that means reducing reliance on third parties that serve as gatekeepers between you and your subscribers and instead of building and leveraging your own audience data to deliver the personalized content they expect.