Publishers ‘need to balance journalism, business and user experience’

Joao Romano ()

In the United States, in contrast, there is a much more fragmented picture. “You have Facebook, Twitter and the likes of Snapchat, Kik and a variety of other platforms with 10, 50, 60 million users. 

Europe, in turn, follows the US but overall lags everyone else when it comes to platform use, according to João, who lives in Portugal. He believes this is because European society is “more conservative and privacy-driven”.

João spoke to FIPP contributor Felix Mago on the sidelines of Digital Innovators’ Summit 2017 in Berlin, which he recently attended as a delegate. Here is more of what they discussed.

Better using journalists as part of audience engagement strategies

In a world where engagement is driven through social platforms, João believes publishers should make more of the personal brands their journalists are building rather than focus solely on the overall media brand.

“It is not about egos, but because of the position journalists have in society. [It will help] media companies to create real conversations between audience and journalists rather than simply saying A or B wrote the article. 

“I cannot prescribe exactly what they should be doing, but it could, for instance, be involving the audience and journalist directly in discussions about topics the journalist is working on, or selected comments following stories,” said João.

Balance journalism, business expectations and user experience

João believes the quality of journalism has suffered with the rise of social over the past few years. 

“There was a drive towards more clicks, because more clicks meant more revenue. With everything that happened recently, such as fake news, publishers should really focus on building quality, trustworthy content that people are willing not only to consume, but also pay for.”

Short-term thinking is a challenge to the above. “One of the big challenges is making all stakeholders outside the day-to-day running of the company understand the importance of investing in quality journalism. I thought The New York Times did that brilliantly with their recent manifesto on journalism.”

Another challenge is building good user experiences, without, for example, frustrations such as load times to annoying advertising experiences that switch people off brands. The means are there, but publishers sometimes do not have the wherewithal to exploit UX opportunities to make them digitally truly competitive.

“It’s about achieving a balance between content, business and audience experiences,” João says.

UX: Blended cross-device experiences

Organisations will need to carefully consider engagement across devices to counter “device fatigue”, says João. “Whether it is brands or publishers or others reaching out, we will really need to understand what people want when and how, in order not to overwhelm them with too much stuff from too many devices. Otherwise it will become very Big Brother-ish, and people will simply switch us off. 

“Those who figure out how to best provide blended experiences between say the iPhone, Apple Watch and Apple TV will be in a stronger position than those that do not.” 

Chatbots – personalisation not automation

João says he is uncertain about how developments such as chatbots will impact content consumption. “If you consider that Facebook Messenger has a billion users, I do not see much by the way of news content bots on there, as one example. I think it is because it isn’t a very intuitive way to consume news. 

João believes the value of AI, machine and deep learning will be better in the personalisation of content. “Personally, as a consumer I would be more inclined to use a bot if it truly understands each ‘moment’ of content I consume, not in it sending me a list of one-size-fits-all stories on an automated basis.

“I think it will work better when built around something very specific like live sports, and then updates me in a very personalised way. It’s no good sending me general updates about Bayern Munich when I’m supporting Borussia Dortmund.”

The rise of voice?

Most publishers know consumers in emerging markets have bypassed desktops to have their first en-masse Internet experiences via mobile. “Few, however, realise that Facebook represents the Internet. People go online, for example, via FB because it’s free data. Outside of that they have data costs.”

This means mobile, with social at the centre, is the starting and end point of their Internet experiences. “I am not sure what the future will hold here, but I could very well imagine other kinds of devices where we don’t use screens, where interaction is for example through voice.”

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