It would have been amusing to suggest that subscriptions could influence editorial planning in yesterday's media world. Today, editors see the direct and immediate link between the stories they publish and their success in acquiring and retaining digital subscribers.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published a prediction report – Journalism, media, and technology trends and predictions 2022. A key finding was that meeting audience needs is essential for publishers determined to refocus their businesses on digital.

So as a publisher, your success will largely depend on how well you engage with your audiences on various platforms.

The evolution of content planning and the importance of knowing your audience

Operational content planning in newsrooms has traditionally been short-term. The fast-paced news cycle has been part of the culture for so long that it determines what content is produced and is reflected in content planning tools of advanced newsrooms like the New York Times.

The shift from physical newspapers to digital, and the struggle to grab readers' attention to boost subscriptions called for mid to long-term planning.

With engagement and conversions now top priorities, newsrooms are adding more layers to their operational planning. One of such layers - audience management, is starting to play a central role in improving strategic content planning by defining what stories get published.

Publishers are researching their audiences, their content interests and preferred formats and are devoting more resources to better serving them. An example would be The Washington Post creating a health and wellness department that will cover topics like lifestyle, exercise, mental health and coping with the pandemic backed by real science. Coverage that their experience tells them is certain to resonate well with younger audiences.

The critical thing here is knowing the audience they are trying to capture, the type of content likely to be consumed, and the platforms they consume them on.

Strategic content planning in newsrooms

While meeting audience needs is essential for publishers, it is only the start.

Strategic content planning is complex and transforming that plan into a daily working reality is intricate. From the editor-in-chief to reporters in the field, your whole newsroom must have a common understanding of your audience needs and how that data informs your strategy.

Here’s how you can start improving strategic content planning in your newsroom:

Serve your audiences with targeted content: The value of creating content around audience or user needs is beginning to catch on. To better serve your audiences the first question to ask is whether you understand their content needs.

Newsrooms are learning that they have multiple distinct audiences that have specific content interests and content formats. Researching and defining these distinct audiences and ensuring that your whole newsroom has a common understanding of the audience needs is vital.

Target your audiences on the right platforms: Having identified your target audiences, their content interests and formats, you need to serve them content – on the right platform. While you may have one core platform to serve, you typically need to spread your content in variations across several platforms.

Publish content at the right times for your audiences: Different audiences tend to access content at various times of the day and week. Knowing the appropriate time to capture your audience on various platforms helps with improving engagement levels.

Introduce forward-looking controlling as part of the newsroom routine: The relationship between planning and controlling is intertwined. Many newsrooms have taken a data-informed and evidence- based approach by performing ex-post controlling.

While looking at historical data can help refine your audience or user needs it is critical to use that data for forward controlling. Make sure you have enough 'Educate me' stories for your audience group, like 'young families' for example, in the week ahead. Do not just use data, use it forward-looking and incorporate it into your newsroom's daily or weekly routine.

However, it is safe to say that to effectively use analytics, your newsroom needs to define its goals, develop a mix of tools, refine the organisational structure and newsroom culture so that it enables a more data-informed pursuit of these goals.

A tool like Desk-Net is a step in that direction, providing the structural basis for change. With these tools, you can specify and document audiences and user needs, review the content that has been planned for them across multiple platforms and control how your newsroom addresses your audience needs.

If you would like to learn more about improving strategic content planning in your newsroom, please get in touch with Alejandra Torres at Desk-Net or the team here.

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