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When Wonder Women launched back in October last year, the first few months were a bit of "trial and error", to see if the experiment would work.

The online section, which aims to offer an alternative to some other styles of women-related media by "championing women and being positive", started with just one full-time member of staff, editor Emma Barnett, with colleague Louisa Peacock – now deputy editor – helping out "behind the scenes".

"I can just remember this scramble the week before, getting all the content and the stuff ready into our content-management system," Peacock told "We had this manic week of getting it all ready."

Making its mark

Wonder Women was the first online-only section for the Telegraph, according to Peacock, and it had a lot to prove from the start, not just to their colleagues but also to their prospective readers.

"We had that initial challenge of 'we know what we're trying to do, but how do we get over that hurdle of telling our potential audience that they want to come here'. That it's not the BMW – bitchy, moany, whiney stuff - that we want to do, and nor is it the fluffy stuff.

"So how do we tell them that our women's section isn't going to be either of those things, and it's going to be something they really want to read?"

They also had to rely on their colleagues at the Telegraph to have faith in the "new, fresh, innovative brand".

"They had to just trust us and I think we've proved it can work, because it got new advertisers on board as well as new readership all of a sudden".

And around eight months in, this was recognised with the inclusion of a link to the section in the main homepage menu bar.

"For ages we didn't have that," Peacock said. "We were just a completely floating section".

She explained that its success up to then was down to "pure SEO, good headlines, quality journalism, knowing when to come in on a certain issue and what to say", as well as "really good social media".

"We didn't even almost need to be on the top nav of the website," she said, but added that being included in the lead line-up "was a really good pat on the back for us".

"We'd obviously done well enough to go on there and that helped audience figures as well, because once you're there it is a bit of a destination".

Today Wonder Women reports around 700,000 uniques a month, she said, "and growing".

The editorial approach, and blogging manpower

As already discussed, the idea with Wonder Women was to bring a "fresh approach" to women's content, and take a different approach to BMW content, or viewing women through a fashion-focused lens.

Example headlines from the section today include links to news items such as 'one in four midwives thinking of quitting', a video giving readers the chance to 'meet the women who run St Pancras' and a first-person piece titled 'my first breast cancer screening - why is it optional?'

"We look to the states, where they're far more ahead in the blogosphere anyway," Peacock said, "and their websites are far more developed in terms of the content and their audience."

One point of inspiration for Peacock and Barnett is Jezebel, which Peacock described as a "beacon of what women's journalism could be in the UK".

Given its existence within an established news outlet, it also responds to the day's news events, she added.

"We bring a sense of flair and the female slice of life to it, but we don't just want to copy other women's sections around on the internet and in paper."

While Wonder Women is headed by Barnett and Peacock, it also maximises the crowd in the form of its "pool of bloggers", Peacock said.

She explained that this includes contributions from people such as Channel 4 News's Cathy Newman and comedian Katy Brand, but is not just limited to well-known individuals.

"We literally ask anyone and everyone. If they have an informed opinion and if they meet a few criteria, they can write for us," Peacock added.

"It's a channel for women (and men) in that they can write and come in with their ideas, and it's quite interactive in that sense".

Digital v print content model

The section's articles are limited to 1,000 words, with the idea of making articles "easy and digestible" for consumers.

"What flies online is different to the paper," Peacock said, "and people online tend to love things that are much more of-the-moment, topics you'd talk about in the pub with your mates.

What flies online is different to the paper and people online tend to love things that are much more of the moment, topics you'd talk about in the pub with your matesLouisa Peacock, the Telegraph
"Whereas in print, because we're a newspaper, it had to be a bit more newsworthy and getting the news line on something."

And Peacock also highlighted the importance of the content itself, over just having "big names", when it comes to appealing to online readers.

"Online we've learnt it's what you say and what you talk about as opposed to who's saying it."

While the section has "some fantastic writers" involved, many of them well-known personalities, "it's not the big name that attracts people to the site and that's completely different to print", she said.

Despite this, she added, "the values are the same" across platforms.

And while Jezebel acts as a "beacon" in terms of the editorial approach, Peacock said the way BuzzFeed delivers some of its content in list format has also influenced the Wonder Women team.

"I think Buzzfeed have re-energised what a list can actually be," she said. "Buzzfeed have really got it right, so we look to them as a beacon as well."

"We've learnt as journalists to slightly adapt the way we write headlines, and the way we have to really SEO it up, and keyword it up and make sure it's grabbing this audience in a really gripping, thrilling way."

Community engagement

As well as engaging on social media, the team has found in-article polls to be an effective way of garnering the reader response to an issue or specific story.

They also run web-chats with key figures to offer real-time engagement with the audience.

Comments, on the other hand, have proved less valuable, Peacock said.

"It's very difficult with comments because you're trying to be open, and encourage your audience to talk to you," she said, adding that often "you just get people who say what they really think when it's either nothing to do with the article at all, or it is to do with the article but it's shooting down the woman who's written it, or saying something that's really inappropriate".

She added that when it comes to comments, "I don't think we really get much from them anymore".

But as well as using polls as a different way of engaging with the reader, she said readers can also easily interact with the team via Twitter and Facebook.

"People know they can contact us and have their say," she said.

Revenue streams

Another issue facing most news outlets is finding sustainable revenue streams for digital content. The Telegraph launched a metered paywall earlier this year, but the introduction of Wonder Women last year was supported by a "launch sponsor', in this case Debenhams, which helped cover the initial costs.

We've embraced digital, we're the first brand to have gone digital, and it seems to be working, touch woodLouisa Peacock, the Telegraph
"We are talking at the moment with various different advertisers and brands that haven't come to the Telegraph before," Peacock added.

"What we didn't want to do was go for the really obvious womens-y advertising brands that you might get associated with women's content. So it was quite difficult for us to find the right brands to send the right messages".

Sponsored podcasts or webchats are another consideration, and while Wonder Women is focused on online, they are also looking at the possibility of non-digital revenue streams in the form of events.

"It's completely different to the print approach," she added. "There's loads more we can do and we're looking into that."

And more generally, she is confident of what the future holds.

"We've embraced digital, we're the first brand to have gone digital, and it seems to be working, touch wood. So we're just going to grow from here hopefully."

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