Credit: Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Social media users tend to skim-read their feeds, rarely clicking on the media articles and even more rarely reading them in their entirety.

BHIVE, Bloomberg Media's innovation lab, decided to find out what is behind the reading-and-leaving phenomenon and how to change user behaviour.

Karen Johnson, head of design research for BHIVE at Bloomberg Media, explained that a significant portion of social news consumption at Bloomberg happens via mobile. This led the publisher to start optimising its social article experience to look great on phones and to fit naturally into the 'in-app' view that frames the article experience on social.

"Articles are a detour in the course of catching up to speed on readers' social feeds," said Johnson.

"We saw that countless social readers quickly skim articles to confirm what they’d seen in their feed and to pick up on salient details."

She added that designing around the 'quick read' led BHIVE to create a simplified article page for social readers. Project Dora, BHIVE's soon-to-launch social article template, cuts out the clutter by making headline text and visual elements smaller, while removing non-essential text.

"Our new design allows users to get to the story sooner — we’ve literally moved the first paragraph up from the bottom to the top of the mobile page view in some instances."

Johnson also offered some insights into what makes a successful social, online article.

"First, savvy social news seekers hate nothing more than redundancy. The article experience begins in the social feed, so the copy — whether it’s in the social post or the article page itself — should progressively tell the reader something new or different about a story every step of the way.

"Second, we discovered through analytics that articles with images perform better. We’ve seen both anecdotally and in our data that the 'social news stand' moment is more compelling to people when it includes visuals, such as photos, gifs, or videos. Just make sure your articles are properly formatted with Open Graph tags for optimal display on social cards and posts."

Based on just a few simple data-driven and qualitative-driven clues, BHIVE team began mocking up article page formats aimed at shifting user behaviour for social in simple ways, added Johnson. By eliminating clutter in the article experience and making it easier for users to get to the heart of the story, they reduced friction that might otherwise have led readers to bail.

"Adding our floating, thumb-friendly copy/link button contributed to the increase in social sharing. We made it easier for users to share the way they like to, via manual copy/paste versus sharing in-app."

Bloomberg’s new Dora social articles template is scheduled to launch to all of the Bloomberg mobile audience this spring.

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