When we start getting creative about engagement

“How might we more naturally bring readers from one story to another? How might we recreate the serendipity readers create for themselves while jaunting through the web?”

What a time to be alive, news nerds. Think about your morning and evening journeys across the web. Not as an industry insider, but as a human. Where you can read big sweeping pieces of journalism about the victims of gun violence, find incredible context on the complicated situation in Syria, learn about the history of the Thanksgiving holiday on Snapchat Discover, catch up on great reporting from the front lines of the election, see that New York Daily News cover everyone is talking about, flip through a Twitter Moment about owls with hats, catch some industry buzz that you can bring to the office the next day, have work-listening music recommendations pushed to your phone through Facebook Notify, travel through time to read days-old recaps of that TV show you just got caught up on via DVR, and say “that’s so me!” about No. 8 in a recent BuzzFeed listicle.

julia-beizerWe’re all citizens of world these days, crossing the borders of brands, platforms, and products to satisfy our unique and varied interests as the distinct little snowflakes that we are. But as publishers, when we think about engagement, we tend to think about it in the discrete context of our own properties, instead of thinking about the wide, wonderful world our readers can escape into with their phones and what engagement with our brand means across all of them.

We must keep working to increase the number of those highly-engaged, visit-all-the-time, likely-to-subscribe readers/viewers/listeners/consumers. But 2016 is the year we should all start doing that in wildly different ways.

Instead of: Click here. Go here! Tap to expand this article. Download our app. Recommendations from our partners. More from this sub-branded vertical. Can I interest anybody in a newsletter?

Let’s test millions of techniques to consistently engage readers through the distributed platform landscape of Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, and the like. Let’s personalize those newsletter offers for readers based on their reading history, referrer, or time, and test send times to optimize engagement. Let’s move away from the broadcast model for alerts, finding more segmented ways to use push beyond the breaking-news context. Let’s use deep linking to light up those latent lovers of our brand who have our apps installed but use them rarely.

But most importantly, let’s radically reinvent the article experience to encourage deeper reading, further browsing. How might we more naturally bring readers from one story to another? How might we recreate the serendipity readers create for themselves while jaunting through the web? How can we increase our page load times so readers never have to wait? How might we use the time-honored traditions of news design to create oases for news reading in this increasingly distracting world?

A guy we like a lot around here once said that when you’re in a tight box, you have to invent your way out. We’re in a tight box, competing for our readers’ attention among the many differing and delightful ways they can spend their screen time. Let’s start inventing.

Julia Beizer is director of product for The Washington Post.