Address users as individuals

“Every relationship starts with a conversation. One of the challenges we’ll be facing this coming year is how to communicate with users in an effective way in order to shift them through the stages of the loyalty funnel.”

Over the past year, more and more publishers opened their eyes to the beauty of direct user revenue and subscriptions. But today its potential is far from being reached. Although subscriptions are not a simple answer to declining revenues, as some people hope, the potential is massive and largely untapped.

I recently randomly landed on an article page of a site I’ve never visited before. After reading two or three paragraphs, a banner asked me if I wanted to become a subscriber: “Pay only $4.99 every month and get our best stories…” Thanks, but no thanks. Randomly attacking anonymous first-time users with products and offers is very 2008 and has been overcome even by third-class e-commerce sites. In 2018, we will see less and less of this scattershot approach. Many of us who have ambitions to grow our subscriber base will personalize our loyalty funnel and find new and better ways to target potential subscribers.

How? Some suggestions: Let’s think of subscriptions like dating, where the goal is to build a sustainable relationship with a user. In the ad-driven era, users have been treated like random Tinder dates: one-night-stands we were quick to drop. To regain the willingness and trust from users to eventually pay for content, we’ll have to change the way we treat them. A person who is identified as a potential subscriber needs to be addressed individually. Let’s take it to real life: When we meet someone new we’re interested in, it’s almost never a good idea to ask this person straightaway if he/she wants to start a relationship. Better to suggest we get a drink. Translated into the subscription space, this low-barrier first move can mean: “Learn more about us by following us on Twitter.” Next time, we meet we can dare to suggest to subscribe to a newsletter. No? Okay, this person only consumes sports content? The sports newsletter might work. Check. Next stage — it’s getting serious now, so we can promote our the app. And so on. Eventually, this person might convert into a paying subscriber. Step by step.

Every relationship starts with a conversation. One of the challenges we’ll be facing this coming year is how to communicate with users in an effective way in order to shift them through the stages of the loyalty funnel. When 98 percent of online users consume content completely passively, this is tricky. The real estate on sites where this conversation can happen are banners, that users largely learned to ignore, traumatized by crappy display ads. Facebook is one way to communicate with users, but we won’t do the mistake again to put all our eggs into that one basket.

2018 will teach us to get into conversations with users in order to shift them through the funnel.
In the end, this might not result in a completely subscriber-backed business for the entire industry. Not every content site is built for a subscription business, and there will be publishers who experiment with subscriptions right now who will figure out that it’s not the right business model for them. But on the way to this conclusion, we can all learn a lot — if we’re willing to address users as individuals.

Pia Frey is cofounder of Opinary.

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Paul Ford   Go global

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Jake Levine   The return to now

Burt Herman   Things get real

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Errin Haines   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new