Push alerts, personalized

“Those that think they get too many alerts, or only want to hear about big breaking news events, can alter their settings to cover the bare minimum. The news hounds that want to know everything can opt it to as many as they desire.”

2018 will be the year of personalized push alerts.

The average lock screen is full of push alerts. They don’t just come from news apps, but Instagram, Uber, Snapchat, Seamless, your bank.

News outlets have sensed a higher tolerance for push alerts and have become much bolder in this area. Many have branched out beyond breaking news — which is competitive to the point that it’s almost impossible to stand out from the crowd — to push analysis, major enterprise pieces, investigations, in-depth features, and other content deemed valuable to their audience.

It isn’t hard to see why. Unmediated by third-parties like Facebook and Google, push alerts provide news outlets with one of the most direct, most intimate connections to their audiences. They provide a vital, and highly valued, opportunity to build and maintain brand loyalty.

But no news audience is monolithic.

The less generous assessment of push alerts is that they are intrusive. They are an interruption to someone’s day and tolerance for those interruptions differ from one person to the next. While some people welcome a steady stream of alerts from their favorite news brand, others don’t.

Some get annoyed if they feel they’re getting too many alerts. Some assume that opting in to alerts means opting in to breaking news and nothing else. Some are adamant that sports events aren’t worthy of an alert. Some really don’t like receiving alerts that aren’t about news.

One solution to this is personalization.

Many of the smartest people working with push — Greg Emerson at The Wall Street Journal, Eric Bishop at The New York Times, Sasha Koren from the Guardian U.S. Mobile Innovation Lab, to name just three — stress the importance of putting the audience first. Giving them the power to control what they want, how they want it, when they want it. Personalized push alerts are a vital way of achieving that on mobile.

Of course, personalized push alerts isn’t a new concept by any means. Some outlets are doing it and doing it well. But it is an area that is woefully under-utilized. Over half of the 31 apps included in my recent study of push alerts offered just one, all-or-nothing alert option, usually characterized as breaking news.

This includes some major players, such as The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Fox News. Alerts from the BBC Worldwide app can only be turned on or off in the phone’s system settings.

Above (L-R): All-or-nothing alert options in the Bloomberg, Fox News and BBC Worldwide iOS apps.

A mobile editor based at a major, global outlet whose app alerts don’t offer any degree of customization told me that personalization was, “something we desperately want and are begging our product counterparts to build.”

News outlets working within these confines face real challenges. They are forced to either (a) limit themselves to major breaking news, missing a vital opportunity to develop stronger ties with users that would like more alerts, or (b) push a wider variety of content via their one, catch-all channel, risking the wrath of users who thought they were only signing up for breaking news alerts.

Both options are undesirable. The former will force some audiences to look elsewhere. The latter will cause intense irritation to some audience members, damaging their perception of the brand and possibly leading them to disable alerts or remove the app entirely.

Personalized push alerts benefit both the audience and the news outlet. On the audience side, they solve a problem for users at every end of the spectrum. Those that think they get too many alerts, or only want to hear about big breaking news events, can alter their settings to cover the bare minimum. The news hounds that want to know everything can opt it to as many as they desire. News outlets benefit because they get to put their best content (and sometimes that’s just a really well-crafted alert) in front of the audience that most wants it.

When audiences opt in to specific, non-breaking channels, it’s a clear signal that they are hungry for alerts about that topic. This provides scope to be more aggressive, more expansive, and more creative, providing a valuable opportunity to cement a tight relationship with some of their loyal and engaged users.

The really smart outlets will build an element of nuance into their customization options. Take Bleacher Report’s (excellent) alerts, for example. Their bread and butter is to provide sports news and scores (sometimes containing video of the action) for your favorites sports teams. But they built in an additional switch that allows their users to avoid spoilers — a lovely option for those days when you’ve DVR-ed the game and want to watch it unspoiled, as-live, at a later date. Quartz has something similar with its option to filter out alerts about Donald Trump.

None of this is easy. Deciding how to personalize, and what categories to include, is not a straightforward task. Building the product and on-boarding users is challenging, too. The absence of a feedback mechanism makes it hard to pinpoint exactly what audiences want. But it’s important not to ask too much of them. It’s questionable whether anyone wants to sift through 50-100 personalization options, for example.

Above (L-R): Customization options in the CNN MoneyStream and Dallas Morning News iOS apps.

The lack of high quality data doesn’t help, and what data there is often doesn’t capture what newsrooms really want to know: whether their audience values and appreciates the alert. The lack of a tap doesn’t necessarily translate to a lack of appreciation.

Personalization is not straightforward. But it’s absolutely worth it — and news outlets know it. Those that do it well will reap the rewards.

Pete Brown is a senior research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia.

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

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

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

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

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

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

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

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

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

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

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

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

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

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

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

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

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

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

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

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

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Paul Ford   Go global

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Jake Levine   The return to now

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

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

Burt Herman   Things get real

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

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

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

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

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

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

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

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

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

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers