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Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

“These are hard-won subscribers. Ensuring that they remain so loyal, so engaged and so connected to the journalism and mission that they stick around can’t be done by sales and marketing alone.”

By now, most journalists at subscription-driven organizations know about the funnel. The famous digital sales funnel, which classifies potential subscribers in tranches, starting at the top with infrequent visitors and narrowing to a final group of those highly engaged. Ideally, those highly engaged users will pop out of the graphic and into revenue streams, converted into paying subscribers.

But in 2019, newsrooms will focus on understanding the next step of the reader journey: coming back for more. Doubling down on best practices for subscriber retention after acquisition (and updating the graphical representations of such) will be a key priority.

These are hard-won subscribers. Ensuring that they remain so loyal, so engaged and so connected to the journalism and mission that they stick around can’t be done by sales and marketing alone. Yes, of course those teams will continue to invest in strategies and tools that promote engagement and reduce churn, but journalists can and will help by improving editorial products, gaining greater audience insight and, most important, producing quality journalism.

A lot of that work will happen in your inbox. Newsletters are a proven retention tool in all industries, and they’ll continue their resurgence in ours. The intimacy, convenience and reliability of email are attractive to readers, especially during a time of growing suspicion of social media.

Next year we’ll hear about investments in editorial, tech and product resources for newsletters, benefiting those who create them and consume them. We’ll see stronger collaboration with product and tech colleagues, and a rise of those in hybrid roles. We’ll see the development of more engagement features, emphasizing interactivity, visual elements and real-time updates in email templates. And we’ll see more experimentation with paid newsletters or subscriber-only products.

The targeting of these newsletters will also be refined. Large blasts of email of little or minimal interest, with low open rates as proof of their middling success, will be joined (or ideally replaced) by more segmented, personalized and therefore more valuable newsletters.

All of this will lead to keener insight into audiences. With this data, coupled with constant user research, both qualitative and quantitative, news organizations will be able to better understand what subscribers want, and where, when and how they want to read, view or consume our journalism. (This will also help with the identification of new audiences, but hey, we are talking about retention here.)

Of course, these insights and advancements won’t be restricted to email. We’ll see improved personalization on the desktop and in apps, with smarter applications of recirculation modules and push notifications.

And none of that work will matter without timely and invaluable news, analysis and information from trusted journalists. Subscribers want relationships with reporters, with our brands. Like any good relationship, we need to ensure they find enough value to remain with it.

Elisabeth Goodridge is editorial director of newsletters at The New York Times.

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