Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

“The clearer the editorial profile of a particular niche, the higher the potential to build a loyal and paying audience around it.”

To multitask without losing focus is difficult, and in the coming year, it won’t be any easier for publishers. To end the third-party cookie era in a proactive way, publishers will have to figure out a strategy to get advertisers first-party access to their target audiences.

Just like everyone else, they’ll have to master the uncertainties the pandemic has brought upon us. And publishers have to elevate their subscription game. But how, and in what direction?

The era in which every news site covers more or less the same set of topics and stories is over. The challenge now is differentiation and segmentation — the rise of the niche, if you will. The clearer the editorial profile of a particular niche, the higher the potential to build a loyal and paying audience around it.

How to differentiate? Building expertise, credibility, and audience in a niche area of interest is not easy, and larger legacy newsrooms will surely find it more difficult to adapt. And, of course, none of it will work without deeper investments into editorial, which, against a landscape of more than 16,000 newsroom jobs being killed in the U.S. alone in 2020, isn’t looking good.

We might never see some of those jobs again, but others might find their way back to us in 2021. One predictable way to grow a paying audience is to hire journalists with an established profile and following in a certain area. Kara Swisher, covering tech, and Ben Smith, covering media, being lured to The New York Times are examples. But it can also be done in a way that is simpler and with more humble ambitions.

Media organizations can learn from the Substackization of media (and the consequent Substackerati) to see how journalists’ expertise can be channeled through newsletters to build their own communities. But the better way to respond to this trend is to invest in those journalists and experts, hire and put them into the center of a growth strategy, and then let them guide the entire marketing subscription funnel, including their own newsletter, podcast, and weekly column. Their communities don’t even have to turn into brand promoters for the entire organization, so long as they’re registered and keep coming back to their respective favorites.

Eventually, those personality-centered communities may even serve as an excellent gateway for advertisers to reach their target audiences. But that’s one to see in 2022.

Pia Frey is a journalist and a co-founder of Opinary.

To multitask without losing focus is difficult, and in the coming year, it won’t be any easier for publishers. To end the third-party cookie era in a proactive way, publishers will have to figure out a strategy to get advertisers first-party access to their target audiences.

Just like everyone else, they’ll have to master the uncertainties the pandemic has brought upon us. And publishers have to elevate their subscription game. But how, and in what direction?

The era in which every news site covers more or less the same set of topics and stories is over. The challenge now is differentiation and segmentation — the rise of the niche, if you will. The clearer the editorial profile of a particular niche, the higher the potential to build a loyal and paying audience around it.

How to differentiate? Building expertise, credibility, and audience in a niche area of interest is not easy, and larger legacy newsrooms will surely find it more difficult to adapt. And, of course, none of it will work without deeper investments into editorial, which, against a landscape of more than 16,000 newsroom jobs being killed in the U.S. alone in 2020, isn’t looking good.

We might never see some of those jobs again, but others might find their way back to us in 2021. One predictable way to grow a paying audience is to hire journalists with an established profile and following in a certain area. Kara Swisher, covering tech, and Ben Smith, covering media, being lured to The New York Times are examples. But it can also be done in a way that is simpler and with more humble ambitions.

Media organizations can learn from the Substackization of media (and the consequent Substackerati) to see how journalists’ expertise can be channeled through newsletters to build their own communities. But the better way to respond to this trend is to invest in those journalists and experts, hire and put them into the center of a growth strategy, and then let them guide the entire marketing subscription funnel, including their own newsletter, podcast, and weekly column. Their communities don’t even have to turn into brand promoters for the entire organization, so long as they’re registered and keep coming back to their respective favorites.

Eventually, those personality-centered communities may even serve as an excellent gateway for advertisers to reach their target audiences. But that’s one to see in 2022.

Pia Frey is a journalist and a co-founder of Opinary.

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