Tight-knit communities make brands successful, not numbers, says Joanna Geary

Traditionally, news organisations have focused on ABC figures as an indication of their potential when talking to advertisers. But Joanna Geary, communities editor at the Times, said she believes that creating a tight-knit community of readers is key to a commercially successful brand.

Geary is looking at how to develop the paper’s digital offer and has observed a shift in US media away from a focus on sheer number of readers towards good old-fashioned customer loyalty.

She asked whether a growing readership is necessarily always a good thing. She said that it means that you focus on the new readers, rather than the ones you have already. “You have to have more eyeballs than your competition,” she says.

While traditionally Geary said there has been a view that we “don’t do relationships in journalism”, attitudes are changing.

Media organisations are now realising that they should be concentrating on existing readers. “It is actually a serious business model,” she noted. “This is about fans. We need to know who they are and why they keep coming back.” But she added that it has to be a two-way street.

She felt that there was “always someone missing” from the decisions made day to day at news meetings –  the readers. Her strategy for engaging readers into the community is:

  • Knowing who are fans are and why they are fans
  • Rewarding their loyalty
  • Acknowledging their contribution
  • There are lots of different ways that people are suggesting that this could be done

Some of The Times’ writers have responded positively to the community approach by reaching out to their fans. Geary showed a screen shot of an encouraging message that columnist Caitlin Moran had left for a fan who was feeling a bit down.

She then offered insights into how very often it is the readers who identify most with a publication – and how they sometimes see the staff as the newcomers.  She revealed that she was once welcomed to one of the forums she worked on by one of the regular readers.

“That’s the way it should be,” she said.

See the full presentation:

Photo by Jon Jacob/Thoroughly Good on Flickr

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