Catering to about 26 million unique visitors a month on its U.S., political news website POLITICO has become a go-to resource for people looking to keep up with the ins and outs of Washington. In the fast-paced, competitive media industry, the company wanted to better understand why its users visited, and what they wanted from the site.
In August 2016, it launched an online community dubbed “POLITICO Insiders,” designed to allow readers to share insight on why and how they use POLITICO, and how it can stay relevant to their needs.
“Customers aren’t a bunch of email or IP addresses; they’re human beings sharing an experience with us,” says Rebecca Haller, managing director of audience insights and data at POLITICO. She says that in today’s political climate fraught with fake news and unreliable sources, the customer experience is a critical component for media companies that want to rise above as trusted sources of information.
“We should always be respectful of [user] needs, their motivations, and their preferences,” she says. “Media and technology are constantly evolving and it’s imperative we remain voraciously curious about our customers and truly understand where, how, and why we fit into their lives.”
Previously, POLITICO measured customer feedback through gut instincts and historical site metrics. It tracked website analytics, email engagement, and event/social engagement, but it needed to better grasp why people were turning to the site. Company leaders wanted data to back up its instincts, Haller says.
It built an online community page for opt-in power users to take surveys, share feedback, and participate in discussions and events related to current topics and stories in the works. Haller explains that the community gives avid readers a peek behind the curtain at POLITICO, while also giving them the opportunity to hear directly from newsroom personalities and gain access to live events. The exchange of inputs between the company and its readers rewards audience members who are personally and professionally invested in politics. The online community is powered by Vision Critical.
Reacquainting with audiences
POLITICO invites select registered users via email to join the opt-in community, Haller says. The program initially surveys readers to help understand their relation to the brand: Are they journalists, news junkies, or casual readers? What content categories do they prefer? Readers can then choose to receive customized surveys and questionnaires tailored to how their preferences and interests. The data gathered helps to build a broader view of the company to make essential business decisions.
The company has already learned valuable insight from the program’s 5,000 members, Haller says. For example, 70 percent of its Insiders are news junkies, 69 percent believe in knowing both sides of the story, and 38 percent see the importance of knowing news before others. Haller adds she was surprised to learn that 26 percent of Insiders have worked on a presidential race, and 10 percent have worked for a local political campaign.
Insight like this has led to business benefits, Haller says. When Insiders expressed a demand for longer podcasts, the “Playbook in 90 seconds” show was expanded into a “Playbook Audio Briefing, leading to a 50 percent increase in unique listeners in two months. And the sales team generated more than $5 million in new revenue by adjusting its sales and advertising activity to more accurately appeal to user interests.
From readers to collaborators
Haller says it’s critical that companies show their appreciation of active community members who go the extra mile to support the brand. It is one thing to sign up for a newsletter, she says, but to actively participate in surveys and questionnaires means that companies must reciprocate with a great experience.
“I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to see members of the community wear their role as a POLITICO Insiders like a badge of honor,” Haller says. “We don’t incentivize our members to participate in surveys, but we do invite them to exclusive events and it’s fun to watch them use that invitation as a way to impress their bosses.”
POLITICO gives Insiders the option to choose how often, or not, they want to receive questionnaires and updates. By giving the audience a timeframe to receive updates, it separates itself from spam-like updates sent by other brands. Only those that want to be constantly in the loop with POLITICO can be.
Haller says that giving customers a seat at the proverbial table alongside the team provides fresh outputs on ideas and creates a collaborative community, not a broadcast brand.
“It’s naive to think of our customers only through the lens of our brand,” she says. “In the grand scheme, we play a minor role in their lives. It’s up to us to make that experience as pleasant and seamless as possible.”