'Understand What You Do Well'; Ideas for Retaining Your New Crisis Resource Audience

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by Ronn Levine

In a park in Palatine, Ill., outside of Chicago, in what looks to be late March or early April, birds really are chirping as a bundled-up Wylecia Wiggs Harris, CEO of American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), addresses members before taking a much-needed walk.


“Hi AHIMA members, this is Wylecia just checking in to see how all of you are doing… This is a period of uncertainty for all of us. And if we’re honest, there are fears and doubts and concerns that we’re all carrying. And yet the work that we do has never been more important. Know that AHIMA appreciates everything you are doing. We’re in this all together.”


I found this comforting video by going to the AHIMA website and clicking on what many associations—including my own, SIIA—have risen to the occasion to assemble: a complete COVID-19 Resource microsite for members. In addition to FAQs, CDI Query Templates, health coding webinars and more, AHIMA has added a special “In This Together” attachment to its logo. Click on that and the video comes up.


Back in March and early April, many associations moved quickly to build COVID-19 microsites to accompany their regular website. And these were so good that associations and publishers saw huge bumps in audience and traffic. Marlene Hendrickson, senior director, publishing and marketing, for American Staffing Association, told us in a webinar that their microsite quickly surpassed their homepage for traffic. Stephanie Williford, CEO of SIPA member EB Medicine, reported that one article on their COVID-19 section garnered 340,000 views when a typical, popular article might get 10,000.


So here we are almost exactly three months in, and the question now becomes, how will we retain this new audience?


Here are some ideas:


Make your news and information continue to be relevant, said Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives for The Washington Post. "Make people aware... about the width and breadth of coverage that you can do." Which leads to...


Promote non-coronavirus stories to your new visitors/readers. The Guardian in the UK is sharing with new readers a list of 10 of its most-well read non-coronavirus articles every day. At the Post, Gilbert said that they are "trying to show that our [other writers] can feel relevant now but also signal to our audience that after the COVID crisis, we'll have different kinds of coverage that they will still need... We're thinking very deeply about what are the things, the products, the tools that we can offer our audience and how can we bridge [new subscribers] from caring about the news in the time of the virus to caring about the news when things are going better."


Steer people to products or platforms that will continue post COVID. Get your new visitors hooked on at least one ongoing thing. Newsletters are a great example. People tune in now because maybe they have more time or because they're in front of the computer more or feel more isolated. But, Gilbert added, "If you can get them to subscribe to [something else you are doing], you have a way to reach them even when they go back to in-person offices and in-person meetings." Media company Ragan Communications turned much of their COVID coverage into a Crisis Leadership Board that they hope to continue for many years.


Look at the specific COVID-19 coverage or resource that got the most clicks. How was it written? Was it a list? Did it have faces? For Williford, what is it about that one article that got 340,000 clicks? "How do we transition people?" Gilbert asked. "If you are one of the almost a million people who subscribed to [the Post’s] COVID-19 email newsletter, what are the other newsletters that may be valuable to you? What kinds of coverage did you click through from the email newsletter and how can we use those interactions with our site or native apps to get you to stay?"


Encourage new habits. "Find ways to deliver value, develop habits and remind [readers] about the value of the product," said Michael Silberman, SVP of strategy for Piano, a popular digital platform. His company determined that publishers in their sphere saw cancellations of monthly subscriptions acquired in March drop an average of 17% compared to subscribers acquired in January and February. In other words, people will stay with you if you give them the reasons to do so.


Examine previous spikes and identify the readers who stayed and who left. That comes from Robbie Kelman Baxter, author of The Forever Transaction, in an article on the What's New in Publishing site. Can you tell why they might have stayed or perhaps what their engagement has been since? "It's never been more important to understand what you do well and why people come to you, from an editorial and a revenue perspective," said Mia Lehmkuhl Libby, CRO, The Daily Beast, in that same article.


Know what about the relationship that feels important. "Why did the audience turn to you now so you could continue to make that valuable?" Gilbert asked. "Many of the people taking our subscription offers today are taking them on annual plan. So by April of next year, we would have had to make the case to them that their subscription is still valuable, even if we are in a happier, healthier position by then."


Understand what your audience needs. "And so if we can keep the needs of our audience at the forefront and not just think of our audience as consumers who buy our products but also people who need our news, we're going to have a better experience," Gilbert said.


Ronn Levine is editorial director for SIIA.