Success of a Globe Subscriber Group Gives Ideas for B2B Publishers

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"For publishers who have a paywall, building as much value into the paywall as possible makes a lot of sense, and so far this group appears to be something of value. We want to be able to create more of these touchpoints for readers."

Matt Karolian, director of audience engagement for The Boston Globe, was talking about a new Facebook group for subscribers that the paper has started. The group now totals around 2,000. In an article on the NiemanLab site, Shan Wang writes that "Globe reporters are part of the group, so when their stories come up for discussion—or receive compliments—the story's original author can jump right into the comments. People from the customer service team are also on hand to address circulation issues."

Here are possible value advantages for B2B publishers to such a group:

  1. A new testing ground. My column yesterday on experiential learning suggested sub-groups as a good way to monitor and assist people from a previous learning session you delivered. But it can also serve as a good testing ground. The Globe can now test out story ideas on this engaged group, survey them about various issues or add more information and links to a popular article. They could even break the group down further into niches like sports, arts, politics and business.
  2. The boosting of editorial people. Newspapers started encouraging their reporters to do more TV, radio, podcasts, etc., a few years ago. This could be more of the same. Reporters can become better known to their audience through this sub-group—and the audience can feel more of an attachment. Maybe the possibility of meeting that reporter or editor entices someone to attend a live event.
  3. Solicit more comments. Posts in the Globe's much smaller subscriber group attract about twice the number of comments as a post on their main page. That makes sense. Subscribers feel more ownership than a general audience. I'm a Washington Post subscriber and would join a list like this and comment, if something in the paper that I value came up.
  4. A new window for customer service. We've heard before about customer service people monitoring Twitter feeds to detect and solve any problems. But that means a tweet has to be directed to them. Here, they will immediately hear about any delivery, digital or other problem that a subscriber might have and address it. Again, as a Post subscriber, I can be irritated by a late paper or missing section. Having someone respond promptly would be most welcomed.
  5. Taking advantage of Facebook. Okay, I know, the evil empire and all that. But Facebook Live provides a great (and free) platform so far. Of course, your sub-group does not have to be on Facebook, but Karolian says that "there's a whole bunch of Facebook that isn't pages, that people use extensively but publications aren't using extensively. And there's untapped opportunity in Facebook groups."
  6. Increasing the membership/subscriber value. The more perks you can offer your subscribers/members, the better. Gimlet Media, a podcasting company, wanted to give their members an added perk for their $60. So they offered members the opportunity to talk directly to the people who plan the episodes, through the Slack messaging app. Funny that they didn't encourage this communication before, but it has been very successful. (A Poynter article talks more about it.)
  7. Building more loyalists. The subscribers in the Globe group will be more engaged than the average reader or subscriber. The staff may read some tough comments but they should get some love as well. And maybe those subscribers are telling their friends, and those friends are telling... Another article on this called it "encouraging a more personal relationship with the news." I like that.
The downside? In this example, Facebook does "own" the group, but perhaps hosting your group—vs. hosting your content—is more in line with what your audience might expect and feel comfortable with. 

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…