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Get to know your users

Average numbers and large figures don’t really tell us much about our users. But these are the facts media houses have relied on for years when developing and evaluating. At Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet this is now changing – and they are getting to know their users for real.

At Schibsted, we have been working on how to become truly user-driven for several years. Two years ago Aftonbladet embarked on a journey to become an organization that bases everything it does on its users.

We established a vision: everyone working in the media house – from editors to developers – should have a shared and comprehensive picture of our users, based on data and user behavior. We should also have shared, comprehensible objectives and key numbers for each user segment, as well as tools and insights, so that we can address our user segments in real time.

With a shared vision of our users, we can muster our efforts to build the media house of the future, with more engaging and relevant products, and more loyal users.

To try to understand our users in depth, we looked at a year’s data, fully 25 TB of behavioral data from Aftonbladet. Initially, this involved segmenting our users based on loyalty, where frequency over a given time period was the best measure.

We grouped our users based on how often they return to us – from infrequent visitors, who visit once a month, to news junkies, who access us almost every day. We placed loyalty in relation to the level of commitment of the various behavioral segments and witnessed what is known as the Pareto principle: our most loyal users, who represent 20 percent of our unique visitors, account for 80 percent of Aftonbladet’s page views.

Our initial analysis and segmentation aroused an interest to dig deeper to understand and learn more. We then carried out five steps to finally identify Aftonbladet’s new target groups. The new target groups represent a platform for how we will build the new Aftonbladet, which will always act based on user insight and digital behavior.

These are the five steps:
1.    Workshops with employees to define hypotheses about our users’ behavioral patterns.
2.     Iterative data analysis processing, in which we stress tested our hypotheses about users’ behavioral patterns against actual behavioral data.
3.     Clustering behavioral data, by which we identified ten significant behavioral segments in the traffic data.
4.     In-depth interviews with actual users from each behavioral segment to understand the needs and motivations behind  the different behaviors.
5.     Quantitative surveys  of actual users from each behavioral segment.

During the in-depth interviews and the quantitative surveys, we found the same motivations and needs behind many of the behavioral segments’ use of Aftonbladet. By clustering the ten different behavioral groups according to their motivations, we were able to establish four new target groups.

In early 2016, we developed strategies and key figures for each target group with the aim of building a more relevant experience for each group. Several product innovations based on these strategies will be launched in 2017.

Following readers in real time

In connection with the launch of the new target groups, we installed new dashboards throughout the media house where we can monitor, in real time, how our different target groups behave at Aftonbladet. We have also begun to steer our paid product Plus’ fixed sales messages towards different target groups, resulting both in higher sales and increased appreciation.

But this is only the beginning. We have now appointed a manager for our users, who will drive the product and business development process ahead within the organization. It is up to Aftonbladet as a whole, from department managers to editors and reporters, to take responsibility for ensuring that we move towards a more user-centered approach.

The method of combining dynamic online behavioral data with qualitative and quantitative interviews is unique and we will now scale up the process and the segmentation model to include Norwegian mediahouse VG. We have a hypothesis that VG has the same behavioral segments as Aftonbladet. If this proves to be true, we will be able to derive considerable benefits for our product and business development.

With a shared view of our users, we within Schibsted will be able to muster our efforts to build the media house of the future with more engaging and relevant products, and more loyal users.

Seven steps to become a user-driven organization:

  1. Do not wait for the perfect data or the right tools. They do not exist! Start with what you have
    and make the best of it.
  2. Take advantage of the insights about customers and users that you already have. Otherwise you
    might find patterns that are incomprehensible and difficult to interpret.
  3. Ensure that you have a dynamic data model. Unless you can follow your users over time the
    segmentation will quickly become outdated.
  4. Talk with your users to understand their behavior patterns and underlying motivations and
    needs. If you look only at behavioral data, you will only see what users do, without understanding why.
  5. Visualize insights and real-time data to your entire organization. If more people have access to
    data and user insights, decisions will be taken on a day-to-day basis.
  6. Develop goals and strategies for each user segment together with key individuals in your
    organization. This is a good way of building commitment around your customers and users.
  7. Build a story about each user segment. This will help your entire organization becoming
    more user-driven.