‘Practical, life-affirming, positive’: How Hearst UK is creating more uplifting content

Hearst UK knows readers are longing for positive and uplifting content, akin to another version of Italians singing on balconies. Over the last month, the publisher has dialed up more inspiring content and launched new products like good-news email newsletters.

Country Living has renamed its newsletter to the Country Living Good News Newsletter featuring stories like this child’s letter to her elderly neighbor. While open rates remain pretty steady, referral traffic has jumped: Since sending the first installment on Mar. 19, newsletter referral traffic is up 81% on the previous month, the publisher said.

Cosmopolitan has launched “Good News, Gathered,” a repository for feel-good content like how people running 5 kilometers has raised £1 million ($1.24 million) for the U.K. National Health Service, or details of “Furloughed Foodies” which delivers thousands of meals a week to hospital workers, or a £750 million ($934 million) government-backed cash injection for charities on the front line. Cosmo has also added a “Staying In” themed newsletter which led to a site traffic referral increase of 160%. Featured stories include this list of 22 fun things to do when you’re stuck at home.

“The content that resonates is oftentimes practical, life-affirming, positive, the audience really craves it,” said chief content development officer Betsy Fast. “But it’s also changed as time has gone by.”

Towards the beginning of March, as social distancing restrictions were coming into effect, Hearst realized people were interested in informative and health-related content. For a little over a week, Hearst’s health titles, like Men’s Health and Women’s Health, were answering questions like how to spot symptoms and how they differentiate from a common cold. But readers soon wanted content to entertain, self-care, and help them occupy their headspace, said Fast.

One Good Housekeeping poll in an article about an online choir asked ‘would you take part in an online choir?’ and 97% of 2,000 respondents said ‘definitely.’ This along with other data led to the launch of GH’s Room to Grow collection, a resource for older readers who may be feeling isolated from their families or cut off since social activities have been canceled. It includes advice on writing like this on gratitude journaling, gardening advice, ways to stay active and mindful activities like flower pressing.

An editorial poll from Good Housekeeping.

“We are sharing these insights from marketing polls with the editorial team for the first time,” said Fast. “They are now as relevant to our content as they are to our marketing department. Everything has changed, the kinds of questions we’re asking are super relevant to our audience and to our content creators.”

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One commercial poll found that 63% of Elle readers were eating more fruit and vegetables than usual. This led to an expert-led guide to superfoods and an expert-led definitive ranking of the top 10 most nutritious fruits and vegetables that both performed well, said the publisher.

Hearst has increased the number of polls it’s publishing. During the last two weeks of March compared with the first two weeks, the number of total polls published increased by 99%, total votes increased by 436% and the average responses increased by 170%.

The appetite for positive content is far from satiated. Elsewhere, publishers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have created good-news properties over the years which are getting much more interest. Good-news Instagram accounts are booming, Google searches for “good news” spiked last month. 

Lifestyle publishers are enjoying traffic bumps as more people are at home looking for entertainment and advice on what films to avoid on Netflix to which is the best sour-dough bread maker. For Hearst UK, in March across titles, global users increased 10% year-on-year, returning users increased 4% year-on-year. The publisher’s content view rate, which tracks a combination of dwell time and unique pageviews, increased 8% over the previous 31 day period.

Update: An earlier version of this story stated Cosmopolitan’s “Good News, Gathered” content hub was also a newsletter.

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