News publishers are scrambling to get younger audiences acquainted with their brands. Nordic publishing giant Schibsted, which pinned its hopes on the development of a new app two years ago, is now finding that it’s helping: 60 percent of the app users are under 25, and retention — measured by those using the app for the fifth consecutive week — has grown from 25 percent to 35 percent.
After seeing a decline in younger readers on Schibsted’s most widely read newspaper, Norwegian tabloid Verdens Gang, a team of 15 people — across editorial product and research — started working on a news app, Peil, targeted at readers between 18 and 25 years old in 2016, and launched it at the end of 2017.
Opening the app, readers first see summaries of the top-three news stories that day, swiping right to read more. Swiping down, the app then covers 10 of the top stories in more detail. Further down again, the app shows the seven top stories from the last week. All stories are news stories interpreted for younger audiences, visually led with simple text and link out to original sources, which tend to be from Schibsted titles but not exclusively.
News publishers are increasingly trying to reach younger readers to help insulate their future as print circulation and ad revenues follow a downward trend, whether that’s by getting their products into school and universities or distributing on younger-skewing platforms like Snapchat. Often there’s an age gap between the publisher and the younger people they’re trying to reach, making user testing more crucial for younger-skewing products. Peil can act as a gateway into Schibsted’s other brands, but also in the last month, the app has started running branded content from telecoms company Telia as part of a wider campaign. According to the publisher, half of the readers swipe to read more of the ad.
“Using user research and insights to make the decisions is key to Peil’s success so far,” said Ane Sharma, UX Researcher at Schibsted. “User insights haven’t been the traditional way of news media. Especially if you’re a big brand, it’s easy to make something, and through the power of being big, you’ll get traction.”
Success isn’t measured on the downloads or weekly active users, which are modest at around 6,000. The publisher says the goal is to start small and make the right product from the beginning. User feedback, which the publisher estimates has been around 98 percent positive, has been its best measure for success.
According to Sharma, the publisher interviewed young people on their news habits and then mapped out their needs. After this, it decided to focus on answering the needs of one of the “personas” that came out of that research: a young person not reading the news because there wasn’t a product suited to them, giving Peil an opening in the market. The team mapped these traits as someone who wanted to engage in conversations but doesn’t want to spend too much time, and find current news products too dense.
The team conducted over 100 interviews, 20 surveys and received over 500 emails after adding a feedback feature in the app, so shaking it would open up an email to the Peil team. During earlier stages of the app, the team used a closed Facebook group of around 50 people where the team posted videos, snippets and sketches to get immediate feedback. It also runs monthly user testing with its internal teams. User testing helped simplify the content and adapted notifications into bullet points available in the morning or the evening.
“You can’t only use internal needs; that’s not going to work. You have to base it on user needs,” she added, saying that the team originally developed a chatbot based on internal ideas, while the editorial team liked how the feature explained complex ideas users didn’t find it useful.
Editorial responsibility for Peil lies with VG, but giving it a new name gives it more freedom to experiment without risking the brand.
VG has a Snapchat Discover channel which skews younger, between 13- and 17-year-olds. News from Peil is shown toward the end of the VG Snapchat Discover editions. This has driven a few thousand downloads, said Sharma.
But Schibsted is in an enviable position, because of its size — over 8,000 employees across 22 countries with dozens of news brands — it has the luxury of being able to dedicate time and resource to new products and ways of developing them.
“Product managers knew intellectually they are supposed to listen to users but didn’t know how to go about it,” said Sharma. “After user testing, the realization came that this is the way we need to develop products. It’s a case of being unfamiliar with the process.”