June 28, 2017

News organizations spend a lot of time trying to get their audiences to do things for them: Read our journalism! Come to our events! Pay us money! Generally, newsrooms put less emphasis on actually listening to what readers want.

Earlier this month, Politico launched an initiative that changes the equation a little bit. Politico Insiders is an “audience insight community” (kind of like a big focus group) that lives on a separate website from Politico.com.

The community, which was piloted in the fall, now has about 5,000 members and is giving the news organization a better idea of who interacts with it, said Rebecca Haller, director of audience insights at Politico.

The research asks that users create a profile and provide information about their preferences (what kind of coverage they’re interested in), where they live, when they were born and where they work, among other things. By having insiders create their own accounts, Politico saves time and money that it otherwise would have spent on conducting multiple surveys, Haller said.

“With traditional surveying, every single time you’re asking people the same basic demographic information,” Haller said. “(We’re) able to get that out of the way on survey one, and now we can build on that and leverage relationship memory and get to the deeper questions and seek to understand them.”

Politico Insiders is an effort of Politico’s new audience insights team, which sits between its business and editorial staffers, whose primary mission is to give “the audience a proverbial seat at the table when we’re making decisions,” Haller said. The data it provides is also useful to both sides of the newsroom — business staffers can win over advertisers with a more nuanced portrait of the audience, and newsroom staffers get a coterie of beta testers when designing new products or outlining new beats.

Politico doesn’t use cash to persuade users to join the community, preferring to offer perks like event invites or sneak peeks at the company’s projects in development, Haller said.

“It lets them be a hero in their boss’ eyes when they can say, ‘Hey, why don’t you come with me to this event that I received this exclusive invitation to from this community?'”

Since the community launched earlier this month, it’s had “several thousand” people sign up, Haller said. Her team is undertaking a “much larger recruitment process” to build a larger base of advisers.

“This is all about getting to know the audience better, and it allows us to learn about where they are and what they’re doing when they’re not engaging with Politico,” Haller said. “…We might be able to solve a problem that they don’t realize they have.”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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