What push alert data is telling us about the appetite for news content

What push alert data is telling us about the appetite for news content

It’d be an understatement to say that these past few months have been exhausting for those of us who work in newsrooms.

Between the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide unrest over racial inequities, newsrooms are finding their cups have runeth over physically and emotionally on many days. But if we can keep up, and keep our teams energized, all indications are that the audience is hungry for this coverage.

To paraphrase one well-known industry executive, this confluence of once-in-a-lifetime stories is what our teams of journalists have been preparing for throughout our careers.

But is the audience as interested as we are?

In my opinion, a key indicator of the audience’s interest and appetite for coverage is the widespread growth in traffic generated from push alerts. There’s nothing more intrusive than a message on your personal device, and therefore nothing more telling than the insight gained from how people react to that message.

Push alert technology provider Airship published data showing that 16% more push alerts were sent by businesses during March as the pandemic began. For the media, that increase was 43%!

Meanwhile, more of those messages were being opened by consumers. Airship said the direct open rate for alerts from media was up 60%.

Data published by Airship on April 28, 2020

Still, the direct open rate for media (A measly 1.7%) is lower than all but one of the other business categories included in Airship’s chart.

(An aside: I’m pleased to brag that the direct open rate for my app has never been as low as this reported average, a success that I attribute to carefully selecting our stories and crafting our messages. But like Airship’s clients, we are sending more alerts and seeing higher open rates since the pandemic.)

I will acknowledge, open rates are an imperfect measurement. There are many times when the audience will read a headline and feel suitably informed – even grateful – but never open the message.

We cannot track that feeling of satisfaction and trust, so we rely on the open rate as a proxy. This explains why we accept such a low rate, and why a 60% increase is meaningful despite those low numbers.

So what do increased open rates mean in a time of increased alert sending?

The news industry may suffer from a wide variety of structural problems, the financial foundations of the business may be in disrepair, but I believe this experience shows the marketplace place has a serious desire for news content.

I have always believed that the buzzworthy content was cringeworthy and that trending topics were past their peak, but so-called hard news has consistently led my career to new heights. These past few months have shown the audience agrees.

I cannot profess to know how to fix some of the larger problems with the business model, but it occurs to me that the growth of push alerts in this time could be a model for restoring trust in the wider industry. That means moving away from quotas and promotions (which appear to be common among my competitors) and focusing on that which matters to the audience.

After all, what news brand doesn’t want to be associated with what matters? Especially if the audience appetite seems to be far larger than we were originally led to believe.

It also means that our editors and producers must accept that a receptive audience does not grant us the right to blast out more junk. That’s a fast track to being switched off.

Therefore, here are 12 reasons that I argue are insufficient on their own for sending a push alert:

  1. You haven’t sent one recently (probably for a reason)
  2. Because you did it yesterday (but that was then)
  3. There’s a show starting (that’s a different platform)
  4. A competitor did it (doesn’t make them right)
  5. You think your boss would do it (can you justify it?)
  6. It’s “viral” (the story is what happened, not how many have seen it)
  7. You just got video (is it worth stopping my day to watch?)
  8. You have live video (see above)
  9. Someone is announcing… something (just because their elected doesn’t mean it’s of interest)
  10. It’s shocking (that’s tabloid)
  11. You can’t remember the last time (it’s rare, but is it impactful enough?)
  12. Everyone is watching (because they’ll already know the outcome.)