Neil Thackray’s Business Media Blog

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User Engagement The Economist Way. It’s Good for Your Elf.

I had itended to keep blogging live from the Publishing Innovation conference, but my battery died!  There were a couple of other presentations on the first day which are worthy of note.  Ben Edwards from The Economist gave a really interesting insight into the thinking about how to make money online.  He started by declaring the scale of the ambition – for The Economist to be ten times as big as it is now in ten years time.   Thats what my old boss John Battelle used to call a BHAG – a big hairy arsed goal (or audacious if you a little queezy).

For the Economist the answer is not exclusively in the advertising model.  Edwards argued that part of the challenge of the paid content model is how you think about it.  Indeed he said,

“Stop thinking about charging for content online and start thinking about online paying experiences.” 

This is a subtle but significant distinction.  He explains what he means by demonstrating the usual user experience.  The user makes a search, finds a result, looks at the result and then probably goes away again.  This, he argues, “the search, click, result model” is not very engaging.  He goes as far as to say, that publishers are useless at building enagaging expereinces in the on line world.

Edwards uses a fascinating example from the world of online gaming, The World of Warcraft game.  Players can do four important things, they can manage their identity; they have a means to progress in a heirarchy; they can interact and network with one another; they can acquire “atrefacts” which validate their self worth.

This approach, Edwards argues is symbiotic with Maslows heriarchy of needs in that these four steps give the players a way enjoying self actualisation.  His evidence for the power of this approach to engagement is in the stats.  He shows a graph which compares typical time spent on a site which publishes news (a few minutes or o) with time spent per week by enthusiasts of elves and witches (world of Warcraft) at 26 hours.

So Edwards says, to build engagement in media, we should use the same approach.  Of course we must give away lots of content (the freemium model) in order to persaude perhaps 1-3% of users to pay for something.  Edwards points out that in the online world, distribution is cheap, so have a wide funnel and put lots of content and users into it to get a small  percentage to pay.

I really like this approach and The Economist is making a start in bringing it to life.  Edwards shows a screen crab of an online debates page with a chair, lead speakers for both sides of the argument and a vote.  This is an example of herairchy (the lead speaker), networking and communications, identity management etc.

The power of Edwards excellent presentation only slightly spoiled by the admission during questions that the Economist hasn’t built most of this apporach yet.  Still, I like it.  Like it a lot.

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May 21, 2009 - Posted by | business media strategy, Uncategorized | , , ,

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