There is a lot to be learned from digital communication or digital marketing managers from the ever-changing way in which mainstream audiences seek and consume news. This year’s Digital News Report (DNR) 2022 published by the Reuters Institute reveals some key insights into the content consumption habits of mainstream media audiences. The comprehensive report spanning 46 countries describes some of the main trends that are defining the future of the news industry. This may provide food for thought for digital managers involved in engaging with very specific professional target audiences. Specifically, trust in the news has reduced significantly, there is a growth in active news avoidance, the smartphone has become the most powerful device to access the news and the emergence of young digital natives is accelerating the growth of social media for news.
Decline in trust
Trust in news content has reduced in more than half the countries investigated. The USA has seen the largest fall in trust, at 26%. Finland holds the highest level of trust, at 69%. Across all markets, only 19% say that news organisations put what is best for society ahead of commercial interests. Over half of respondents worry about fake news, causing them to feel sceptical. Types of misinformation widely seen are false health claims around COVID-19 from anti-vaccination groups. For digital managers, it is important to create content that users can feel confident is accurate and reliable. This means that they need a robust evidence-based procedure in place to ensure their content is trustworthy to readers. Creating trustworthy content is also crucial for search engine visibility. Google’s algorithm will place trustworthy pages high on the search results page.
Power of newsletters
Despite the emergence of digital distribution tools like social media, email newsletters remain an important distribution channel across all countries. According to the DNR report, they are increasingly valuable to those who want to build direct relationships with their audiences. Publishers have used newsletters to increase loyalty by introducing more personalisation. They are valued by older and more educated readers who are more invested in the news. Newsletter readers enjoy the convenience of the format, the diverse range of stories offered and the tone of the writer/author. This approach is therefore fully suited to digital managers involved in engaging professional audiences.
Shift in preference to access content
The smartphone is the most powerful means used to access the news and there is now a huge dependence on it. However, radio and TV remain an important influence in some markets. Although digital communication managers in specialist fields like pharma or science publishing do not often rely on mainstream media, they can still learn from the behaviour of mainstream audiences. Specifically, the report shows that social media is now the main gateway to access digital news. These changes are due to the emerging habits of a new generation of digital natives. The use of Facebook has declined over the years and Instagram has taken over as a widely used platform for news. TikTok has also emerged as a significant player in the news ecosystem. TikTok has had a fivefold increase in 3 years among 18-24’s across all countries. It is extending to more age brackets with higher levels of usage. For digital managers attempting to engage the younger demographics among their target professional audiences, the report suggests that they may rely on social media to tease audiences in by catching their attention on social media, before bringing them into password-protected sites with value-added content.
Podcasts are a powerful format that is growing again post-pandemic, the DNR shows. This type of format tends to reach the younger audience via their smartphones. 34% accessed a podcast in the last month. It is crucial to be aware of which audiences access news through which format. Successful publishers are those that publish news in different places, to meet audiences where they prefer to read. Until recently, the consumption of news on the internet has mainly been through text content. Social media now offers an outlet for video consumption. However, findings show that all age groups still prefer to read the news rather than watch it. According to respondents, text is quicker and gives more control than playing videos. This is an important takeaway for any digital communication manager, as planning regular blog post releases may help to create greater levels of engagement among specific target audiences.
The behaviour of younger audiences
Another finding of the DNR is the stark differences in news consumption and behaviours among younger people. This includes a greater reliance on digital and social news compared to older groups. Although they are critical audiences, they are becoming more difficult to reach. Different strategies are required to successfully engage them. Social networks have become the primary source of news for younger audiences (18-24). However, news media struggle to compete for their time and attention due to a fall in interest and lack of trust in the news. The depressing nature of the news contributes to increasing news avoidance among this cohort.
How best to engage specific audiences
There are several major takeaways from the lessons learned through the way mainstream media reaches their audience that digital managers can leverage to understand the best way to engage with their specific target audiences. Digital managers and publishers can offer a different content mix and tone to entice their target audiences to engage with the message they receive. Digital managers can learn about their target audience’s interests, to create content they like and in a place that suits them. For instance, digital managers need to be aware of their younger audience with limited attention spans. Simplification and accessibility are required to better target this younger cohort. This translates very well in the content specifically designed for podcasting and social media (TikTok, Instagram) platforms where the younger demographics enjoy consuming content. Crafting the content to meet the needs of their audience will maximise engagement. Newsletters will take a communication strategy to new heights as they still hold value for managers and their audience. Newsletters have the potential to connect with the audience on a personal level, which will help to develop an engaging long-term relationship.