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How does BBC use user-needs to be audience-first?

Published Jun 09, 2021
Updated Dec 27, 2022

While researching subscription news products, I came across @dmitryshishkin‘s work at the BBC’s audience team. Famously, BBC implemented a user needs a framework to go audience-first in 2016. Here’s a tweet where Dmitry is talking about the framework.

BBC user needs

Why is it important for newsrooms to go audience-first?

Hard news is the fastest-moving commodity. People don’t click on hard news posts because they might already know the story. Relevance and engagement can help news products differentiate. The 2019 Reuters Institute Digital News Report talks more about this.

What are the six needs that BBC identified?

Audiences want to stay updated and keep on-trend

People want to stay on top of what is happening in the world around them. This is typically hard news. Newsrooms serve this need with the following content formats: Live Blogs, Notifications, News Bulletins, Data Widgets. The content typically focuses on the basics of journalism i.e. “who, when, where, what”.

Sometimes, people also want to keep on-trend and participate in social media conversations. To do this, they need help to know what is trending, understand the issue, and might need help to participate in the conversation meaningfully.

Sometimes, audiences want to understand the pros and cons and possibly, pick a side. Newsrooms give the audience’s a perspective through opinions and quotes from experts, profiles, analysis, interviews, op-ed, and background pieces. Audiences use this to build a viewpoint.

In situations like Covid-19, newsrooms can educate audiences with formats like Q&A, Listicle, How To, and Explainers. If executed well, this category not only gives the highest reading time but also most of this content can be evergreen and helps build SEO authority.

Millennials want to positively impact society. They want their news to inspire them. Newsrooms can achieve this through formats like long-form, first-person accounts, historical essays. Another method to achieve this is to employ Solutions Journalism. In India, achieves this user needs really well.

Finally, audiences want to be diverted. This is where escape products come in.

Use analytics so your commissioning is audience-first

It is easiest for newsrooms to produce update me articles. However, is this what audiences want? From Aug to Dec 2016, 70% of BBC Russia’s stories were of the “Update Me” category but users gave it only 7% of the page views.

If your analytics system is aligned to measure this, then it can help the editorial team change what content they produce. They can forward plan stories or commission reporters or contributors.

Vogue India implemented their own user needs

Sarah Marshall, Head of Audience Growth at Vogue International, highlighted that Vogue India has had 129 percent traffic growth after embracing the new methods. Below is a screenshot and her presentation at Hacks/Hackers London.

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