Serving the Superuser: The Superhero at the Heart of Broadcasting

In Hollywood, superheroes are everywhere, in films, TV shows, books, graphic novels and much else. They're justly celebrated by media companies, because they're powerful enough to carry big profits to studios and networks.

Online there are superheroes, too: They're the loyal audiences who visit their favorite sites multiple times per week or binge on a news topic, sport, team, celebrity, breaking news or show. These are the fans who consume a wildly outsized portion of a site's content, keep returning for more and promote the site to friends, family and social media. In the rush to build a huge online audience, though, too many publishers forget to build through their superusers, their core of loyal, engaged and enthusiastic visitors.

Those superusers should be the focus of your business. They're the rock on which a large audience is built, but more importantly, they're the audience your advertisers want most. They're your most valuable asset, your defining demographic, your most persuasive ambassadors and your biggest consumers. Never forget the 80-20 rule: 20 percent of your audience will consume 80 percent of your content.

ALSO: 'Discoverability,' Social Media at Heart of TV Evolution

So how will you engage those 20 percent? This core tenet of customer-relationship management – one that has long undergirded retail and e-commerce and was really advanced by Amazon - holds that it is cheaper and more efficient to sell more things to fewer customers than to acquire new ones. By understanding your core audience, and tailoring and presenting product and service offerings to their particular needs, you can get the most return on your content.

By personalizing the content experience, publishers are finding that viewers will stay longer and watch more, clicking along through the initial video, a first recommendation and then at least one more. In most cases, these users comprise 5 to 10 percent of the audience but can provide as much as 40 percent of total views. Publishers can monetize these videos with pre-roll that these loyal superusers actually will watch to completion, significantly increasing revenue from existing users.

You can build programming around their interests. You may have, for example, 10 videos of Adele or Beyoncé from Grammy night. Maybe your sports or news site has 10 videos of March Madness upsets. But of those 10 videos, one will outperform the rest. And getting that video to more of your core fans will drive them to watch additional content, and bring them closer to the rest of your brand and products.

This is a very different approach from trying to carve a place for your content on social-media platforms. Publishers are understandably tempted by the giant audiences there but truth is, you can't just "go where the audience is" without a strategy to make money from it.

Instead of focusing so heavily on social media, I'd suggest publishers keep focused on optimizing the experience on their own sites. Leverage personalization across your owned-and-operated sites to engage and retain audiences. Then use social platforms to entice and draw new audiences back to your sites. This isn't a zero-sum game. To go back to the retail analogy, use social to market, advertise and acquire and your O&O to sell.

Some publishers clearly get it. Buzzfeed, long a king of data-driven content, even built a data-management platform called Lookr so its entire staff could easily access and analyze information it collects on its content, so they can make more content fans will like.

Any publisher can take the same approach, leveraging data to build your audience with more appetizing content. But it's not the only way to superserve your superusers, even if you don't have the resources to build your own Lookr.

What do the superusers want more than anything? More of your content. How do you give it to them? Using tools that identify those superusers, understand their specific preferences, and steer more content to them that they’re likely to want to watch or read.

This highly targeted, highly personalized approach to serving your superusers can yield significant improvements in engagement and lift. This approach also can create additional superusers, because now they're also seeing more content that appeals to them.

The result: visitors stay longer. They see more of your content. They're happier, because they've seen more content that they enjoy. They also end up seeing more advertising, but because it’s targeted and focused, they're more likely to be happier about the ads, too.

Your superusers want more than just your stories, videos and photos, of course. The next step, having provided them with more of that great content, is to move beyond your site to create live events, merchandise, podcasts and other experiences that also can be targeted to your superusers. The result: wins for everyone.

Remember, give your superusers what they want, as much and as fast as they want, and watch them supercharge your site. Let them be the superheroes they are, and you’ll fly high, too.

About the Author
Field Garthwaite is CEO and co-founder of IRIS.TV, which provides video personalization and targeting tools for digital media sites.