Expert Strategies for Increasing User Contributions

Listen to the locals. For hyperlocal publishers who want the inside scoop on what’s really going on in the communities they cover, in the form of user contributions, there’s no better source than the locals who live there. But getting people to switch from passively reading the news to actively engaging with it is a hurdle that almost every online publisher is trying to overcome.

According to a study by Pew Research and the Knight Foundation, two-thirds of people in metro areas say they discuss local news in person “a few times a week or more,” but just 8% of news consumers comment on stories, and even fewer (5%) discuss news stories on social media. The challenge for publishers, then, is finding ways to move those conversations from traditional gathering places, like the coffee shop, onto their own online forums.

Bringing reader conversations online benefits publishers in two main ways. First, it gives online publications a new source of information that reporters can dig into and flesh out to create feature-length stories. Call it the 2017 version of a tip line. Second, user contributions can be monetized, which provides publishers with an additional source of revenue.

So what’s the best way to increase user contributions? For publishers with WordPress websites, the easiest place to start is often with a plugin like AccessPress Anonymous Post, which allows visitors to submit their own posts—which can be marked as reader contributions—without being logged in. Communities is another WordPress plugin that publishers might want to consider. Using the plugin, publishers can create internal communities with discussion boards.

Publishers who have business directories on their websites have another obvious place for readers to get involved. Readers can manually create listings for their favorite local businesses or add photos and other information to make current listings more robust. With the CRED WordPress plugin, readers can submit content for product listings, directories, and classifieds on publishers’ sites. Broadstreet is a highly-regarded ad server with tools for publishers looking to add business directories to their websites.

Comments sections have traditionally been the first place readers go to interact on a publisher’s site, however some news outlets have taken steps to eliminate their comments sections in recent years. NPR got rid of its comments section in 2016, reporting at the time that just 1% of the media company’s 25 million to 35 million monthly unique visitors were commenting on the site, and even fewer were considered regular commenters.

Some publishers have found more success when they moved the conversation onto social media. While on-site conversations are optimal, the reality is that many people are consuming their news via social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Tying the articles being published on their own websites to the comments on Facebook—usually through prominent links on the homepage—is a smart way to encourage engagement and increase user contributions, with the ultimate goal of bringing some of those social media users back to their own websites.

The Coral Project has also been working to improve the way users contribute to news websites. The group, which is a collaborative effort from the Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Mozilla Foundation, released a product called Ask last year. Using Ask, editors and publishers can create embeddable forms in several formats, including text, photo, video, and audio, to invite user contributions. Editors then have the ability to filter, share, and manage the contributions before they appear online.

Of course, readers will only engage with articles that pique their interests. Personalization tools that tailor content recommendations keep readers on a site for longer by promoting content that’s likely to drive their enthusiasm. A survey by Cxense, a company that provides advertising, analytics, and content-recommendations services, found that 69% of publishers don’t personalize their web pages, even though 81% of publishers believe that type of data is “critical for success.” Going down this route, and implementing a personalization recommendation engine, can lower bounce rates and increase user engagement by providing visitors with more relevant news.

Engaged audiences are loyal audiences. Publishers hoping to increase user contributions should find ways to make their content more engaging, with plenty of avenues for readers to add their own two-cents and get involved in the publishing process.