This guide, written in collaboration with content user needs evangelist Dmitry Shishkin, is part of a series on writing news stories based on the news needs approach. These eight different editorial treatments of a news event, focusing on other details of the story besides the cold, hard facts, can offer more value to the reader. This has been proven on many occasions in various settings. The ultimate goal of the user needs approach is to connect to the audience in a stronger, more meaningful way - creating more engagement and loyalty in the process and increasing the relevance of your brand.

New to the user needs?

We created a new User Need Model in March 2023. Check our page and download the whitepaper if you're interested! We did a webinar about the User Needs Model 2.0. Watch the recording!

In this part, we talk about the user need called 'Keep me engaged', share useful formats and writing tips, and - critically - when to use this approach.

The user need 'Keep me engaged'

This user need focuses on the importance of staying up to date with the current events and participating in the conversation and discussions surrounding them. It places an emphasis on the desire for not just being a passive consumer of information, but an active participant in the community. ‘Keep me engaged’ takes into consideration a broader scope of trends, not just those limited to social media. The focus should be on making it easier for the users to participate in the conversation.

In the original user needs for news model, created in 2016, the user need was called ‘Keep me on trend’. It was anchored in the world of social media. When we launched the 2.0 version, smartocto and Dmitry Shishkin tried to take a broader perspective. The philosophy remains clear: consumers of these stories are usually interested in participating in the conversation and want to catch up on what's already been said and written. Being part of a community means being invested in what’s going on there.

‘Keep me engaged’ articles help you understand better how the news event is taken further or is discussed and therefore you feel more confident and invited to join the conversation.

Check these user needs as well:

Update me

Educate me

Give me perspective

Divert me

Inspire me

Connect me

Help me

Making it easier for the users to participate in the conversation.

Why should you write 'Keep me engaged' pieces?

Almost all news media are present on social media, many have reaction modules on their sites or facilitate forums. Some progressive newsrooms even let their visitors contribute to discussions on what content newsrooms should create. In major news events, the content of the public is shared. It was Jay Rosen who formulated the label of citizen journalism many years ago: "When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another."

There are two main reasons to encourage and stimulate conversation:

  1. To reach your audience where they are and keep them engaged by providing updates in an environment that allows them to participate in the conversation.
  2. To leverage the knowledge and insights of your audience to enhance your reporting by incorporating diverse perspectives and content that may not be present in your newsroom.

In summary, facilitating conversation through news media is a powerful way of presenting the facts that the public cares about. Consider that in fulfilling this user need, you don't have to do much more than tell what has been said. That information is enough to get people to participate in the conversation. Whether that's at the office coffee machine, in the pub with friends or of course on social media.

On a more commercial level: if you’re a trusted part of the community, you’re more likely to be considered a good source of information for people who want to stay updated on trending topics. These pieces tend to generate engagement and get shared more often, which creates a nice loop - or, as we like to put it ‘story life cycle’. If you already have a team in place tracking social media, these pieces are a relatively easy way to attract readers and bolster engagement.

When to write a 'Keep me engaged' story

Around a big event that's sure to loosen people's tongues on social channels is a good time to write one of these articles. It's also good to jump on the train when something starts trending. If you’re looking to create a follow-up to one of your own news articles, see how often your social sharing buttons are used and if you can gather some of these reactions for your 'Keep me engaged' piece.

Besides that: if you’ve seen an interesting debate in a talkshow or performance on a big event that you think should be seen by your audience, this could lead to a ‘Keep me engaged’ story.

Getting started with a 'Keep me engaged' story

Writing these pieces will involve some social newsgathering and investigation. Maybe the best way of finding topics that could connect to the user need ‘Keep me engaged’, is the topic that you’ve heard someone talking about in your surroundings. ‘Have you seen the great half time performance of the Superbowl? Wow!’

‘Have you seen…’ is a great indication of a story that has viral potential. Of course you can also keep an eye out for what's happening on social media, collect interesting reactions on a particular topic and create your article. Or, you could wait until there's a larger event or story that you want to write about from a different perspective, and then start doing the research on the social channels your publication uses.

Useful formats for a 'Keep me engaged' piece

The most typical format is a reaction, or quotes. You can simply show: this is what everyone’s talking about right now. You can get social media posts ‘embedded’ inside the content, a collection of tweets or FB and IG posts.

A good 'Keep me engaged' headline

‘This photo about […] is going viral.’

If a photo, video or other kind of content is going viral - there’s a good chance that people want to join the talk. Make sure that the headline still feels like an update. The only thing you want to do is inform people - don’t make the angle too explanatory. ‘Why this photo is going viral’ would be a better fit for the user needs ‘Educate me’ or ‘Give me perspective’.

Great examples of 'Keep me engaged' pieces

Dmitry's pro-tip

Form a partnership with your social media editors - their job is to know everything that’s happening on your channels and beyond, they are likely able to bring you ideas by the digital armful. They also are best positioned to create a selection of social media posts to help promote and amplify your story. Always remember that social media does not represent society at large, so if something is trending, it doesn’t mean that everybody is talking about it.