Since we launched our comprehensive User Needs Model 2.0, we’ve got a lot of feedback and questions from customers and participants of our webinar. That's why we created this Q&A.

Update: on 13 December 2023, much of what we have learned about user needs came together in an Ask Me Anything webinar session.

We keep receiving the same questions, which is why Dmitry Shishkin and Rutger Verhoeven took ample time to elaborate on strategy, cultural change, implementation, recognition, and artificial intelligence. You can download the handout with key insights and all the questions and answers.

It's not something we share often, but as you can see participants thought the Ask Me Anything was very helpful.

Here, we present the more basic questions and answers. Join the conversation! This is an active article. If you have any questions yourself, please contact us via the form below this article.

  1. What’s the difference between this white paper and the research presented by BBC World Service in 2016/2017?

Seven years has elapsed since BBC World Service rolled out its first, groundbreaking user needs for news model. This means that we’ve had the benefit of seven years’ experience, seven years’ data and seven years’ insights into how it works, where it works and why it works.

By studying the practices of newsrooms who’ve adopted their own versions of user needs, we’ve been able to produce a comprehensive framework that forms the basis of a user needs approach for all newsrooms - but still allow for brand-specific adjustments. Specifically, user needs 2.0 is based on four axes (know, understand, feel and do) and eight primary user needs - two more than in the model used in version 1.0.

The visualisation of user needs 2.0 is important and has been designed to illustrate how they’re interconnected and blend - just like real world articles do.

Want to know how the model can work for you? Get in touch with our user needs team.

Click on the model to find the whitepaper.

2. How does smartocto identify and label each user need?

This all relies on effective tagging of articles at the point of zero measure. The more articles included in this survey, the better (think thousands, not hundreds). This is best done by those independent of your articles’ production (to avoid the effect of ‘marking your own homework’).

Readers (or auditors, if you prefer) assign a user need to the selected articles and this helps train the algorithm that will eventually generate notifications. Because this is human-powered, it can result in a more subjective data set: our team found that while auditors agreed with classification in around 90% of the cases, there was some disagreement with a small percentage. It’s therefore essential that newsrooms do their best to agree on what qualifies as an 'Update me' article, or an 'Educate me' piece before this process begins.

Read more about how the data team tackled this here.

3. Can you connect multiple 'user needs' labels to a certain story?

It’s almost impossible to have a ‘pure’ user needs story. Articles categorised as 'Update me' will likely also have 'Educate me' elements in them; 'Divert me' stories might also be partly 'Keep me engaged'. Where this is apparent, it can be useful to look at the four axes of the visualisation to discover the primary motivation for writing the piece. Pick the dominant user need if you need to tag it. Also keep in mind our message: if the output meets a user need more clearly, consumers are generally more satisfied..

4. Have you thought about training a machine learning model to tag stories instead of journalists on a media source sample?

It's like you can read our mind. Of course, we are trying it out. We think the new model can certainly help us achieve this. What we have already discovered is that the first step is likely to be recognising the main drivers: fact, context, emotion, and action. It will be much harder to recognise user needs and incorporate them into our tool in a valuable way. The next step for smartocto is to predict what the audience needs and then notify the newsrooms accordingly. For example, if you publish an explainer-type story, but the audience still has certain questions (because they leave comments etc), we can send a notification saying, "Think of a service-oriented article for the next story on this topic."

This is a first proof of concept that shows how we are trying and experimenting with analysing as well as visualising stories in accordance to the User Needs Model.

5. An entry level writer can produce 20 'Update me' articles a day, but the same writer can’t create 20 'Educate me' articles in the same amount of time. Surely this is why 'Update me' over indexes in volume? You need to be able to measure the input in quantifiable terms of money to be able to assess the merits of each user need, don’t you?

If you choose to focus more on one or the other, it's always a cost-benefit analysis. So far, the presumption of this question is right. However, we believe that one of the main conclusions of our data research, namely that there are too many 'Update me' stories being written in proportion, still stands.

First, the right context: we're not saying you should stop writing 'Update me' stories. It could still be the dominant user need in reporting for many news brands. What we're saying is: find the right balance that fits your medium. We strongly doubt whether articles are valuable enough for the visitor if an editor can create 20 per day. But if you say, 'That amount is our USP and it's why visitors come to our site and why advertisers advertise with us’, go for it!

But understand that the market shows signs of saturation and that media that provide a broader palette of news needs seem to have a stronger online presence.

Finally, don't make ‘Educate me’ too big. It's the approach and angle of a story that should pursue a clear goal. You can say: ‘It's going to rain hard today’ (Update me). You can also write, ‘This is why you should bring an umbrella today’ (Educate me) or ‘Where traffic jams are likely to occur due to bad weather today’ (Help me). Of course that’s a simplification, but not every other user need swallows all the time and effort of your newsroom. It’s worth reflecting on.

Could you use help reflecting on your own newsroom practice? Dmitry Shishkin and Rutger Verhoeven are available for inspirational sessions.

6. Aren’t 'Update me' stories a primary task of news organisations?

They were, back in the days when a newspaper or the news on radio and television were the only ways that your audience could inform themselves about what was happening in the world.

If you look at a local newspaper from 30 years ago, you'll see all sorts of official announcements about road closures or the opening of a new community centre. Nowadays, that information reaches the public through different channels. This shift is happening nationally and internationally as well. Many 'Update me' stories can also be found through social media or other channels.

If you truly believe that you should continue to focus on 'Update me' stories, no one is stopping you. But take a closer look at them, as our clients have done in our white paper. They all realised that satisfying other news needs will take them further.

We wrote a blog about this, by the way. In defence of 'Update me'.

It will likely save you time and money in the long run.

7. This all sounds like it's going to take a lot of time to set up and implement - and we're busy. Is there any way to speed up this process?

We actually don't think it takes that much time - and it will likely save you time and money in the long run. Yes, a data team needs to work on analysis and yes, there is also a time investment required at the (product) management level. But those positions are already engaged in analysing numbers. The model will actually help them understand things better and faster.

As for the editorial teams: ultimately, they need to tag each story well based on user needs, but this can be done with a simple checkbox. Of course, some time is needed to understand how to use the model to determine the approach of the next story. To win some time we go back to the previous topic: it's best to make fewer 'Update me' stories...

8. Is there a difference between how the model can be applied for national vs local outlets?

This model is applicable on all levels, everywhere content is being produced. But of course there are differences in interpreting the user needs. For example 'Connect me' is a user need that is perfect for local outlets. What you usually mean by it is: 'Connect me to the area I live in'. For national and certainly international media, that is less the direction of the content. Then, 'Connect me' may be more of a need to connect with other people around an idea or opinion, or a certain subculture.

The dynamics surrounding national media are also different from local ones. There is much more competition nationally, so you have to distinguish yourself better. It might make sense as a national outlet to have more brand specific user needs. On the other hand, you could also come up with a specific user need locally, such as 'Make me feel proud (of my environment)'.

9. What is the difference between a user need and a format?

User needs are the wants and desires of your audience. They’re about the angle. A format is a form or a mode you put the content into. In our whitepaper, we found an analogy to make the difference clear:

A greengrocer decides to start selling ready-made salads. His recipe is a hit with his clients. He thinks this is because he’s made a delicious dressing because that's what makes the salad unique, right? And, besides, people have been complimenting him on the taste.

The greengrocer decides to sell the dressing separately in a bottle. What happens? Not a single bottle is sold.

It turns out his customers wanted the salad mainly for convenience. They could eat healthy without having to chop the vegetables themselves. The need he meets - initially unwittingly - is therefore convenience. The form (format!) is a ready-made salad.

Examples of formats are: interview, report, listicle, analysis, Q&A.

Join the conversation! This is an active article. If you have any questions yourself, please contact us via the form below and we’ll update our bank of answers here.

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