When publishing consultant Dmitry Shishkin talked about the usefulness of user needs at the Dutch regional broadcaster Omroep Gelderland in 2021, part of the editorial team thought: oh no, another guru who thinks everything should be different. However, the User Needs Model has become a part of every brainstorming session by now.

The skepticism, which is actually a good attitude in any newsroom, quickly gave way to admiration for executive editor Gaby Beenhackker. She embraced the idea that every good story starts with the question of what the audience is waiting for.

"It's not like we never did that," she says in an interview with smartocto. "We also saw that personal stories were well received by our visitors, and we ended every television broadcast with something lighthearted. But thanks to the analysis by smartocto, it became clear that we were making too many 'Update me' stories, while we also had the opportunity to meet other needs."

After an introduction to the chief editors and some web editors, the philosophy had to be further disseminated. "I was taken off the daily calendar to focus on it," says Gaby. "My focus entirely goes to data and insights, with the User Needs Model as a guide."

What is the User Needs Model?

The User Needs Model was introduced by BBC World Service in 2017. The broadcaster examined the statistics of its website after stories were marked based on the need they met.

Smartocto has developed a second version of the model together with Dmitry, adding two user needs and reframing one. We will present this on Wednesday, along with a whitepaper. There will also be a webinar. The philosophy remains the same: for a good content strategy, you need to look for the right mix of user needs - preferably those that resonate best with your audience.

If you want to know how smartocto supports any user need approach, please feel free to get in touch.

Implementation of user needs at Omroep Gelderland

The introduction of user needs at Omroep Gelderland went roughly through 4 phases:

  • Developing user needs
  • Creating awareness
  • User needs in meetings
  • Guiding with statistics

Developing user needs

With the team of pioneers, Omroep Gelderland put together its own user needs model. They ended up with eight needs:

  • Keep me up to date (Update me)
  • Keep me on trend
  • Help me form my opinion (New)
  • Teach me something new (Educate me)
  • Distract me (Divert me)
  • Inspire me
  • Help me out (new)
  • Move and connect me (new)

Editors were instructed to fill in the right user need for each story they created in the CMS. A personal story that inspires? Fill in 'Inspire me'. Just a who-what-where message? 'Update me'.

Creating awareness
Gaby then tried to create awareness on the news floor as quickly as possible. "We started by distributing daily top lists, clearly indicating which user need each story served. This was definitely not just about page views. We prefer to use the smartocto metric CPI, which expresses the performance of exposure, engagement and loyalty."

Omroep Gelderland consciously chose not to immediately present targets. "First, we wanted to demonstrate that this approach works well. We hoped that it would be discussed among ourselves and inspire us. A common response to the model was: but is reporting the news not who we are? With the top lists, usually a top 5, we could see on a daily basis that we also produce other stories, which generally perform better."

A common response to the model was: but is reporting the news not who we are?

Gaby Beenhackker executive editor @ omroep gelderland

User needs in meetings
However, it was not easy to immediately change the behavior of the editors with that awareness. "It's difficult to switch gears," says Gaby. "That's why I attended editorial meetings in the beginning. We would refer to the top lists and ask: can we come up with a different user need for this topic?"

Later, that method was also adopted for non-follow-up stories. "By now, it is common for a chief or executive editor to ask about the different angles for a topic before the first story is made. User needs provide a good guideline. In a course, we used King's Day as a brainstorm example. We didn't ask ‘what should we do’ but: 'what story about King's Day can we create that fulfills the 'Help me out' need?' And then so on with the other user needs. You then arrive at better ideas more quickly. There are more ideas generated.”

Omroep Gelderland can decide to present an 'Update me' story in the morning broadcast (when their audience doesn't have so much time), 'Teach me something new' in the afternoon, and 'Move and connect me' in the evening, probably with a personal story. “This way, we cover the entire spectrum”, Gaby concludes.

Directing with statistics
Although the regional broadcaster of the Dutch province of Gelderland still does not use targets on user needs for their editorial team, statistics guide the newsroom toward more variety. "We have a dashboard created where the counter runs every day. Which user needs have already been fulfilled? If everyone can see that, for example, in the afternoon there were mostly 'Update me' stories, someone will say: hey, let's approach the next story differently."

It still happens frequently, Gaby admits, that editors eventually resort to the who-what-where pieces. "I think it's because that's just what we were taught in journalism school: you report the news. Of course, that is still an important task, and we also see that accidents and crime articles perform well. But it's good that I can maintain a helicopter view and make occasional adjustments. We see results. That gives the organisation a lot of confidence. Visitors stay longer on the site, return more often, and seem to appreciate what we do better."