Smartocto at public broadcaster Omroep Zeeland

"Follow-ups are much more on our minds right now. The story isn't finished once we press 'publish', it's only just getting started." That's Jan-Jaap Corré speaking, chief online editor for regional broadcaster Omroep Zeeland.

The company recently started working with smartocto, driven by an interest in the user needs approach we’re championing and our emphasis on commissioning creative follow-ups: you really can, and should, do more with a story when there are lots of reactions to the piece. The editorial team is becoming more conscious of what to publish when, and is working with the data to better understand what type of stories the audience really wants. Rather than using data for data’s sake, the company was looking for a different journalistic approach to boost performance. And smartocto's data was able to support that approach.

"Smartocto helps us to write factually in an interesting way"

Reminders, nudges and suggestions

"The main reason to start using smartocto was the tips, for me that's the most important added value", says Corré. "Of course smartocto doesn't come up with stories for you, but if you learn to interpret these tips in the right way, it does lead to more successful stories." It teaches the editorial team to think in a different, more creative way.

But there's a very practical side to it as well, that leads to better actions. "We've adjusted the notifications to fit our needs. They function as a sort of a check to see if we've done everything." The smart notifications serve as a useful reminder for things that had been forgotten or overlooked, like posting a popular story to Facebook, or making the team aware of possibilities they hadn't yet considered.

We may not follow up on everything that's suggested, but the main thing is that we discuss it and think about it.

Jan-Jaap Corré

Jan-Jaap Corré chief online editor @ omroep zeeland

Creative thinking makes for better stories

Like any regional broadcaster, Omroep Zeeland has the public task to cover certain news events. The user needs perspective has proven to help them reach a bigger audience for important-to-share stories.

Jan-Jaap: "The 'what's in it for me' for the reader is getting more attention in our stories now, rather than just the facts. I do believe that smartocto can help us write factually in an interesting way. We recently reported that the director of two large local festivals quit. It could have been a really dry, boring statement about him quitting and how long he did it for and that's that. Nobody would care to read that. But what if we mentioned the biggest acts he managed to book, or how he built the festivals to what they are today?"

"what would we write if we think more creatively, with the user needs in mind?"

Another nice example is the story of an old ferry boat returning to the province to be put on display. For years, ferries like this were the only connection between islands, but became redundant when a bridge was built. As a follow-up to the first report about one of the boats returning, they decided to ask their readers on Facebook about their memories of being on the ferry and created a Keep Me On Trend piece out of the reactions. Another article explored where the other old ferries ended up. So, you see, anything is possible when you think creatively!

This different way of thinking is not something that just happens when you start using editorial analytics. For Omroep Zeeland, it was the smartocto onboarding that changed their perspective. "During the onboarding, we did assignments to change our way of thinking: if this is the news fact, right now we would write this kind of story. But what if we think more creatively, and with the user needs in mind, what would we write then? During that training, the emphasis was very much on the tool and its functionality in relation to the user needs."

Data in the daily workflow

The Big Screen is used to check the best stories, and gives them a clear overview of what's going on. Goals have been set up for stories on the website and app. "We have meters that fill up when people visit and of course it's a challenge to achieve that and reach your own goals", the chief editor enthuses. "That makes it fun too; can we reach it for every story and how can we increase the numbers?"

Right now the data shows only pageviews, but loyalty will soon be added. It’s quite an important metric for public media. "It will be great to see people not only reading your stories, but also getting those insights into how long they read the story for - and how interesting they think it is."

Becoming acquainted with editorial analytics in the newsroom

The company is taking their transformation slowly, introducing the new approach first, then the technology. Small groups get access to the tool, one by one. "We chose to educate two super users first, me and a colleague who is more focused on the data. After we finished training, we planned sessions for our online editors to bring them on board and take them through the tool with examples and presentations, to show them what it can do. Our focus is on real-time first."

In addition to the live training, smartocto also made custom video tutorials for features such as A/B testing, or going through the real-time data. These serve to refresh the memory of users or educate those who missed the training.

"the follow-ups that we make with smartocto perform really well."

It's a challenge to introduce something new to people who are busy enough as it is, and to convince them that a new tool doesn’t add to their workload, but helps lessen it. "In the beginning that was quite hard, but now we're already seeing that the follow-ups we make with smartocto perform very well. It really is a great addition that helps to create different stories."

The gradual introduction of the tool within the company had its desired effect. Instead of hesitation, the online editors showed excitement. Jan-Jaap: "I would occasionally share something in the morning meetings, saying that smartocto made a certain suggestion, which made people very impatient to take a look for themselves. Some are really active now; just judging by the number of A/B tests done, I can tell who is working in the online editorial room that day."

Interpreting data the right way

There are always people who are resistant to a more data-driven approach. And in those cases, it doesn't help if data is interpreted the wrong way. It's important to keep in mind that there's always a choice: you don't have to blindly follow every suggestion. Notifications can sometimes be a bit awkward, like when smartocto suggests follow-ups for sad breaking news stories. Omroep Zeeland recently experienced this when the story about the murder of a young girl was well-read. However, you shouldn't always dismiss these messages right away.

"What you do need to do, and what we're getting better and better at, is to find out how we can employ this tool - how do I read the messages of the tool correctly?" So when a notification says, 'this is popular, create more of it', it doesn't literally mean write more sad breaking news stories. Instead, you could explore the story further. Is there anything else that people could be interested in? In the case of the murdered girl, it led to a Keep Me On Trend story sharing social media reactions.

The team is now finding a workflow that respects both the importance of data and their journalistic task as a public broadcaster. They "aren't driven completely by it, but that's not what is meant for anyway. It's a tool that's open to interpretation all the time. But when people see that a story that we wouldn't have written without smartocto turns into the best story of the day, that makes the benefit undeniable."

Future wishes

Jan-Jaap's wishes for the future are to move their content strategy from being based on gut feeling to based on data. "What I would like to do is look back more and learn from past events. At what time of day did we publish an article and how did it perform at that time? We could then post similar articles at that same time."

The historical reports would become the basis for their morning editorial meetings. But more specifically, it could feed their research teams with subjects that the audience would like to learn more about. "In the end, everybody wants their story to perform optimally. If the data helps to achieve that, I think people will automatically become enthusiastic about that!"