If you’re in digital publishing, chances are you’ve heard about the 'user needs' model, developed by the BBC World Service. Their research revealed that content created to address specific user needs outperforms conventionally produced stories. ‘Update me’ might be what we’ve always done, but is it what we should continue doing? Heck no: according to the research, the audience comes first - and it turns out they respond better to other user needs.

optimise your intuition and supercharge engagement

At smartocto, we know how important it is to connect your content with your brand and your audience. That's why we're embarking on a new project, that combines the user needs model with our predictive analysis. The goal is to create even smarter notifications for newsrooms everywhere, designed to help editors identify the best way to tell their stories - and which user need might aid them in that endeavour.

Essentially, it’s going to optimise your intuition and supercharge engagement. What’s not to like?

News Need Notifications: realtime tips based on BBC's user needs model

For this Triple N project - News Need Notifications - we've teamed up with award-winning digital transformation leader Dmitry Shishkin, who was one of the first advocates of the user needs approach at the BBC. He oversaw the adoption of the model across the BBC World Service and later applied a similar strategy to content commissioning at Culture Trip. Such is his connection with the model that it became known (in certain circles, at least) as ‘Dima’s wheel of news needs’.

your content needs to be aligned with your vision and mission, and your audience’s expectations

A toolkit to help optimise your output

What should a news story look like in order to be deemed relevant by its readers? Are audiences happy with journalists publishing breaking news story after breaking news story?

Well, at smartocto we certainly don't think so. And neither does Dmitry Shishkin, which is why he agreed to work with us: “Relevance and unique selling points have never been so crucial in media strategy. Commodity content doesn’t cut it anymore - not with users, not on social media, not with search. Your content needs to be fully aligned with your vision and mission, but also with your audience’s expectations, and that's where the user needs come in."

"I'm hoping that we can give smartocto clients an interesting toolkit, combining data science, product and editorial, to make their output stronger to the benefit of the audience."

So, over the next few months we’ll be trialing this approach with selected clients, and exploring ways in which we can enhance smartocto's notifications to facilitate the news needs-based approach.

Future-proof data

Iteration is important and there’s always, always room for improvement.

Take editorial analytics. The first digital analytics solutions simply told you what had happened on your website. Then they added real-time: to let you know what IS happening on your website. Logic dictates that the next step is predicting what will happen, which is why we developed our Story Value Engine. But there’s always more work to be done, and we’re always open to collaborations.

In Dmitry we've found someone with a strong background in editorial transformation and data-informed strategy implementation who’s excited to help us improve our product.

"This is an incredibly exciting project for me to be part of. I want to find out how data science, machine learning algorithms, and historical data can help journalists look towards the future."

"applying user needs to content creation was exciting - it wasn’t long before we saw that it worked!"

The BBC's user needs model

There are much more effective - and frankly more fun - ways to tell the news than simply stating the facts and giving updates on current events.

During his time working with the BBC, Dmitry and his team of digital development specialists made it their mission to help newsrooms around the world tell the news in a more engaging and relevant way. Audiences weren't connecting with traditional journalistic output, so they needed a new editorial approach - one that put those audiences front and centre. The problem, as Dmitry says, was obvious: "Journalists need to stop writing to impress other journalists and start writing for regular people, and try to serve them. Applying user needs to content creation was exciting and it wasn’t long before we saw that it worked!"

The BBC audience research team identified 6 universal 'needs' for news consumers:

(For a more in-depth explanation of these user needs (with examples) this video of Dmitry Shishkin speaking at the Google News Initiative Forum) is a good introduction)

There’s plenty to discuss about the value of user needs, but for now we’ll share this: when the team looked into the distribution of user needs across one of the BBC sites, they found that although 70% of the content fell into the ‘update me’ category, it only generated 10% of the traffic. That’s pretty compelling stuff.

“There’s no doubt that adopting a user-needs-first approach can help newsrooms boost engagement,” says Rutger Verhoeven, CMO at smartocto. “We also know that smart notifications can have a transformative effect on the culture and workflow of editorial teams. The combination of the two should create a powerful solution to enable newsrooms to connect with their audiences better - and for longer. Naturally we’re excited to see if it’s possible to have our notification system recognise user needs in real time and offer smarter notifications - and we’re keen to get started.”

We'll keep you posted on the results of our research, so subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated!