Industry Insights

GroundSource CEO Andrew Haeg on the Engagement Cycle

By Gal Shyli | May 30, 2017


Welcome to our Industry Insight blog series, where we will be interviewing the industry’s most influential thought leaders working to make an impact on the future of storytelling. For our first Industry Insight interview, we decided to pick the brain of Andrew Haeg, CEO of GroundSource, to learn more about how publishers can create, and then grow, an engaged and loyal community by establishing trust and becoming part of the conversation.

What inspired the launch of GroundSource?

I started working in journalism as a correspondent for The Economist and a public radio reporter. During this time, I found myself becoming frustrated with the disconnect between the work I doing every day and what was actually occurring out there in the community. I co-founded the Public Insight Network at American Public Media, a CRM-like database that collects and organizes quotes and responses from the public to help journalists get sources for their stories. As the ubiquity and accessibilty of mobile phones became more prevalent, I realized the need to evolve and expand the publisher-audience connection that the Public Insight Network proved valuable. And so, GroundSource was born. GroundSource is a platform that allows news organizations to engage directly with their audiences through texting. This way, journalists can bring their engagement cycle full circle by truly understanding their audience and publishing the content they care about.

The ‘engagement cycle’ is a really important concept for content creators to understand in order to communicate with their audience. Could you give us a brief explanation of what goes into that?

As reporters and journalists, our job is to go out there and find the truth outside of the newsroom. We have to a sense of humility and understand that the expertise is out there, so we have to trigger the right kind of behavior, or invite the right kind of people in. That is where the engagement cycle begins, with a simple invitation to action. We have to have a low barrier to entry so someone with low motivation and low ability, or low confidence in their own ability, will feel ok with stepping up and saying something. If our job is to connect with our whole community, we must remember that the way we design our spaces will define who shows up and who doesn’t. When you respond, you show that you are listening, so they then feel gratified by the interaction and can develop a sense of belonging. As their motivation level increases, you can them ask them to do something more complicated, like become a subscriber. As a news organization, the more you listen and learn about your audience and their preferences, the more relevant and connected your content will become, and the more engaged and loyal your audience will be.

How can content creators use the ‘engagement cycle’ to establish trust with their audience, and why is that so important?

Creating a strong media brand that people feel connected to is huge especially now when trust in mass media is so low. Think of journalism as a continuous engagement cycle that builds trust the more you go around the cycle. Ask yourself, How do we get our audience to keep going around the cycle? An engagement opportunity that many miss out on is showing up in the channels where your community wants to connect. Each interaction should have a different feel based on which platform you are using.

Once a community is established amongst publishers and their readers, which types of things should journalists focus the most on, or keep their eyes out for, to ensure that the content they’re creating is the content that their audience wants?

News organizations should ask thoughtful, open-ended questions and create compelling calls to action in a way that they can filter through and then create new, targeted questions from there. For example, preference questions, 1-5 questions, Y/N questions, or even geographical questions can all help you filter the vast group into smaller groups. This requires thinking ahead of time about how you structure your engagement and on which channel(s) you publish on.

When you don’t yet have that network, how do you get people to opt-in in the first place?

Use the various channels that you already have and then open new ones. You can post targeted Facebook ads and create interesting imagery that clicks through to your messenger to enter people into the conversation. Create compelling calls to action that surpass all obstacles. If you ask a question that people are excited or motivated to answer, then it makes it easier to get a response. Journalists need train themselves to stop thinking, Here is what I need from these type of people and instead think about how to flip the call to action so it feels more welcoming. A great example is what the Listening Post in New Orleans did. They put up signs that said, Who do you love with a phone number below rather than saying something like, text if you are you a 30 year old female with an opioid addiction. People were excited and intrigued so they texted and then became part of a community that contributes to the news.

Our publishing partners use the video created in our platform to encourage engagement and to drive traffic to their website through social media. Would you consider video an example of a low barrier to entry?

Video can be a crucial piece in that engagement cycle. Video is a low barrier to entry in terms of its ease to watch and engage with. You can create callouts within the video like message us what you think, but, getting your audience to create video is a higher barrier to entry. A good example of how you can use video to further that engagement cycle is this video crowdsourcing project by AJ+. They used a bot to gather videos from people during the run-up to the elections and they then responded by publishing the content they received. Their audience felt listened to, which increases their motivation.

A lot of our publishers are also using the videos they create in our platform to reach audiences on social media and drive them back to their site. Can publishers use social media to create meaningful engagement that lasts?

Creating engagement on social media is all about how sticky your content is. While social is a great way to build brand awareness, you need to then take control over those relationships so you don’t find yourself depending on the whims of algorithms that are constantly changing. Think of social as the wide-end of the lasting engagement funnel. Whether you choose messaging, email or other forms of communication, striving to create direct engagement that is not mediated by an algorithm is incredibly valuable. The Skimm is a great example of how you can create that direct relationship with your audience with content that is valuable to them.

As soon as story breaks or is trending, publishers rush to cover it. Is there a specific time frame you have to respond? How often and how soon do you reach out to your network and then create content around it?

Speed and ease in publishing content as soon as a story breaks is crucial for growing a community. Quickly publishing videos about breaking or trending news on relevant platforms is another way to show your audience that you are listening and responding to their feedback and needs. SpaceShip Media used a quickly produced video to grow their community and connect between groups of people who otherwise had no reason to connect. More than that, their content proved effective as it created empathy and trust among those groups.

Looking to the future, what would you like to see in terms of new opportunities for engagement?

I am interested in seeing more opportunities for engagement within the context of breaking news alerts – imagine push alerts embedded with a call to action. I would also like to work with more organizations to find new ways to be more responsive to what is going on, and to respond with a sense of immediacy.

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Gal Shyli