Have we reached Peak Subscription? Amanda Mull, in The Atlantic, recently made that argument, and it certainly makes intuitive sense. As subscription newsletters and podcasts have taken off, subscription streaming services have proliferated, and publishers have ramped up their subscription efforts, it’s been hard not to wonder in recent years: is this really sustainable? How many subscriptions is too many subscriptions? Could a rash of cancellations be on the horizon?
It’s certainly possible, although we aren’t there yet. Still, publishers worried about some looming crash can take some proactive measures to ensure that—if and when that time comes—their particular service doesn’t get put on the chopping block.
The goal, of course, should be to make your service indispensable. High-quality content is as essential as ever, but a vibrant community can make all the difference down the line.
An Engaged Community Changes Everything
Every great publisher creates a world; a familiar space that readers find themselves irresistibly drawn back to, with writers they come to feel like they know. What a thriving comments section does is expand that world dramatically, and create even more nooks and crannies for readers to explore.
Suddenly, readers are coming to check out not only the journalists on the masthead but also their favorite commentors. A real community begins to form, with its own language and inside jokes. Even on a slow news day, readers feel compelled to pop in and catch up on what their community is discussing.
The fact is that robust comments keep readers on-site for longer and keep them coming back more often. Eventually, some significant portion feels compelled to register, in order to join in on the fun and leave comments of their own. And once readers reach that stage—once they’re willing to manually input their user info to interact with your content; once they’ve joined a community where they’re known and where they know everyone else—you can be sure that you won’t lose them if (or when) the subscription bubble bursts.
Why It’s Matters To Interact With The Community
So: how can publishers go about building sustainable communities?
Part of it comes down to moderation. Multi-layered, AI-enhanced moderation tools keep the conversation respectful without any intervention on the part of the editorial staff, publishers can focus on creating quality content, while our tools seamlessly ensure that things stay civil.
But publishers can also see great results by actively engaging with their community.
A high-quality comments section, ideally, should feel like an organic part of your publishing enterprise; there should be a kind of symbiotic relationship. Active users don’t want to feel like they’re talking into a void, or like their community could technically exist anywhere. They want to feel like a naturally integrated part of your brand.
For writers and editors, that means actually engaging with the comments: responding to concerns, participating in debates, playing along with inside jokes. Obviously, editorial staff has many responsibilities and can’t spend all day in the comments, but a few well-placed interventions can make a massive difference when it comes to reader engagement and loyalty.
Better yet, editorial engagement is one of the most powerful tools available when it comes to keeping the conversation respectful; we’ve noted that it leads to a 17% reduction in toxic comments.
And beyond editorial engagement, OpenWeb offers a number of tools that can get readers to interact with their content. Let’s say, for instance, you’re a site that covers movies or music. Allowing readers to leave star ratings of their own on album or movie reviews creates another powerful bond; they log in to see not just how your staff reviewer ranked it, but what their peers thought about it, too.
So let’s say the day of reckoning finally does arrive—newsletters and magazines and subscription wine boxes continue to proliferate, and people start to realize that if they want to pay their mortgage, or send their kid to college, they’re going to need to cut back.
In this scenario, the brand loyalty that community breeds is indispensable. When you associate your brand with community, and everything that community offers, you put yourself in a much better position to keep valuable subscribers than with high-quality content alone.