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RMIT students help The Conversation reach young audiences

RMIT University’s Melbourne City Campus. Adam Horne/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

In semester 2, 2020, The Conversation took part in an RMIT Professional Communications class as an industry client. Students pitched us ideas on how to grow our audience, particularly among younger readers. They also pitched ideas on how we could attract new subscribers to our daily newsletter.

The students had eight weeks, three consultation meetings and data from The Conversation to determine the best strategies.

Three groups researched where young people get their news, how they engage with newsletters and their awareness of The Conversation brand. Here is what they found.

Young people are highly engaged with news media…

The students surveyed over 200 young people, most of whom were undergraduate students, and drew together data from external studies.

They found young people are highly engaged news consumers: 82% of 18-30 year-olds engage with news every day. They value expertise highly: 86.12% agree news sources need to be trustworthy and reputable. They judge articles trustworthy if they include scientific evidence (30.74%) and experts (25.80%). So far, so good – injecting academic rigour into the public sphere is The Conversation’s thing.

However, few of the students recognised The Conversation brand. The Conversation has quite a young audience by industry standards (approximately 69% of our readers are under the age of 44), but it appears many young people don’t connect with our journalism or don’t remember they have done so.

But they aren’t so keen on emails

Young people surveyed weren’t keen on email newsletters, preferring to engage with journalism on social media. 44.82% said they receive news via Facebook or Instagram, but only 3.68% via email newsletters.

60-75% were not subscribed to newsletters and would not subscribe in future. Those that do subscribe prefer less frequent emails (weekly), and more customization around topics of interest.

There was also an appetite for consuming news via Instagram: 24% of young news consumers now get their news on Instagram – the third biggest source. They preferred it over other apps as it is visual heavy, engaging and easy to consume.

A little less Conversation, a little more action

In response to these findings, the students recommended we consider the following actions:

  • Rebrand the Weekender newsletter, as young people are more likely to sign up to a weekly newsletter than a daily one.

  • Increase our use of Instagram, given it is the preferred platform for young people. The ‘stories’ function is a particularly important function of the app which we rarely use.

  • Expand our podcast offerings, as young people are increasingly using podcasts to get their news.

  • Seek cross-promotion in university newsletters to drive student subscribers.

  • Collaborate with students to co-create content, particularly journalism and media students.

The next steps

These are all great suggestions, and The Conversation team are currently discussing ways we can incorporate the students’ advice into our plans.

We would like to thank the students and their lecturer Jan Brueggemeier for their fascinating insights. If you would like to read more of their projects, you can check out their custom-made websites here, here and here.

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