Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Publisher using Net Promoter Score surveys to reduce churn and improve reader loyalty

Bangor Daily News (BDN), one of Maine’s leading dailies is using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys to get to know its readers better and address their concerns. The newspaper’s Director of Product Marketing, Conrad Lumm, told the Lenfest Institute for Journalism that the reader responses they have got through NPS surveys have been “really instructive and useful.”

They have helped the publisher roll-out changes to improve its readers’ loyalty and reduce churn. Shortly, we will discuss two instances, where BDN identified issues through NPS surveys, that were having a negative impact on its readers.

NPS has been frequently used in the corporate world for years, but as news organizations have become more reliant on direct reader revenue through memberships and subscriptions, some outlets have begun using NPS to survey their readers.

Joseph Lichterman, Senior Business Associate, Lenfest Institute for Journalism

NPS is a customer relationship tool used by companies to measure the loyalty of their customers. It consists of an 11-point scale where respondents are asked to rate how likely they are to recommend a company’s product/service to a friend or colleague. BDN uses the tool to dig deeper and identify specific issues that may be affecting its readers’ loyalty.

“We have to pick our battles”

It started when BDN adopted the digital subscription model at the end of 2017. The next step was developing a system to learn more about its audience—the publisher opted for NPS surveys. While specific figures were not revealed, sources at the newspaper say that the tool has given them valuable qualitative data.   

We aren’t swimming in resources. We have to pick our battles. The qualitative data we get back from our NPS questions are incredibly helpful in helping us to prioritize what we do next to reduce our churn and to make sure people still like us.

Conrad Lumm, Director of Product Marketing at Bangor Daily News

The paper sends out email surveys to subscribers. It has segmented its audience based on whether they have subscribed to the print edition only, digital only, print + digital, and those who have just registered by email. Based on responses to the 0-10 scale of the survey, readers are placed under one of the following three categories:

  1. Promoters: Those who rated 9-10 i.e. the most loyal readers.
  2. Passives: Those who rated 7-8 i.e. satisfied, but not enthusiastic—the ones most likely to churn.
  3. Detractors: 6 and below—the dissatisfied readers.

“Gives us an early signal”

The publisher uses follow-up questions to understand why readers chose the ratings they did. Those who rate above 8, are asked what the newspaper is doing well. And those who rate 8 or below, are enquired about the changes they would like to give a higher rating.

Finally, there is a third question that changes with every new survey. It’s based on what the publisher needs to know at that time.

For example, BDN has been thinking about adding a membership-like approach to its subscription offerings. That found its way into the survey—readers were asked to share positive aspects of other membership groups they belonged to.

Speaking about the responses, Joellen Easton, Director of Audience Development at Bangor Daily News said, “They’re the most actionable. It gives us an early signal.”

The publisher shared two examples—one, a relatively straightforward issue, but the other forced the paper to look deeper into its reporting.

The first issue cropped up when the paper started using a new printing facility. Deadlines had to be moved up because of the change, and certain sports scores could not be accommodated in the paper.

In their latest survey, a noticeable number of readers complained about this. Consequently, the publisher is planning to create a sports-focused morning email newsletter.

The other issue was readers’ complaints about the paper having a liberal bias. While this was something BDN had come across earlier with the print edition, the NPS survey pointed out that mostly detractors had this issue.

The feedback has lead the publisher to drive organization-wide changes through, “Changing how we interact with our readers in the comments, the kinds of events we hold, how we signal the difference between editorial and news content, and how we talk about our story choices,” said Easton.

She added, “We need to explain our story choices, we need to explain our process. There are so many things to try and affect that and change that.

“There is also training for how does something that seems totally normal to you as a reporter based on conversations you had in the newsroom, actually seem different to a reader who might come from a different perspective.”

“You don’t go in and play one hand of blackjack”

The publisher did not share specific figures with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, citing it to be confidential. But Easton and Lumm emphasized that they found the qualitative responses from the surveys useful.

The paper uses SurveyMonkey to conduct quarterly surveys. It has conducted three of them till date and plans to continue. That would help it track trends better over time. “Doing it once is of limited value. You don’t go in and play one hand of blackjack.

“If you’re a good blackjack player you’re going to want to play more than one hand. We want to get our reader feedback many times over a long period of time so we can really chart what the impact of any changes we make are,” said Lumm.

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