Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
6 mins read

The rise of ‘micro moments’: What publishers need to know

Just a second, please. We know you’re expecting a piece on micro moments, but we need to look up something about The Crown. Won’t be a tick.

OK, back now. Where were we?

Micro moments is the term which describes this now-ubiquitous digital reflex of turning to our smartphone when we want information, distraction or entertainment. It’s all about immediacy and whim. We expect to have our curiosity satiated at the exact point we think it might need satiating. 

The marketing world cottoned on to the potential here several years ago, and with Amazonification of consumerism, it’s become normalized. The expectation of consumers is that we need answers, responses or things on demand. These “intent-rich moments” are seen as hotbeds of potential by marketers – and they should be by publishers, too.

Personalization, from a different perspective

When we talk about personalization in news, what’s often implied is something thematic: live in Boston? Like Baseball? Get served news about the Red Sox. That’s great, and it’s important. The other side to this however is less frequently discussed, and that’s talking about personalization in the context of routines and behavior.

Reuters’ report highlighted four broad periods in a day in which people consume news:

  1. Dedicated moments where they allocate time to news (the figurative News at 10 or Sunday Papers)
  2. Time fillers
  3. Updates
  4. “Intercepted moments”

The first is broadly covered and discussed, but the other three are opportunities there for the taking. So, let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The digital enabled time filler

As Google’s Sara Kleinberg dryly notes, “despite all the technological innovations of the past few decades, we’re still stuck with waiting rooms” 

She’s right. What’s more – as anyone who’s been stuck in a waiting room recently will note – most people are staring at something on their phones while they wait. Those interminable minutes won’t just pass themselves, now, will they?

The smartphone has revolutionized our lives. In the UK, to take one example, a recent study found that average users now make less than 5 standard phone calls a month. Data usage, by contrast has soared. People are, apparently, checking their phones every 12 minutes and 95% of 16-24 year olds own a smartphone.

Are you one of the 42% who access news via their smartphone on public transport or your daily commute? One of the 46% who use it in bed? Could you even be (and we’ll whisper this) one of the 32% who reads news on your mobile in the toilet? All we’ll say to the above, is – ahem – that you’re in good company.

In fact, look around and these periods of ‘buffer’ time throughout the day which once were filled by staring out of a window, making idle small talk (or, if you’re in that real or proverbial waiting room – reading a three year old copy of Women’s Weekly) are now a massive source of potential for publishers seeking to engage their audiences at every juncture of their busy days.

Updates and alerts

Updates aren’t anything new. The only difference is that, where once you might have had to tune into a radio or switch on a TV at a certain time, now those daily briefings arrive without effort in inboxes and as alerts. 

There’s a clear user need here – and one that’s entirely relatable. Readers want to feel informed and up to date, but they also have a tendency to feel overwhelmed in a world of the infinite scroll. It’s no wonder that ‘daily briefings’ have been so successful. Most large news organizations offer some version of this – and most do it across all platforms and channels.

The Economist’s Espresso app gives you the key global stories their editors think you have each day, delivered before breakfast. The Guardian offers a morning briefing sent via push alert or email and additionally a podcast, for those preferring auditory updating. The Skimm takes an idiosyncratic approach to distilling key stories of the day, while Google Assistant provides a voice activated briefing based on your pre-defined interests. 

In short, they’re all at it because users clearly respond to a curated, finishable approach to key stories and updates.

Intercepting the daily routine

There will be legions of people for whom the very idea of switching on the TV at 10pm in order to get a summary of the most need-to-know news stories is as antiquated as the notion that Brexit was an idea that could get sorted before lunch.

Now, with Twitter, messaging apps and push notifications from any number of news outlets, getting breaking news alerts means we know what’s going on in the wider world without having to turn on a television, or a radio. 

But, with this technology come issues for readers and publishers alike.

From a reader perspective, it’s one of overload. Users are most likely to allow push notifications for social media and messaging apps (a little over 57%, according to one report), and a little over 45% permit them from news and media accounts, but there’s a limit, lest we all become subject to a never-ending cacophony of alerts.

Our lock screens are hallowed ground, and users guard them jealously. “Who in their right mind allows [news publication’s name redacted] to send them push notifications?” was an interesting snippet of a conversation overheard in line for coffee recently. There may well have been some expletives in there also. The point is: if your publication has made it as far as that lock screen, you’ve done well. Tip of the cap to you.

For publishers though, the issue isn’t just being let onto a lock screen. In the UK, the click through rate from notification to story is a rather dim-sounding 1%. That’s so tiny as to appear almost meaningless, but in fact it’s anything but. 1% of millions is still a lot of people. And, though the story those alerts link to may not be read per se, the reader has still trusted the publication enough to make them part of their news gathering process. Are those fleeting seconds of attention worth it to publishers, even if the reader takes no further action? Many would argue that in the war for attention, it most certainly is. 

Maybe it’s all about the long game, anyway.

This year’s Digital News Report found that heavy news users are 2.5 times more likely to use these alerts than those who consume current affairs more casually. Additionally, younger readers have increased their reliance on them – up to 20% from 3% in the UK over the past five years.

Online behavior changes fast. As ever this remains a truism:

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and if the measurements you’re basing your management on are several years old, you may be putting yourself at a disadvantage. You need to keep track.

Time to form new habits – who’s in?

Publishing for micro moments is really all about acknowledging that information consumption habits have been disrupted by digital, and that the product (if we must call it that) needs to be adjusted to fit that change.

Right now publishers have the opportunity to work with readers as they create new habits. The rules for success are simple:

  • Be relevant

Know your brand, know your readers. Let those readers rely on you for dependable content. Whether your brand centers on non-partisan local news, ideologically based political commentary, or binge-worthy TV shows, relevancy wins.

  • Make it easy for readers to get updated, educated, inspired (and more) from you

By using multiple points of entry, you give your readers a chance to meet you somewhere. After all, if people can’t find you, they’ll never decide that you’re an indispensable part of their lives. Producing Pulitzer-level articles is great, but it isn’t sufficient by itself. As Markus Hoffman of Badische Zeitung told us recently: “it’s not enough to have great content and link into your shop discreetly at the end of any article. It must be more like a firework, I think.”

  • Measure everything

Of course, this was going to get mentioned. It’s vital. All of the above is a process, a learning experience. If you don’t know the cold, hard facts about who’s reading what and how they’re reading it, moving forward becomes significantly harder. Knowledge is power, after all.

So with that covered, we’re off now to look up that thing about Princess Margaret.

by Em Kuntze

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.