Audience Engagement New Publishing Tech
4 mins read

Using AI, The Telegraph boosts Facebook engagement by 205%, driving subs growth

The Daily Telegraph, known online simply as The Telegraph, is a national British newspaper brand launched in 1855 and distributed across the UK and internationally. The paper was the first European newspaper to develop a website in 1994 and has been steady in its adoption of new platforms and technologies – on mobile devices alone it now attracts over 15M unique users a month.

Looking to align its ongoing digital transformation while simultaneously future-proofing its revenue streams, The Telegraph shifted to a subscriber-first focus in 2019, with the goal of achieving 10 million registrants and one million paid subscribers by 2023.

A key lever in its ’10-1-23‘ strategy is social media, as it allows The Telegraph to interact with its audiences and build trust that ultimately leads to subscriptions. The brand currently has 16M social media followers across all major platforms combined, with Facebook and Twitter its leading staples, while Instagram and LinkedIn are increasingly important platforms in the drive for subscriptions.

The Telegraph creates tailored content for each of these platforms, including TikTok and Snapchat, where the group is attempting to engage younger audiences who may not be primary targets for subscription given the average age of the publisher’s readership profile (46 years). “These platforms are more about reach for us,” says Elise Johnson, Head of Social Media at The Telegraph.

Converting social media followers

The big challenge, however, is how to turn this social media engagement into actual paying subscriptions. “It’s quite a slow burn to convince someone to become a subscriber,” adds Johnson, noting that although The
Telegraph offers a free month-long trial, readers aren’t always ready to become paying subscribers after this period – they’re often loyal subscribers of other newspapers who are hesitant to make a change.

“That’s where social media really steps in. If we’re always just asking audiences to click through to our website, that doesn’t actually ingratiate us to them. So, instead, we present articles to them and tell a whole story on social – we deliver a service rather than asking them to come to us,” explains Johnson. “Showing our audience respect in this way does eventually lead to subscription. Social media therefore plays an important role in driving subs, and it will only get bigger from now on.”

On every single platform, one fact stands out: when audiences are more engaged, subscriptions go up

Elise Johnson, Head of Social Media, Telegraph

Facebook success is a key subs driver

Facebook is perhaps The Telegraph’s most successful social media platform for converting followers into paying subscribers. Its strategy is two-fold:

  • Curating posts and optimizing their timing for greater user engagement
  • Scheduling the day’s posts in advance and focusing time and attention on other engagement-related initiatives.

To optimize both of the above, The Telegraph has been using Echobox, a social media AI solution that allows publishers to achieve greater social reach and automate their social media activity.

The Telegraph combines AI-driven automation and journalist-guided posting depending on the content and the context. “We take a human-led approach for deciding which content to post, but we often leave it to Echobox to decide when articles are posted. Especially when it’s not a very busy news day we let the AI take over,” Johnson adds.

Timing optimization takes a huge load out of the job, as you don’t need to fiddle about and keep track of what to post every half hour

Elise Johnson, Head of Social Media, Telegraph

The importance of A/B testing

The Telegraph also uses A/B testing for Facebook, which enables the testing of different headlines, messages, images or videos to find which versions are most engaging to audiences. “We use A/B when we want to demonstrate the power of a shorter headline, or when we’re trying to help a reporter or journalist understand what works better for our audience,” adds Johnson.

Publishers who A/B test their Facebook posts typically see 25% more clicks on average.

Antoine Amann, CEO of Echobox

Antoine Amann, CEO of Echobox, says, “Publishers’ social media teams often spend a fair amount of time determining the best content to share or reshare on social media, and the best times to post to generate the most traffic and engagement. Like The Telegraph, many publishers are now realizing the advantages of using AI to remove this guesswork and optimize their social media publishing.

“As we see in The Telegraph’s experience, they save significant time which can instead be spent on high-value activities like creating engaging content and driving digital subscriptions.”

For the Telegraph, the AI automation of social media has been paying off as it works towards its “10-1-23” digital subscription goals – the publisher has seen an overall increase of 38% in Facebook clicks and, on average, its Facebook shares receive 205% more clicks than other posts shared manually. Partly as a result, the publisher generated 45% growth in digital subscribers up to August 2020 (latest figures available), a figure also clearly boosted by coronavirus reporting and travel-related news.