I was asked recently by a newspaper, 'how they could create more engagement'. While my actual advice to them is far more complicated, I do want to mention one thing that is true for most newspapers.
One of the primary reasons why digital native sites get so much traffic (apart from the one-time hits concerning something big, like a major who is a drug addict) is because they have the blogging mentality to engagement.
Every blogger knows that if you want engagement you need to create positive feelings. Make people happy, do something funny, be inspiring, create hope, or illustrate amazing examples of compassion.
That type of content 'shares itself'.
There is a 80/20 saying in the world of bloggers. 80% Positive, 20% negative. And that indeed is what you find when you visit the most 'engaging' sites online. In fact, many non-news sites have a 99/1 rate. 99% good, 1% bad.
In comparison, if you look at the sites of most newspapers, you will often find a 1/99 share. 1% 'feel-good-news' ... and 99% bad, scandalous, criminal, murder, hopeless, war, oppressive, sad, sickening, and/or cruel news.
The result is very simple. These news sites get a ton of traffic, but the engagement is fairly low per article, and usually extremely polarized (as in only a few articles being shared while most receive no worthwhile levels sharing at all).
If you, like most other newspapers, have a ton of traffic but very little engagement. The problem, in simplified terms, is the tone and focus of your articles. You are making people feel sad. And sad people usually don't want to share their sadness with other people.
Make people feel happy. And if you can't do that, at least make people feel that they are part of a movement with a hope for something better in the future. The NSA/Snowden stories is a good example. They are about something sad, but at least you feel apart of a movement to force our Governments to respect your privacy (there is hope).
Scandals are extremely good at getting people to buy a newspaper at the newsstand. But in terms of engagement, scandals are simply dwarfed by goodness and hope.
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