A responsive approach to storytelling helped the Indian Express increase weekly page-views to its new vertical by 30% in two months

In March 2018, the Indian Express launched a new vertical — Audio, offering podcasts on a wide range of themes — from deep dives into environmental issues to lifestyle and daily news. They participated in the Digital Identities workshop powered by Google News Lab and received one-to-one support to run storytelling experiments.

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Promotional content for the Express Adda Podcast on Audio

“This is uncharted territory for us. But it’s an exciting opportunity. We know there is a huge Indian audience that is plugged into podcasts from the West.”

The primary goal of Audio is to connect listeners with journalists at the Indian Express, a national English-language newspaper that was founded in 1931. In many respects, this vertical is a test-bed for storytelling, exploring episodic content as well as a variety of themes and formats. Ameya Nagarajan, manager of Audio, explains: ‘This is uncharted territory for us. But it’s an exciting opportunity. We know there is a huge Indian audience that is plugged into podcasts from the West.

During the workshop, Ameya developed a number of ideas to interact with audiences on social media and through their content offering. After the workshop, she was one of a small group of participants who received one-to-one support to run short-term experiments.

Working closely with her production team, Ameya applied the following principles of responsive storytelling: creating anticipation, showcasing personalities and nudging listeners to interact. Rather than deploying the nudges at once, the team tested them in separate sprints. For instance, in some series, they included an invitation for listeners to join the conversation around the halfway mark. Working in this iterative manner allowed them to build the capacity for meaningful audience interaction — asking questions with the clear intention of acting upon the responses.

On social media, this approach translated into creating moments of valuable real-time interaction. The team quickly realised that broadcasting their entire offering via automatic updates on Twitter would not produce any significant improvements in listenership. So they ran daily experiments with variables like tone of voice, visuals and posting at different times.

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The audience-engagement campaign to celebrate the 100th episode of 3 Things, the daily news show

“Running focussed audience-engagement campaigns is where we could really see the impact of our research, planning and tests with real-time activity.”

These tests culminated in a giveaway to celebrate the 100th episode of their flagship news show — 3 Things. ‘Running focussed audience-engagement campaigns is where we could really see the impact of our research, planning and tests with real-time activity,’ explains Ameya. The team exceeded most of the metrics they’d set. And now that they have adopted a sprint-based approach, they regard the success of this giveaway as a stepping stone for more sophisticated interactions as well as an opportunity to improve their content offering by responding to the themes their community is interested in.

“We want to develop an audience that represents diverse interests and is prepared to engage with us critically on important issues.”

Like all the projects that received one-to-one support as part of the Digital Identities programme, the end goal wasn’t limited to engagement, but to create meaningful interactions with online communities in order to create real impact. Ameya explains: ‘We want to develop an audience that represents diverse interests and is prepared to engage with us critically on important issues.’ With that goal in mind, the team has achieved an impressive milestone — increasing the traffic to their vertical by 30% in just two months.

Digital Identities powered by Google News Initiative

In 2016, we began a collaboration with Google News Lab to help journalists run experiments to define what impact means to them. So far, we’ve engaged with nearly 300 journalists from 12 countries representing national, regional and hyperlocal media. In May this year, that’s pretty much peak-summer, we visited India to run workshops in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.

www.digitalidentities.info

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Click here to listen to a record of our week in India. This podcast has been edited by Amanda Aronczyk.

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