Having recently celebrated 3 million online registrations, The Telegraph has now revealed a more unexpected milestone: reaching 3 million teenagers a month on Snapchat.
That figure is counterintuitive for two reasons. Firstly, because The Telegraph is characterised as having an ageing readership (one 2017 study placed its average print reader at 61-years-old). Secondly, because the title has been primarily concentrating on its own platform, working on a strategy to convert web readers into registered members and then paying subscribers.
But while Snapchat is not yet a revenue driver for the publisher, it is seen as an “investment in The Telegraph subscribers of the future” according to chief information officer Chris Taylor.
“Some bespoke content production has to go into that, so it's quite a big investment on our part,” he told The Drum. “But we see really good results. We are reaching 3 million-plus teenagers per month via Snapchat. When we do surveys around their affinity with the brand and their perception, the Snapchat audience over-indexes what you would expect.”
Although the news brand’s ultimate goal is to convince readers to pay for its £250-a-year complete membership package, it takes the position that gating off all its content would be counterproductive. Premium pieces, like the Boris Johnson columns which Taylor said “drive a huge number of subscriptions”, are strictly fenced off. “But we're very relaxed about sending what we would call the ‘open content’ as far and wide as possible because it's great for our relevance and our broader journalistic mission,” Taylor added, referring to more general news that’s been given a Telegraph slant.
In effect, the publisher is trying to strike a balance between audience scale – so it can find new readers and be considered a significant global news player – and a revenue model that is increasingly predicated upon subscriptions. “If you go full paywall, you're no longer well-known right around the world,” Taylor said. “And you suffer in things like search rankings and so on as well which compounds the problem.”
As a bridgehead to winning new subscribers, The Telegraph has focused on convincing its website browsers to sign up for a free registration to unlock content. It hit its goal of reaching 3 million registered users in 2018 ahead of schedule last month and is targeting 10 million users overall, although Taylor wouldn’t say by when.
He did add that the 3 million sign-ups were “active” users and that those who fell idle would be removed from its database. “The very strict definition we've used is: if we haven't seen somebody active within a year then they are completely wiped out of the numbers.”
Although The Telegraph’s digital department has played a prominent role in this strategy, it is still the editorial team that is responsible for determining which stories are available for free, which go behind the freewall and which are subscriber-only. “We play with this all the time, but the tools are in the control of the editor and his team,” Taylor said. “So they set the broad principles and even down to the individual article they can vary that if they want to.”
One tactic it has explored is making an article open access and then putting it behind either its freewall or paywall if it starts going viral. What the publisher would be less inclined to do is change a popular article from subscriber-only to open just for the sake of eyeballs. “You know people would have paid for that and you’ve got to honour that,” Taylor said.