Slate audience engagement editor on building community: ‘Embrace a culture of experimentation’

The big investigation you’ve been working on for months just went live. But where is your audience?

Audience engagement strategy is essential for all journalists, no matter the publication size, to connect carefully produced work with people who care. A good engagement plan starts with clear, tangible goals, says Narda Pérez, senior audience engagement editor at Slate. 

We asked Pérez to share what she’s learned in her work as an audience journalist.

Can you briefly describe your work as an audience engagement editor?

Pérez: My job is all about taking the excellent journalism that Slate produces and getting it to our readers — wherever they are. I was brought on to lead our visual social strategy in particular, focusing on Instagram. I spend a good chunk of time reading all the excellent Slate coverage of the day, which is one of my favorite parts of the job. I then take all the different kinds of content we have — we publish a lot of different types of stories — prioritize based on audience interest and the news cycle, and figure out the best way to present it to our audiences online. I help coordinate these efforts with the rest of the audience team and other colleagues, including our designers and different section editors around the newsroom.

What types of stories tend to resonate most with the Slate audience? 

Pérez: Good question. If you were to look at on any given day, you’ll see we cover a wide range of topics. On the same homepage, you’ll see abortion coverageSuccession recapsstories about voter suppressionadvice columns, and some of my personal favorites, like articles about the internet’s obsession with Pedro Pascal. We cover a lot.

But I think Slate readers expect a certain tone and edge to our work. We’re an online magazine that helped invent the voice of the web, so you know a piece of Slate reporting or analysis when you see it: smart, witty, provocative, humanizing, you get the idea. Our tone is a lot different from your typical news organizations, and that’s what makes us not only unique, but a destination for our audience. We have a keen understanding of contributing to the daily conversation rather than replicating the same coverage dozens of other outlets are working on — while also still making sure to weigh in on the biggest stories of the day.

How do you determine what content strategies are working?  

Pérez: Our main objective as a newsroom is to inform, and often surprise and delight, our audience, but to do that — meaning to reach your audience — you have to embrace product thinking in the newsroom. A good strategy includes clear, measurable goals. Those goals could be page views, reach, engagement, followers, memberships, etc. We can use these metrics to figure out if we’re succeeding and what areas there are to improve. If we’re not seeing the success we expected, it’s time to change course or even to stop that approach entirely.

What are your top three tips for creating and sustaining an engaged community of readers?

Pérez: One, understand your audience. Through metrics, comments, institutional knowledge, research, and just talking to readers — audience journalists should strive to be experts on who their audience is and what their audience wants. Always lead with empathy.

Two, embrace a culture of experimentation. Things change all the time. Platforms emerge. Platforms fail. Trends change. We need to be nimble as journalists to these changes and always be willing to meet our audiences where they are. A culture of experimentation means leaning back on product-thinking principles to make informed risks in the spirit of serving our audience. It also means sometimes a project may “fail” — but it’s all data regardless. 

Lastly, lean into your collaborations. I couldn’t do my job well without working hand in hand with my audience teammates, other journalists at Slate, our amazing design team, and so many other talented individuals. Don’t work in a silo, make sure you’re leveraging your own strengths and the strengths of your team.

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