In Conversation: Forkast.News on leveraging the power of data for emerging technology coverage
We’ve seen newsrooms across the world leveraging data and real-time insights to inform their editorial decisions and create the right content to keep their audiences engaged. Forkast.News is one of them. A fast-growing technology publisher that brings you stories and analysis on emerging technology like blockchain, their mission is to help readers understand Asia’s role in the global story of innovation.
In a video discussion with our own Abhishek Marla, Forkast co-founders Angie Lau and Sarah Chang discussed how they’ve leveraged the power of data to bring digital transformation to their publication and what initiatives they’ve implemented to drive reader engagement and loyalty.
We’ve pulled out some of our favorite excerpts from the conversation below. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On getting started using data in the newsroom
Angie Lau: For us, it really was about understanding the audience and what their needs were. I mean, initially, that’s what Forkast was really designed to answer. But as leaders, we increasingly recognized that we also need to understand our audience beyond just marking their presence on our site. We needed to understand what kind of engagement they were having with the content. And so, for the first year and a half, we really worked hard proving product market fit. We really concentrated on content. We concentrated on how the product and how the site would look, how it would engage, and we weren’t really conscious as much about data at the time. We knew [there] was the kind of superficial data analysis that everybody can get through Google Analytics. And yes, we had that. And that was very informative. But increasingly, we felt that we needed something a little bit more. And in late 2020 and 2021, we recognized that we needed to grow our audience more meaningfully and data was a central part to that.
“We recognized that we needed to grow our audience more meaningfully and data was a central part to that.”
Sarah Chang: In the past half year to a year, we’ve really honed in on figuring out how to increase the loyalty of the audience and how we get that audience coming back. Most of our audience comes from SEO, and it’s very organic. And so when people search for topics, [we’re seeing] what leads them to click on our content, what leads them to come back when they see Forkast.News has written other stories, [and then we’re] really honing in on those strategies and getting sharper around how we shape editorial goals taking that kind of data into account.
How receptive was your newsroom to a data-driven approach?
AL: Everybody was so hungry to know more. But I also want to comment on the genesis of that question because I think that for a lot of people, data is almost like a dirty word, right? Like content data, it kind of denotes like, oh, well, it’s just going to drive every editorial decision, and it’s going to be like clickbait. And you’re just, you know, the tail is wagging the dog. And I think that in the early days and certainly what we’ve experienced with a lot of these other sites that have been able to kind of really mimic and address it specifically and growth hack, that’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is actually truly a tool of the 21st century.
It wasn’t until launching Forkast.News where I have really started understanding the beauty of data as it informs me to understand our audience better. And so I have personally been very receptive because it helps me understand the very person I’m serving better. And for me, that makes us better journalists.
“I have really started understanding the beauty of data as it informs me to understand our audience better.”
SC: And also for the team, right? There’s just a growing awareness that everyone has to have these skills for themselves in order to make the right decisions [and] know how their content is being received by the audience. And there’s a number of tools out there, and we’ve seen a growing awareness and eagerness from the team to want to understand those tools and want to understand things like what domain ratings are and how that affects the site and all of these sort of conversations that weren’t as apparent before.
Has the pandemic helped accelerate data adoption?
AL: This is the perfect industry that was positioned to be seamless and frictionless when it came to real world obstacles. Everything is already done like this – virtually, online. This is simply how we work. And so for us, it was just kind of business as usual. What we did experience, however, was everybody else coming into this space. The pandemic really accelerated blockchain technology, DLT, digital assets, digital transformation, all of this. It has accelerated the space by at least five years hands-down. And so we have been a beneficiary of that. And so the data that we started getting was also reflective of what we were experiencing as well, and it just allowed us to understand this dynamic a little richer.
What are the key metrics for you going forward?
SC: It’s both [engagement and reader loyalty] and they very much tie into our product strategy. We’ve constantly been thinking about how we provide value to the audience and what kind of quality content we want to put out there. And you know, for a lot of media organizations, the question of subscription or some kind of membership is part of that conversation. So that’s something that we’ve been working towards and have been thinking about. And obviously, before you make product decisions like that, you have to know who is reading and who is engaging with you. So, to your question, [we’re thinking about] increasing engagement, increasing the number of stories that people are interested in on the site [and that] show we’re selecting the right topics and we’re reaching the audience that is interested in those topics, but also [keeps] them coming back because they enjoyed the experience the first time. So all of those things are really top of mind for us, but it really ties into a broader strategy of how do we start to think about monetization for the site without relying on things like advertising by itself.
On following the data when you’re unsure of what move to make
AL: I’ll share with you a product that we had just launched. It’s called “fastForkasts.” And these are shorter, more accessible stories that quickly kind of give you the whole story with some great insights and then we’re on to the next best Forkast story.
What I told the team was this was really an experiment because it helped us to mark the stories that we felt mattered, but didn’t potentially need a deeper dive. Maybe it didn’t warrant that [deep dive], but maybe in aggregate we’re starting to see trends [in the fastForkasts] that would then inform those deeper pieces. And the other thought was, as people come to our site for this, they’ll discover the insights and the deeper stories and bring more of an audience in.
And I will share with you that there was a moment in our experiment where, for various reasons, some operationally, some process-wise, we felt, you know what, maybe we should just press pause on this. Let’s get this stuff right. And it wasn’t until we saw the data and the data told us, you should not press pause on this at all. People are coming, but not only are they coming for these stories, they’re staying on our site and they’re behaving in exactly the way that we had hoped. They come onto our site and they go, Oh, wow, this is really good stuff. Oh wow, what? What else is really good around here? I’m just going to hang out and just like, check out this site all over the place. And the data showed us that.
Looking forward, what new skills and capabilities would you like to add to your teams?
SC: Right now, what’s top of mind for us is audience engagement, audience development, [and] specifically digital strategy to prepare for a membership product. So that requires understanding what user journeys make sense for the type of experience that we want to shape. And so finding people and/or building our own skills to really develop user journeys to better understand engagements for metrics like loyalty and engagement, time spent on things like that that really offers the most comprehensive and enjoyable experience for readers who are interested in the space and also readers adjacent to the space who may not know they’re interested now, but use us as a platform of discovery to educate themselves.
AL: I’ll just reference an interview that I did for Asian-American Journalists Association’s N3CON. I was asked, for this next generation of journalists, what are the skills that are necessary for the future? And, you know, obviously multimedia. You just have to know everything, right? But absolutely, data literacy is part of that toolkit. If you think about it as a journalist. Your content, the research, the passion, the dedication, the tenacity that you inject into each and every story, if it finds zero audience, you are doing your work a disservice.
Data literacy and understanding how readers engage, what they’re looking at, what they’re interested in [is] simply another nuance to understanding your audience so that you can craft your content, your story, [and] your videos a little bit better. And you know, that, it’s not talent. It’s simply an awareness that there are incredible tools that we have today that allow us to do this ourselves as journalists. It used to be this layer of like I.T. specialists and data science that’s super super specific. And you just did the story and then it went into this black hole and then out spit something else and you you didn’t know how the magic happened, but it happened, right? But I think this is so empowering for us. This has just allowed us to engage more meaningfully. And at the end of the day, that, for a journalist, that’s our bread and butter right there.
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