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How theSkimm builds an engaged audience that stays loyal to its products

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How theSkimm builds an engaged audience that stays loyal to its products

TheSkimm's flagship publication is a daily e-mail newsletter aimed at millenial women. At Digital Media LATAM 2018, November 14-16 in Bogota, Colombia, Dheerja will describe in detail the approach that attracts 7 million readers to its newsletter. theSkimm was founded by Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg in 2012.

The media company now complements its newsletter with theSkimm App, a subscription product that integrates news into the user's calendar. The secret? Delivering relevant and practical content right into women’s daily routines. A subscription costs US$2.99 per month or $29.99 per year.

Currently, theSkimm is further accommodating its users' daily routines through the use of video and audio. They have launched video series on Facebook Watch, and the paid app now has an audio feature. All of this was created with a single goal in mind: to provide their target audience with relevant content in different formats.

Dheerja is in charge of conceiving new ways of building an audience and providing it with products that will integrate into their lives smoothly while also having an impact. We caught up with her in advance of November's event to get some insights.

WAN-IFRA: What would you say are the key elements when building a relationship with an audience? What lessons can media outlets learn from theSkimm regarding this matter? 

Dheerja Kaur: There are a few things that have contributed to our success in building a relationship with theSkimm audience:

  1. Identify the audience: It's so important to articulate who your target audience is and craft personas that the entire company is exposed to. What is their daily routine like? What do they do on their phones? What brands do they interact with? At theSkimm we have an entire brand deck dedicated to who our audience is, and we are constantly conducting research to segment our audience further.
  2. Be relatable: A lot of theSkimm's success is tied to our conversational voice and the nature in which we deliver the news. We speak to our audience as if we're their smart friend, and they perceive it as such.
  3. Know their habits: At theSkimm we build routine-first, which means we try to deliver news and information in a way that fits right into their daily lives and builds a consistent, habitual relationship. We started this with email, but have continued this with additional products like the calendar, texting, and the app.
  4. Build trust: your audience needs to trust you in all aspects of how you interact with them, and our eye towards this has allowed us to activate them in so many ways, including registering to vote.

I understand theSkimm managed to activate their audience to vote in the 2016 U.S. elections. Do you think media outlets, in general, are good at doing this? Does it depend on the audience (for instance, millennials who tend to engage more with tech) or on the outlet itself?

Voter activation has always been a challenge with a younger audience, and we're so proud of what we were able to accomplish.

We registered more than 100,000 people to vote during the 2016 U.S. elections, and plan to activate them again for the midterm elections this year.
– Dheerja Kaur, Head of Product and Design at theSkimm

The biggest driver for this success was our deep understanding of our audience. We knew the reasons they were demotivated around voting and addressed that head-on. We also built a seamless user experience – in just a few clicks, Skimm readers could register to vote right on, along with getting informed about what's on their ballot and how to get to the polls. Reducing that barrier to entry was a huge opportunity for us to capitalize on our simple product and design principles.

How do you make the best use of technology at theSkimm?

We are constantly talking to our audience through surveys, focus groups, and our Skimm'bassador community to stay on top of how their technology behaviors are evolving. It's a big reason why we've invested in audio and are building out new products in areas like messaging. We have an insights team dedicated to being one step ahead of where our audience is evolving to, so we can adjust our product roadmap and overall strategy to meet them there.

From your experience, what are the steps to follow in order to monetize an email newsletter?

  1. Stay true to your brand and voice: Email is a very intimate platform, and protecting your brand's relationship with your readers is more important than any short-term revenue gains. Don't take shortcuts, and do find the right intersection that stays true to your brand ethos, especially if it's advertising or affiliate-based revenue opportunities.
  2. Don't underestimate email: Email is often perceived as an antiquated platform, but there are a lot of innovative ways to think about monetization outside of display advertising. You can do sophisticated targeting and personalization if you invest in the right infrastructure and think outside the box.
  3. Run ongoing qualitative analyses: Metrics can often be limited with email, so make sure you're supplementing your data with ongoing qualitative work through surveys, NPS, and in-line questionnaires. They're important to give you the broader context for trends you might be seeing and can help you find the right balance with monetization.

Editor's note: Dheerja also will participate in the panel discussion "Women in Tech," 9 October in Berlin during DCX Digital Content Expo.

What do you foresee in the near future regarding the delivery of news? Right now email seems to be working for you, but what will come next?

This is already happening – the trajectory of audio has been pretty incredible to see.

From the rise of the podcasting market to voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home, there is a huge opportunity for news to be at the forefront of these trends and find new ways to deliver information to people in their daily routines.
– Dheerja Kaur, Head of Product and Design at theSkimm

How would you define theSkimm in one word? 


What do you love most about your job at theSkimm?

The mission and impact we have are just incredible – our readers often say that we're their smart friend who makes them feel more confident and empowered each day. I feel so lucky to be able to work on products that have such a positive impact on people's lives and the way they consume information. Also, theSkimm team is a group of the smartest people in the industry that I'm so proud to work with!

Tell me about yourself.

I grew up in the [San Francisco] Bay Area but ended up on the East Coast, where I went to Columbia University’s engineering school. I became an engineer at [leading sports television network] ESPN right out of college and worked on so many fantastic sports products during my career there before moving to theSkimm.

I'm a big sports fan and traveler, and I've been to five World Cups. It's my favorite thing to attend, it's such an incredible event, with cultures from around the world uniting under a shared love for football. I just got back from Russia and will be heading to Qatar next!

Have you been to Bogota before? What excites you the most about coming?

I've never been and I cannot wait! I'm so excited to experience Colombian culture, especially the food. I'm also excited to connect with the smartest people in media from around the world and hear how everyone is making an impact.

Read the Spanish version of this article here.


Andrea Rodriguez's picture

Andrea Rodriguez


2018-08-08 20:12

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