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Monetizing Digital Audiences: Tips From the Facebook Accelerator Program in Canada

Marc Dinsdale

Media Partnerships


11 local Canadian publishers came together in Toronto for the first session.


The program focuses on developing and monetizing loyal digital audiences.


Session one sets the tone with presentations on how to get results.
Earlier this month, 11 publishers representing a variety of local news outlets from across the country gathered at Facebook Canada’s office in Toronto to go deep on strategies for developing and monetizing their digital audiences. They were brought together to participate in the first Canadian session of the Local News Accelerator Program.
“What we hope to get out of the program is the ability to think through growing an audience in a systematic way rather than the intuitive way we do now. The opportunity is not only to reach out to a new group of people but convert casual readers to loyal readers,” said Jeanette Ageson, publisher of The Tyee.
Announced in February 2019, the program represents Facebook’s $2.5 million investment in Canada’s news ecosystem. The Accelerator program is a key ingredient in Facebook’s ongoing efforts around the world to support journalists, academics and news organizations advance quality journalism and develop more sustainable business models — both off and on Facebook platforms.
The specific focus of this 12-week Accelerator Program is digital audience development. With the goal of exploring new ways to connect with digital audiences, the program aims to help publishers innovate in how they build loyal readership and monetization. With support and guidance from coaches with deep expertise in the digital media business, and lead by Accelerator executive director Tim Griggs, publishers will design individual projects tackling their unique business needs.
To those of us who work in the newsroom, the step-by-step engineering of change is really beneficial. Success requires a new approach from a newsroom perspective.
Paul SamynEditorWinnipeg Free Press
The participants span the Canadian news media landscape and range from an iconic Prairie newspaper and an urban digital daily for millennials to a French language stalwart and a group serving many of Canada’s northern communities. The complete list of participating publishers includes: Brunswick News, Daily Hive, Winnipeg Free Press, Glacier Media, Le Soleil, London Free Press, Northern News Services, The Discourse, The Tyee, Vancouver Observer, and Village Media.
Laying a Foundation for Audience Development
The two-day agenda for this first session covered a myriad of topics including presentations on frameworks for audience engagement, building meaningful analytical systems, improving editorial product development, digital marketing, and how to best build trust online.
Given the tidal wave of data available to publishers, Jeff Chin, VP analytics at Vox Media, underscored that data in and of itself is not important — it’s what you do with the data that really matters. Analytics is the process of turning that data into information that can be acted upon. Chin further highlighted that for that data-driven information to be influential, it has to be communicated effectively, a blind spot for many organizations. Another key takeaway from the presentation emphasized the need to look to a “mix of methods to paint a more complete picture.”
Canada accelerator
Excellent digital measurement was a key ingredient to another key part of the audience development game: precise digital marketing. Publishers got a tour de force on that topic via Bill Emkow, growth strategist for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine, who dug into tactics to improve digital marketing strategy with limited resources at all parts of the marketing funnel. Many of the tactics Emkow shared were both immediately applicable and the result of his own participation in an earlier Accelerator on membership growth. Bridge Magazine, a nonprofit issue- and policy-focused news site, has seen triple-digit growth in the last year. Some of the very actionable examples Emkow noted included:
  • Creating keyword-rich page titles and headlines
  • Using Google Search Console to find keywords that resonate most with your audience
  • Call to action tactics to increase email opt-in
  • Re-sending donor solicitations to those who didn’t open it the first time
  • Telling readers what you want from them. They will give it if your marketing effectively explains why you need it.
A Promising Start
And where did all of that leave the participating publishers? Mostly, excited to put what they learned into action.
“To those of us who work in the newsroom, the step-by-step engineering of change is really beneficial,” said Paul Samyn, editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. “Success requires a new approach from a newsroom perspective. And this new approach means that newsrooms have to move on from what they normally do to what they have to do.”
In addition, publishers had the opportunity to connect to one another in a deeper way.
“For me the best thing about this whole event is the breaking down of walls. And connecting with people who I have admired but have not gotten to know before and I feel that some good things are bubbling up,” said Linda Solomon Wood, CEO of Observer Media Group. “And now talking with others here, we’re talking about building an association for digital media that doesn’t yet exist in Canada.”
The program will include two more in-person sessions over the next two months, including in Montreal in July. Between those visits, each group convenes weekly calls with an assigned coach.
The coaches for this program are: Justin Bank, a digital media consultant who most recently served as senior editor for audience at The New York Times; digital marketing guru Lissa Cupp who was most recently the chief marketing officer for BH Media Group, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway; and Ryan Tuck currently working with American publisher McClatchy’s 30 U.S. newsrooms as a product manager for news strategy.
Then, participants will get support putting their ideas into practice with grant funding administered by the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF), a nonprofit organization that promotes Canadian journalism and journalistic achievement.
At the end of the program, the Facebook Journalism Project will share the Accelerator’s key learnings and case studies, the larger objective being for publishers both in Canada and abroad to benefit from the strategies workshopped during the program.

The Accelerator Program
The Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator Program helps news publishers build sustainable businesses. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP), each Accelerator includes a three-month period of hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans, grants administered by non-profit journalism organizations, and regular reports on best business practices. The Accelerator’s executive director is Tim Griggs, an independent consultant/advisor and former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive.
For monthly updates on the Accelerator Program, sign up for the FJP newsletter.
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