[Midway] How To Turn Your Newsletter Into a Revenue-Generating Machine Using Content and First-Party Data
3:36PM Jun 22, 2021
first party data
Hi, thank you so much for joining us we are going to be talking about how to turn your newsletter into a revenue generating machine using content curation and first party data.
My name is Tessa Sproule and I'm the CO CEO of a company called Vubble Inc. as in video bubble. And what we do is use machine learning to distribute video content for publishers and publishers and education clients is mostly the folks that we work with. My background is actually in journalism, I spent 20 years at the CBC, which is a Canadian public broadcaster. And for better or worse, I was very involved in laying the foundation of how digital platforms essentially became the the preeminent way for distributing video content and particular information, video content.
And you know, what I have a, I have some regrets about some of the things that happened along the way and the decisions that we made as as publishers in that space. But I think that there right now we have an incredible opportunity to correct some of the things that need fixing. Along the way in the work that I do, I have met some incredible people and incredible companies, they including cielo24, and my good friend, Nicole Flynn, who is joining us right now as well to talk about this from an ad tech perspective, because that's her background, I'm gonna throw it over to Nicole to give a little bit of an introduction of you.
Thank you, Tessa too kind. Hi, everybody. I'm Nicole Flynn. My background is in AD technology and media technology. I left the world of ad technology a few years back, because I felt like it was time to do something to give back a little to the world, where I didn't feel ad tech was necessarily doing that. So I decided to mix my love of media with accessibility and I haven't looked back.
I was pleased to be asked to participate in this today by Tessa. Thank you, Tessa. There's an important shift taking place. And I think over the last 20 years, technology has, you know, eroded the foundation of privacy and as a result, broken consumer and user trust. But there's, there's good news here, there's a lot I feel like we can do about it. I know we're going to get into that today. So that's exciting for me. So in short, we've learned a lot of lessons from the past that we can take with us. And of course, we've derived a lot of advances in technology that will we'll be talking about later in this conversation. So there's a real opportunity here. I think, especially with the journalism industry, you're particularly poised to lead this charge. Trust is the foundation of journalism. So Tessa, I'll just leave it there.
Perfect. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Nicole. And actually, Nicole, could you do me one favor and talk a little tiny bit about cielo24. And what you guys do there?
Oh, yeah, of course. So cielo24 is accessible media so audio and video. We do simple things like we derive the content out of your media so captions and transcripts, for instance. We also drive rich media data that you're probably not getting right now from your media. And we do a lot beyond technology for accessibility. So for instance, we can turn all of your captions, transcripts and media intelligence into content and explain lead generation and return on investment for your video, etc.
Thank you so much, and how we actually know each other too, is through our company does an awful lot of data labeling. And that's like the foundation for using machine learning for the distribution of video content in particular. So we create structured data around video and that's how that's kind of how we got introduced to working withcielo24 as well. So, so glad to have you here. Thank you so much, Tessa Thank you. Speaking of data center, I you know, you're you're the queen of this in the Vubble universe. You are our data scientist and data analyst and keep us honest around to all things data. So I'd really love you to introduce yourself to explain a little bit of your role.
Sure, yeah, thanks, Tessa. I'm Sana Farooqui. And I'm a data scientist at Vubble. I'm also part of the wave of internet users who are very well aware of and not very happy about how our data is being tracked for the purposes of advertising. At Vubble, I am designing new ways to generate privacy respecting first party data that we can then use to recommend relevant and helpful content for our users.
Fantastic, thank you so much. Thank you both for for joining us. I think we're gonna have a really interesting conversation here. And also for the folks that that are tuning in, we'll be in the chat as well. If you want to ask any questions along the way, please do. I'm going to start by getting some definitions down. Sana, can you help us to understand what is first party data? And what is third party data? And what is the difference between them?
Sure, yeah. So let's look at it from the perspective of someone running a website or a digital service. First party data includes all data that you are collecting yourself, that includes your web analytics, your email subscription lists, your contact lists, even your logs. And if you're a publisher, that would also include your library of all the content that you've created, along with any metadata that you associate with it. And the thing with first party data is because you're collecting it, you're storing it, you're responsible for that data and for getting consent to collect it.
On the other hand, third party data is data that is bought from lots of different sources by some third party that will then join all those different data points together and extract behavioral and demographic insights and then sell them to someone else. Often an advertiser. The thing with third party data is that it's really hard to trace where the data is coming from and it's usually taken from users through tracking and without their explicit consent.
So that's like when we're thinking about cookies and that kind of thing, that's we're using cookies to people are using cookies, or ad technologies using cookies to basically track and gather this gobble up this information. It's so interesting, because when I was at the CBC to I recall, but like, in the earliest days of being able to gather this kind of data, everybody just wanted to Hoover it all in, I just wanted to get it all get it all get it all. And Santa, you know this from from working at Vubble, but less is more. Actually, I think that's a really a much more appropriate approach to doing this as well. So thank you. Thank you for that. Nicole, I want I always mystified it. And so CBC when I work there, it's a public broadcaster that has has some elements of advertising that is a quasi public broadcaster. It's partially funded through revenue generation on the ad side, but I have always been mystified by the difference between what is contextual advertising? And how is it different from interest based advertising or behavioral targeting? Can you give us a little bit of a rundown of what those three things mean?
Yes. Good question. Slightly loaded. Where Sana's definitions were really clear, maybe these get a little fuzzy. You know, it's funny, because when we you and I talked about this session, we talked about these definitions. So I just had this instinct to go look online, and look at contextual targeting, behavioral targeting around the world. And the definitions of these terms shift a little.
So just to be clear, how we're defining these contextual targeting is actually a very old and simple strategy. It's essentially placing the most appropriate ads within the right context, right. It makes a lot of sense, it's relevant, encourages interest interaction, and most importantly, is privacy friendly.
Behavioral targeting, by and large, now this does change based on the country. I noticed in the United Kingdom is a little bit different. But for this conversation, relies on cookies that Sana just mentioned above, and they're tracking the user's behavior so this is a little bit more invasive. Also, while this is more in depth account of each user's activity, this is often without their permission, unfortunately, or even knowledge, which is a scary thought and why we're here having this conversation today.
So today, we find ourselves at the precipice of this new era, because users are speaking out against these types of technology and where we've come after all these years. So new requirements, such as the GDPR establishes or speaks to this discontent out there in the market so it's time to that we get to recreate the end user relationship. And I think that's, you know, comes full circle to this newsletter dialogue. And personally what I feel with journalism. You know, journalism's been as responsible as every other industry for you know, that segue into behavioral targeting, when we thought all this data was just amazing, and it was going to change the world for better. Well, some of that is true. So the promise was great, but you know, it ended up eroding the public's contact, confidence in journalism to some degree. So this is a moment where we do get to change the rules. And I think journalism is in the best place to do something like that. Because you know, trust in the relationship in journalism, journalism has never been more important. And it does run through the bloodstream of every journalist out there.
Brilliant, thank you here here. I think so here's, here's an interesting thing. We are going to talk about that newsletters for sure. And it will also be sharing, I jumped ahead. No, no worries, no. And we will share some three tips for how to actually turn your newsletter into a revenue generating machine, in a privacy respecting and friendly way that is not going to dissuade consumers. And there's absolutely ways to do that. But before we start talking about newsletters, I just want to get a sense from you both around because you've both worked in this industry and in Santa, you've like grown up as a digital first generation entirely as well. Google is getting rid of cookies, we know that Apple's doing some making some big moves with mobile, basically turning off the tap to some of the data sharing that happens between between device or sorry, apps on your phone. Nicole, I'll start with you. If you could go back and change one thing in the ad tech space. What would it be?
I mean, there are a few Okay, so pop up ads started it all. I always joke, I mean, they say the banner, but it was a pop up. However, I would have to say I would have to say apps, you know, ask are so highly invasive. There is rarely, if ever, any sort of permission given. It's actually like just downright sneaky, what they're doing. So I would say that, you know, that's that. That's the biggest issue for me personally.
It's so interesting, cuz I feel like apps when you go like, you know, thinking about my child, actually, who always have to approve her absence, I'm not gonna think as well. Or when I do it myself, there's there's very little in terms of what what's actually happening in the exchange. I know. But you know, there's been progress in that and people are being more transparent. Some are being more transparent today about what you're using. Yep.
I feel like newsletters, though, are such an, like a personal exchange, because it's your email address. Your email address is one of like, the key personally identifying pieces of information. And it's when you talk about trust in the relationship, particularly when we talk about like, a publisher or an audience or like a storyteller in the in the person who's listening to the story that is such a, I feel like it's an intimate relationship almost. That's happening when when people sign up for a newsletter and like people, you know, sign up for newsletters that they're like, Wait a second, what's happening here? I'm getting spammed by all these other things. But I think it's such an important exchange, but total consent. Exactly. Exactly. Sonos, there's something in your mind around like the if you could wave a magic wand and change something in the ad tech space, what would it be? Or in terms of privacy and data? We'll leave it open to that.
Um, yeah, I guess I guess for me, it's just the obscurity of like how money is made on the internet, like what business models are really ruling the internet. Tech companies and advertisers have been working together for so long to create this idea that internet services are free, almost public services, but you know, they're still making more and more money every year. And people are now understanding that they're not paying with cash, but they're paying with their personal information. And now the internet is more functioning like a massive billboard instead of, you know, an information to comments or a place of free exchange of ideas and inquiry, which I think it's going to take a lot, of a lot of work to reverse and kind of build the internet that we do want to see and be a part of.
Hmm. So, yeah, so with the Red Letter, which is what we call our newsletter that you can generate first party data through and to and then monetize depending on on how you're set up. One of the things that we do in the signup process for that, so really The most, the most particular personally identifiable piece of information that's exchanged is the person's email address. And there's they're consenting by signing up, we have, I think, a really fundamental responsibility to make sure that people really understand what's happening in terms of what, when we're asking for data.
So what we use the red letter web, and what we're doing is we in the signup process, we're asking you, what are you interested in? Are you interested in politics? Are you interested in science? Like we have very specific newsletters that we do for clients? For example, one of our education clients is a science based newsletter. So we're asking him, are you a teacher? What grade level? Are you most interested in terms of content? And in what type of Sciences, biology or physics or math or all of the above? So we're very specifically asking for a consent. And then also, what are you interested in? That little bit of information is all we need to then use our machine learning recommendation engine to make really stellar recommendations to the recipient of the email. And that can you know, that is a really simple exchange, and we're very transparent and explicit with with our audience about are the recipients about what's happening in that exchange.
I feel like that's a fundamental first thing that people need to do and be overt. I look, I always find interesting examples. So if anybody actually is looking for looking for examples of folks that are doing this, really well, happy to put that in the chat as well. And I'll do that. But what we do with that with, with Sana, let's say you've signed up, and you say you're interested in biology and science that's, you know, appropriate for, you know, high school level or something like that. And what we're doing then is we kind of get rid of Sana and your name, and then we just put you into a group or a flock or, as Google calls it, they're calling it flock but a cohort, a group of people that then we're using what's called collaborative filtering to then match you to potential content that might be of interest to you. And we can do that in an automated way from a vast library or libraries, 13 and a half million minutes of high quality information video. And what we're trying to do there is make it so that the emphasis is on the content and the data around the content and a little bit from the from the recipient, in terms of their interests and then we can actually do a really fantastic job of providing really stellar recommendations for content. So do you think this is where ad tech may be headed as well, Nicole, like, it seems like that's what Google's doing with the with their flock approach, but, but it feels like, you know, we're suggesting video to folks, but it feels like that same little bit of information from an end user can also do, you know, do provide a way to distribute advertising as well.
Yeah, actually, this is a great blend of contextual advertising technology that we just talked about, with technology in general and where we're headed, I think it's the startup establishing that trust, again, the permission based relationships. And the advances in AI and machine learning, which is what you just touched on so eloquently allow us to provide an even more rich, contextual experience to ensure that consumers or end users are getting a quality media experience, that they signed up for it that they're showing interest in, and we're not following them around. So we're talking again, about an old concept, made better by technology. And all of this is what we've learned the best of what we learned over the last 20 years.
And I think journalists have this kind of magic running through their blood, maybe it's because I'm coming from outside the industry. But news and information have never been more important than they are right now. If I just say 2020, and pandemic, to this audience, everybody knows what I'm talking about. So it's vital. I think that journalism, establish this best of breed relationships and take back control of that audience trust and behavior. I think the newsletter is a great example of how we can start to repair that relationship. You know, giving enough contextual experience without offending the user and maintaining that strong bond of privacy and trust.
As you mentioned, Nicole, how, you know, this is a moment of take back. This does feel like an absolute opportunity for a correction in how that first party data essentially like I'm guilty of this from my work at the CDC basically, is like the Trojan horse of big tech came in and said, Hey, and and we just said okay, here you go. Here's all the This information about our audience and the people that are connected and that relationship like kind of got broken, in terms of in terms of the publisher to to the audience and in the citizen if we're talking about democracy and the role of journalism in that space.
So it really does feel like this is a huge opportunity to allow publishers to gain a method for gathering that first party data that's so critical to understanding about their own audience. so critical to potentially monetize as well. I t's not necessarily a bad thing. Ads aren't terrible if they're, if they're well placed, but I don't want to be stalked by the printer that I looked up, you know, like a week ago, and just be followed around by that printer forever. So is there something to how how publishers can take that control back through a newsletter because like I said, that that relationship with that end user or end audience or and the fan, follower, subscriber is so important. It really does feel like newsletters, even though it's kind of like an old school email. It's an old school idea. It seems like the perfect fit for taking taking back some of that control over that relationship and that ability to generate information about who you're talking to as a publisher.
So I wonder if you were going to put a link to our top three ideas for how to how to convert your newsletter into a revenue generating machine and use it for curated content as well. But I would love from each of you and add some thoughts around how publishers, owners, creators could use newsletters to seize this moment and take back some of some of that relationship from from the big tech the fangs of the world.
Sana, can you can you give us some thoughts about to about what what would be your number one tip? For people?
So you want to understand your audience, I think your instinct might be, oh, I need to collect a bunch more data. No, before you do anything, get your own data in order. You probably have more in there than you even know what to do with right now. Don't collect any more data and instead, I would say invest time in doing a data audit, map out all of the data you already have, right from its point of collection to where it's being stored how your organization is using it, identify any redundancies, identify any potential privacy breaches, that's really important.
And when I say data audit, I mean, all of your data. So web analytics, contact lists, your library of content. And you know, you don't need any kind of fancy, high tech data platform or tool to do this work, just a spreadsheet, you know, start putting everything you know about your data in and build that up into a repository of information that's well structured and organized and accessible to everyone in your organization. And then start asking your questions. Wait, what do you want to know about your audience? What do you think is useful? And that information might already exist in the data that you that you own. And you know, all of this, all of this may seem tedious, but it's really, really crucial for high quality, valuable first party datasets that you're trying to build. Remember that you are responsible for your own data. So this kind of work will go a long way in building that trust with your audience. But also, it's going to help you stay ahead of rapidly evolving privacy regulations.
That's really it feels like a like a Marie Kondo moment, just going through your data closet and saying like, do I really need this and stop gathering things? Yeah. Yeah. I love that approach. And also, it's just like, we're kind of like, in a firehose of data in some ways, too. And then it's really hard to see what you actually need or how to have any insight when you're being dailies loosed with, basically data overload. So I think that's a really key thing to start with.
I would add that, like a little bit of data goes a long way in showing us that we can infer information we don't have to know everything about Nicole and where you've been and whether or not you shopped at this store last week or whatever, like it doesn't matter. It's just in this moment. You know, what is the most important information that Nicole needs to receive right now. So I feel like using data from that perspective is naturally placed with within the journalism space to because that's what that's what journalists do. The messenger is about, about helping to give people the information they need, particularly really when we're talking about to democracies, and you know, citizens need access to quality information at the time that they need it. And using data first party data to do that, I think is a really important function of publishers and also a really natural way to get to that is, is using a newsletter approach.
The other thing that so one of the things that we do as well with that first party data is we, we automate the curation of video information distribution in our newsletter. So Santa, you would get different video recommendations than I would if we're subscribed to that science newsletter I was referring to earlier because our interests are different. And then also, how we engage with the content in the newsletter becomes data signals that can then inform the machine learning to make better predictions of what to what you need to see right now, or what I need to see right now. And also, like you can, you can find patterns in and think when we have this flock approach or this cohort approach as well. This is like the, the way that you can use data to re inject serendipity into into your audience's experience of your content as well. So instead of you know, if I'm on YouTube, and I've looked at cat videos now on YouTube, we'll just send me cat videos ahead of time, that's not very helpful, right? So we want, we want to be able to figure out ways that we can use first party data to make the experience of, you know, living in the world around us better. So so I think that's another another piece too, is that a little bit of data can go a long way, if we plan out how we're going to use it, and particularly if we're using data in a machine learning context. And, Nicole, this is your expertise from your ad tech background? I'd love to know more around like journalists have to be compensated to actually produce content. They don't it doesn't. This is a profession and a job and people are, you know, they need to they need monetization around it. So what how do we inject that into into doing this well.
yeah, this is the big, almost uncomfortable answer now. Right? It's like we all need to make money. I think a couple things. So what we've talked about today, and that kind of ties it all together. When someone's giving you like, for instance, an email address, hey, I would like to receive your newsletter, these are the things I'm interested in. I think it's then there's a lot of power in that, you know, that relationship right there. And I think we need to go back to talking, have an organization get together, talk about what they're seeing come in their door, and deliver on it. So have the discussions internally, how can we achieve our goals, and make sure that we are able to pay the bills. So if it's a subscription subscription, if you're talking you need advertising for it, that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. But let's think about context. So this is where I think we're almost returning to the days of old, right? I mentioned that earlier. Place your own call for ads in your newsletters. This is and you're seeing it a lot in the podcast world right now. And I think there's a lot to learn from the podcast world. But go the sponsorship route, and pick and choose sponsors that you think clearly represent and would not be offensive to your audience and what they're telling you that they want. And be be clear about it. Look, this is a subscriber base newsletter, and we need to ensure quality content. And to do that we have need sponsor. So here's a word from our sponsor, I think that there's nothing wrong with that we all understand this, we all have to work to earn a living, etc. But I think Sana to your point, there is a lot of data at hand. So it's time for us to use that data more responsibly. And we can also fairly monetize, considering the data that we do have without knowing your social security number, your credit card numbers, the names of your children, etc. So and again, I'm going to go back to where I started. I think that this industry of journalism is a fantastic industry to lead the charge.
Brilliant hair here. Again, I will say that I I'm, I'm so motivated to talk with folks about about how they might approach this and if you have your own newsletter, folks out there, if you have your own newsletter and you'd like to talk more about this, please we're going to be in the in the we'll continue the conversation and also below we're going to have a link to our top three tips as well where you can get more information about how you could how you could seize the day and really, you know, do some course correction around how we, as an industry in the journalism side, and then also with the ad tech side, the church and state can actually work together in a collaborative way, in a really effective way.
And Nicole, to your point around sponsorship, and podcasting, too, we work with a lot of YouTube creators and this is a world that they've really figured out, and they've done it independently. And I think that that is a model that is something folks should be really taking a close look at as well. Thank you so much, both of you. You've been thoughtful and I love I love talking about this stuff. And yeah, like I said, if anybody would like to join us, so we would be glad to have conversations further about, about how to, how to seize the day. And like I said, and if you've got a newsletter, or you're thinking about creating a newsletter, please come and talk with us. No, no strings. You don't have to use our system at all. But I think that this is such an important moment for the media industry in particular to to regain some of that control. And also, I think it's in the consumers best interest to have journalists gathering that first party data around around we always sharing it. Yeah, I think I think this is a this is the moment to really make that happen. So thank you both. Thank you to the ONA21 for having us, and really look forward to how this is going to look in the near future. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks, everyone.