RJI Fellow: Push notifications can help move publishers away from heavy reliance on Facebook

Krystal Knapp plans to create a guide for small, independent publishers to highlight why they should be using push notifications.

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute awarded seven fellowships for the 2019-20 academic year with projects to improve gun violence reporting, expand solutions-based journalism by local TV stations, help large and small newsrooms get the most out of push notifications, customize audio documentaries through voice commands, measure the community impact of online stories and preserve digital content that’s being lost.

As she seeks to rely on Facebook less with its algorithms changing and impacting outbound links and referrals, Planet Princeton publisher and editor Krystal Knapp says push notifications have been a way to directly reach readers where they are. They have also allowed the hyperlocal publisher to stay competitive with other local entities also pushing content out.

But many small hyperlocal publishers aren’t taking advantage of this technology, says Knapp. She discovered this after studying 500 of these sites. As a hyperlocal publisher, who has benefitted from this technology, she wants to help other publishers take advantage of push notifications. She plans to create a guide for small, independent publishers that will highlight why they should be using push notifications during a 2019-20 fellowship at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Knapp will identify best practices and detail how notifications can fit into an overall strategy for audience development for the guide that complements other distribution methods such as email newsletters, social media, instant messaging and voice search tools.

“The future of our democracy depends on an informed public, and the foundation for being informed citizens and news consumers begins at the local level,” says Knapp. “My passion, my goal is to help these local publishers add tools to their journalism technology toolboxes to be successful.”

Her own personal journey using push notifications

Knapp says push notifications are a way she has been able to connect directly with readers as she moves away from relying on Facebook so much, she says. At one point Facebook provided as much as 80 percent of her traffic, but now she says Facebook is no longer the number one driver of clicks.

She says her website traffic has increased even with less reliance on Facebook.

Knapp uses push technology to alert her web and mobile audience in Princeton, New Jersey, to breaking news, as well as feature stories, profiles, trend stories, events, clearly labeled sponsored posts and subscription pitches.

Cost is not currently a factor. She uses One Signal, which allows her to send free alerts to up to 30,000 web subscribers and unlimited mobile subscribers. Knapp plans to include information about how to implement One Signal in the fellowship guide.

Since implementing push notifications a year and a half ago in a community with about 11,000 households, Knapp has attracted more than 6,000 opt-in subscribers. She also just created a progressive web app for the site to enhance the mobile push experience and “build on the number of readers who receive news alerts via push notifications,” she says.

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