This case study was first published in Engagement Explained, a newsletter that brings you in-depth and practical engaged journalism case studies from news organisations across Europe. Sign up here to receive the next edition in your inbox.
In a nutshell
The Local’s Swedish edition runs a monthly book club, where members get to choose a different book that has a connection to Sweden, and have a conversation about it in a dedicated Facebook group, or in person at events.
- The Local is an independent media organisation founded in 2004 that serves international residents of European countries with news and lifestyle articles. It has 19 staff members (plus freelancers) and operates nine country-specific editions in Sweden, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Norway. We've written about it previously here.
- The Local book club started in March 2019, when the organisation had been thinking of ways to create micro-communities within its larger community of international residents in Sweden, based on particular situations people might experience or on topics of interest.
- Some users had expressed interest in a book club, and The Local noticed a large demand for the articles published in its language section, because people wanted to learn about Sweden but not just from hard news stories.
- Catherine Edwards, Europe editor at The Local Sweden, spearheaded and managed the Book Club. And although other micro-communities were considered, such as parenting or property renovation, she felt The Local’s Swedish edition was best positioned to launch a book club because they (and she) could more authentically engage with users on that topic.
- During 2019, the book club consisted of reading one Sweden-related book selected by readers every month, and discussing the book in a dedicated Facebook group that currently has 1,249 members. Catherine also wrote two articles (reader book reviews and interviews with the book’s author or translator answering reader questions) and sent two editorialised newsletters per month.
- In-person events were also an important part of the book club in 2019, and The Local hosted four events last year (partly with support from the Accelerator, which provided a small €5,000 grant to The Local as part of the Accelerator Ambassador Network).
How did they do it?
- Catherine approached The Local’s sales department to understand if there were any opportunities to find local partners to sponsor, support or even host the book club events. She then worked closely with The Local’s editorial product manager, Paul O’Mahony, to develop the concept.
- They worked out that managing the project would require about 10 hours of Catherine’s time every month (including planning the events, which took the longest). After it was up and running, Catherine ran the book club initiative together with Emma Löfgren, editor of The Local Sweden, who participated in the events and the Facebook group discussions.
- Catherine also thought of how she would measure the success of the experiment: she made a hypothetical plan for how the book club fit into The Local’s membership funnel, based on the data she had on how people usually come across The Local Sweden.
- She had two goals: reaching new potential members – people in Sweden or abroad who might not be familiar with The Local’s work – and providing added value to the title’s existing members.
- The KPIs set were: 1,000 participants of the book club reading and engaging with the newsletter, Facebook group and articles by the end of the first six months; converting 50 users to paying members by offering a discount code for 50% off an annual Local membership at the end of the six months, and tracking conversions from articles and the newsletter.
- The team also planned to listen to qualitative feedback throughout (replies to the newsletter, emails from people) and to conduct a qualitative survey at the end of the six months to analyse responses and understand whether members found the book club valuable.
- Catherine sent regular emails to the rest of the team with recent stats from the book club, including engagement rates for stories, the newsletter and the Facebook group. She also made sure to include qualitative feedback. For example, that some readers got in touch to share personal stories or that a book club member based in the US sent a hand-written letter and a monetary donation to The Local, and another sent a personal Christmas card to thank the book club team for running the initiative.
What did they learn?
- Most promotion efforts were required at the beginning, when the group was still new, but now most of it runs itself as people are familiar with it and are starting conversations in the Facebook group themselves.
- People were willing to answer the two surveys the two surveys the team sent about the book club at the end of 2019. These included questions such as ‘do you trust The Local more since joining the book club’ (on a 5-point scale) and ‘What would you like to see from the book club in 2020?’ One optional question was ‘Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about The Local's book club, or our work in general?’, and this prompted a lot of positive feedback the organisation wouldn’t have heard otherwise.
- At the start of 2020, a newsletter asking book club members to fill out a survey about the initiative was sent, and the first 50 people to fill it out received a discount code for 50% off an annual membership to The Local (which usually costs €50). The Local estimates that so far, between 10 and 20 people have renewed their membership or become members through the code offered that month.
- In the future, the team thinks offering a discount code over an extended period of time would provide more accurate data for tracking conversions to membership that are happening through through the book club newsletter or the Facebook group.
- Catherine estimates that in 2020 the book club will require about three hours of her time per month, down from 10 hours. It won’t offer regular in person events anymore, though the occasional event might still happen. The newsletters have also been automated to directly pull the articles written by Catherine on the website (though the articles are written in a slightly more personalised style now, to match the previous newsletter format).
- When the book club newsletters became automated, the change coincided with The Local moving to a new newsletter platform, which meant if people replied to a book club newsletter, it would go to The Local’s support email address. People expressed a desire to be able to email the book club team directly, which they are now able to do.
- The Local is already thinking of how it could develop micro-communities around topics of interest in some of its other editions. The organisation has Facebook groups for each country (such as ‘Living in France’), which enables it to see the type of questions people have about living in a certain place. It also has broader groups, for example for English language jobs in several countries, and a Europe-wide travel group launched in 2018 in partnership with Lufthansa.
- The team has seen that a lot of questions in the France or Italy groups revolve around buying or renovating property, which is something people living abroad might find more daunting because of the different bureaucratic systems, than they would in Sweden, where most of this information is also available in English. This month, The Local launched Facebook groups focused on property buying in France, Italy and Spain, together with a commercial partner.
In their own words
Catherine Edwards, Europe editor, The Local Sweden
“[The book club experiment] didn’t take many resources other than time, because we found quite supporting partners, a couple of bookshops hosted our events for free. And we didn’t expect that would be an option, but it turned out to be a really positive way of doing it.
That was a good lesson because when you start something new, you think you have to do it all on your own but if you can partner with someone it’s better.”
How would you improve it?
“I would try to come up with specific metrics for each of those things [measuring conversion, and measuring added value] from the start and making sure it was going to be possible to measure.
Because we can measure conversions through the newsletter or the book club articles but it’s harder to tell if it’s added value for someone who is already a member, or if someone signs up through other means, it’s hard to track whether or not the book club played a part in that.”
Now try it for yourself
- Catherine has created a guide for how to run micro-communities based on The Local’s book club experience, and it’s available here. It includes questions to ask before starting a micro-community, and pointers for setting measurable goals.
- Other useful resources for book clubs include: How High Plains Public Radio is building community with a book club (Joseph Lichterman - Solution Set) and How local newsrooms are using book clubs (Josh Stearns, Teresa Gorman, Kip Dooley - Local Fix)