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The Chicago Genius Herald
The Chicago Genius Herald

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The Chicago Genius Herald - Final Grant Report

Project Update

As our grant period concludes we feel that our primary goal—to boost our ability to create and market our content while spreading awareness of web monetization—has been a success. It has also given us the opportunity to rapidly evolve our content, helping us find our niche and learn the ins and outs of running a democratically led media organization.

That being said, there were some challenges. It took longer than expected to ramp up our content production to consistent levels, and we struggled to convert our users into adoption of Coil, despite cultivating consistent traffic to our support page. Both of these areas forced us to evolve our thinking. As a result, we have a much clearer vision of what a self-sufficient medium-sized media organization in 2021 can look like.

Additionally, as our traffic increased so did our server costs, ballooning from our budgeted $50/month to over $300/month, cutting into the capital available for content and marketing.

Progress on objectives

Though it took longer than anticipated to achieve our goal of publishing two articles per day, we made up for lost time by diversifying our content. This meant expanding our offerings to include more video and memes, which ended up being a fortunate turn of events. Diversifying our content offering led to some of our greatest audience gains, and will remain a critical part of our repertoire for the foreseeable future. We’d like to thank the Grant team for approving our reallocation request so we could modify our budget to diversify our output.

Our stated traffic goal of reaching 200,000/month was not reached. As we covered in our midterm report, we had some early wins that made us overconfident in our ability to generate pageviews. Additionally, during the unprecedented time of political strife and pandemic, appetites for our more whimsical style of satire soured. But we know this won’t always be the case—our traffic since the end of the last election has begun returning to pre-pandemic levels.

As a region-focused publication, we’ve tried to work not only Chicago landmarks into our content, but discussions around local civic issues. Headlines where we’ve gone specific, like ‘Loretto Hospital CEO Apologies to Lightfoot with Bouquet of Vaccines’ and ‘Rejecting Target Deal, Water Tower Place Keeps High-End Reputation With Prized Hoard of Blightscale the Vile,’ have proven quite popular, showing that there is a strong audience looking to engage around local subjects as niche as Chicago real estate.

We believe satire done well improves internet literacy and highlights the absurdities inherent in many of the institutions surrounding us. By continuing to stay local and create content around Chicago politics, we’re able to develop focal points for discussion around important civic issues.

Key activities

Initially each of our five members was tasked with producing at least 1 article per week, supplemented by our roster of contributors which grew throughout the project.

As the project evolved, our publishing activities evolved to include memes, video production, and articles more rich in multimedia, some of which required front end programming.

We posted each article to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and monitored their performance, putting ad dollars behind our posts with the highest engagement levels.

Communications and marketing

The evolution of our marketing and communications is where we had our greatest strides as a team. When we began the project we were Facebook-oriented, with all of our ad dollars going towards building that audience. As we continued with the grant and began experimenting with different social outlets, we found that Instagram marketing had a much higher ROI. Our content had the highest engagement there than any other platform, leading us to go all-in on Instagram.

During the period of the grant we went from having ~150 followers on instagram to closing in on 3k, with each new post generating upwards of 50 new followers. For us to have found our niche on this platform gives us a great growth area to concentrate on.

Additionally, while we have always actively cultivated email leads, our newsletter was only done very occasionally before the grant period. During the grant period we ramped up newsletter production, with monthly round-ups of popular content as well as occasional missives offering subscriber-only content and jokes. During the grant, more than 60 people have signed up. Their engagement with our newsletter (what they click on, if they open the email) gives us a stronger idea of what our audience connects with and how to strengthen those connections.

What’s next?

What we're going to do next is continue with our great momentum on Instagram. Our next goal is 10k Instagram followers, which we feel is achievable this year. Doing so will unlock our ability to send people directly to our website where we hope to convert them into paying supporters.

In order to turn our audience into paying supporters, we’re working on a few different options. Driving users to support us with Coil has not been working. As a result, we believe that the future of web monetization (for us) lies not in a generic promo for support but in offering specific benefits, such as Coil-exclusive content.

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