Housty, what first and zero party data should I be collecting?

Each month we pose a question to the brilliant Peter Houston, co-host of the Media Voices podcast, who will answer in his fabulously inimitable way. This month’s question comes from founder and publisher of ACNR, Rachael Hansford.

Housty, we have a problem

What first and zero party data should I be collecting from my readers when they sign up?

All of it… collect all the data, all the time. Just kidding Mr Information Commissioner, we all know that’s naughty.

So, first off, some definitions for those of us that don’t speak data.

  • Zero-party data is information that your readers give you directly. You get it through registration forms, customer profiles, quizzes, email exchanges… anything you get through direct interaction with your customers.

  • First-party data can also include registration information, but that’s just the start. The good stuff is behavioural data collected from registered users as they journey around your sites. Clicks, hovers, dwell time are all examples of behavioural data that would go into a first party data set.

  • Third-party data, well forget it. It’s all cookies and tracking and retargeting and toasters following you around the web right after you’ve bought a toaster. It’s pretty much doomed and we should all be trying to wean ourselves and our advertisers off it.

Prioritise ‘relationship data

For me, especially when it comes to small and medium sized publishers, zero-party data is most important. That’s the data that lets you build relationships, that lets you know who your readers are, what they’re into, and how you can serve them better.

In that sense, what you should be collecting is anything that helps you build and leverage reader relationships. An email address and a location will let you promote a live event. A birth date will let you send a message to make your followers feel special on their birthday. Their professional specialisms will let you target newsletter content.

Of course first-party data matters, especially on the behavioural data side. If you have the back-office capabilities you’ll be able to build an understanding of what your readers care about. You can get a sense of how they discovered your content and how they engage with it. If you get into personalisation you’ll be able to target content at them based on past preferences, or their location or stated interests.

Publishers working at scale with programmatic advertising are desperate to develop a strong first-party position, but without that scale (unless you’re joining some kind of data exchange) you’re probably stuck with third-party programmatic for the time being.

Build engagement, not your database

Your data strategy should be focused on collecting as much data as you can on your audience as you can without being intrusive. The magnificent Sophie Cross compares LinkedIn to a dinner party, advising a polite, softly-softly approach. Data collection should have the same vibe.

Collecting data for data’s sake is kind of rude. You need your ‘guests’ names and email addresses so that you can invite them to future get-togethers, but don’t dive in asking them random questions about their life. Take your time to get to know them and give them something back for every extra datapoint they share – white papers, exclusive content, discounts.

Tell them why you want to know more about them. The last thing you want your audience to be thinking is ‘Why do you need this information?’. Highlight the benefits and build trust. Remember you want this information so you can serve your audience better.

And act on the data you get. If your audience says they want more content on subject A and less on subject B, respond to them. Say thanks and share your plans for acting on what they have told you.

Just like with newsletter lists, a smaller, engaged dataset is much better than an aging collection of random profiles that never come back to your content. Collect the data that will help you build engagement, not your database.

Peter Houston is one third of the Media Voices podcast, a magazine publishing consultant and trainer, and a freelance writer.

Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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