The Word You Should Think About When Sending A Push Notification

Send your readers something that they'll appreciate.

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(Good) news judgment is something editors pride themselves on, and it’s an important part of any journalist’s qualifications.

And yet journalists could do better at tailoring our news judgment to the current digital experience. Certain events will be ~important~ and therefore worth prominent placement on a homepage, a "BREAKING" tweet, or an urgent Facebook update.

But mobile push notifications are different from these examples in a significant way: they're intrusive (and doubly so if you're sending an alert to someone's wrist).

Push notifications have a higher bar for relevance and context because they actively interrupt someone's flow.

When #teamnewsapp is deciding whether to send a push notification, we use a fairly typical checklist: Is this “newsworthy”? What’s the impact? How relevant is this to our audience? Why does this matter? And why does it matter right now?

I've sent out breaking news in various forms in my career: splashes and alerts for a homepage, stories, tweets, Facebook posts, and more. Those questions have run through my head in one form or another for almost all the breaking news reports I've been responsible for.

But now that I’m writing push notifications, I find myself asking one more question: Will the reader appreciate this?

It's easy for someone to turn off notifications in your app — or delete it all together — if you annoy them. So you need to be thoughtful about how much you interrupt them to tell them about the news. This is part of the relationship you build with your audience, one relevant alert at a time.

Because if you've alienated your audience with one too-many inscrutable notifications, what good is all that judgment your newsroom is putting into their stories?

Asking whether someone will "appreciate" the notification doesn't mean the substance of the news itself is something they appreciate — I'm not saying only deliver good news.

“Appreciation” is measure of whether your recipients would turn to you and say, “thank you for letting me know” -- and mean it. You have added something to their day.

And while we are pretty sparing with push notifications on #teamnewsapp, I’ve noticed that the “appreciate” criteria has opened us up to new opportunities.

Most push notifications are used for breaking news, and that's pretty much what they should be confined to. But when you think about push notifications as a delivery service that feels very personal — and not just another place to share news that you've determined is "breaking" — you can go outside your comfort zone without undermining your audiences' trust.

#Teamnewsapp has used push notifications to surface stories that aren't BREAKING in the traditional sense but that we think our audiences will — you guessed it — appreciate.

We don't just think in terms of how ~important~ we feel a story is or how much time it took to produce it. We think about delivering a story that you might enjoy reading at a time you might enjoy reading it. Take this push notification, for example, delivered as the weekend approached:

Think about your app as a human relationship.

We've all got at least one friend who only ever talks about themselves. Me, me, me, this is what I'm up to, here's a thing I'm doing, me, me. And then we've got that friend who's the sparkling guest at the dinner party, whose every anecdote is interesting and you makes you feel lucky to be around them.

If your audience were to describe your app in human terms, would you be Self-Promoter-in-Chief or Best Guest Ever?

Be the app that sends the alerts your audience appreciates getting. They’ll let you stick around.

Good news judgment is the first step of a good push alert. But mobile editors can't stop there. You are reaching out to the person at the other end of your mobile app; they aren't reaching out to you to tune into what you think is important right now by going to your Twitter account or homepage.

It's push vs pull in a very real sense.