Times Internet Ltd (TIL), the digital venture from the Times of India group, has expanded its loyalty program, Times Points (previously, TimesRewards) to seven properties, and launched a store where points can be redeemed. Users have a TimesPoints linked single-sign-on across seven of the groups properties, which encompass news (Timesofindia.com, Economictimes.com, Navbharatimes.com, Maharashtratimes.com), reviews and listings (timescity.com), B2B property classifieds (Magicbricks.com) and spirituality based networking (Speakingtree.in). It has also launched its redemption store, allowing users to use points collected to buy products like watches, backpacks, deoderants, toasters, wooden shelves, DVD players, among others things.
It’s been a year since TimesPoints was launched, and it now has a million users, and tracks 3-5 million activities per day related to those users. Over the last 12 months, Times Internet has tracked as many as 300 million activities for its TimesPoints users. The company claims a reader base of 36 million, and a billion pageviews across its network, and is slowly expanding TimesPoints across the network, which also includes music streaming site Gaana.com, and video content upstart Boxtv.com. By the end of the year, Archana Vohra, VP and Business Head at TIL told MediaNama, 13 of the groups websites will be covered. The plan is to eventually extend TimesPoints across print, radio and TV.
At the time of launch, last year, Times Internet CEO Satyan Gajwani had told us that “The idea will be- as we get a better understanding of users, we’ll get them to actively engage. Airlines have money to give back to users, but here, when you read an article, we can’t give rewards on a scalable basis. As we understand our users better, we can try and activate them more. Right now we’re trying to make sure the program works.”
We spoke with Gajwani and Vohra about what they know about users now, what kind of behavior they’re incentivizing, among other things:
– What TIL knows about users that they didn’t earlier: “What we know about users now, that we didn’t know then is – who are these users, what are they interacting on, how consumer behavior varies aross the network in terms of usage, and how much they contributing,” Vohra said.
Gajwani adds that “Most people who look at site metrics say x million users, y time spent. We look at how many users are coming 5 times a day versus once. People who are coming on a regular basis have a different consumption pattern, and we earlier weren’t able to understand this.”
– Change in user behavior: “The program in itself is showing a great amount of interaction,” Gajwani said, “vis-a-vis content postings, commenting, reviews on Times City. The overall engagement has gone up. One thing that we see interesting is that we track certain activities where users consumer, and others where users produce. The growth is much higher in the cases where people do things.”
– Incentivising user behavior: The focus of the TimesPoints program is to reward and incentivise user behavior, Gajwani emphasises. “What we’ve learned pretty well is how to incentivise different behaviors, in terms of what kind of changes in behavior can we create with loyalty programs,” Gajwani said. “On the news sites, we are targeting growing consumption – read more, watch more, grow engagement comment or share or review, and moderate. We have to hire people to moderate comments, but now we can reward people who do a good job of moderating and flagging comments. As you build credibility with us, we will give more authority to moderate comments without us getting involved.”
“We used to be simple in terms of the way we gave points – but we’ll start moving towards where if you do something meaningful, we’ll reward it. I don’t want to incentivise crappy comments, but I’ll give more points for people whose comments are recommended, and with time, they will be identified as Influencers,” Gajwani adds.
“In MagicBricks, we’re incentivising listings and specific searches. Our revenue per activity on MagicBricks will be higher than for the news website, so the willingness for us to give more points on MagicBricks will be higher, because the value of that activity is higher.”
– Impact: “On an average, we’ve seen a 100 percent lift (for the users signed up for TimesPoints). It’s not like it has had a use impact on our site, because it’s not major part of our base. As we get more comfortable with this, we’ll start pushing users to register.”
However, the company is not looking at this from a revenue perspective yet – “What’s the value of a review on Times City? I know there is value, but we’re not linking it to revenue. The KPI is how much usage growth, not how much revenue growth,” Gajwani said.
Vohra concurs: “On Times City, we look for average contribution per user, with a certain number of characters for a review, and the quality rigors associated with it. For MagicBricks, it is a certain number of listings and searches on a particular day. The metrics and KPI’s vary from site to site, but the idea is to drive engagement. It’s not an ARPU based thing.”
– Plans: “The first goal is to roll this out on more on our sites. It’s an intensive process because every site has different activities. You want to standardise in some sense, but you don’t want to standardize the same way. Once we have done that, we will be in a better position to see a cross-site intelligence, and learn more from that. The platform that we’ve built is in-house, and is a scalable Java based stack, and next we’re going to start tracking users before they log in. Our (base of) non logged in users is really, really big, and how do we make this program relevant to them? We would be tracking terabytes of data,” Gajwani says.
“We’ve built this as a platform that is site ambivalent. Lets say, (for example) tomorrow MakeMyTrip wanted to encourage people to buy a particular package. We could give them an API that could allow them to give points to our people.”
Our take: The way we see it, TimesPoints is a way of getting an audience to log in and stay logged in. This gives TIL a lot more demographic information, and helps them learn more about their audience, in terms of their preferences, for development of new products and/or features. Engagement increases usage and pageviews. Demographic information, as well as identification of users preferences and things that they are influential about (psychographic information) helps create (anonymised) clusters that can, in future, be targeted for advertising. That’s a very Google thing to do, but media companies will have to learn more about their users to compete for advertising that isn’t via Google.
Related: On Times Points, MyTimes