Michael Silberman

Senior Vice President of Strategy, Piano

Michael Silberman is Senior Vice President of Strategy at Piano, a media consultancy. He previously was General Manager, Digital Media, at New York Media, where he launched Vulture.com and TheCut.com as standalone brands.


One of the big lessons that we’ve certainly learned is that there are a few key things that have to happen for media businesses to successfully make this shift from the attention model to a user engagement model. The biggest is alignment across the company. That everybody sort of needs to understand that hey, we used to be all about trying to get as many eyeballs as possible and as many page views as possible and now what we’re trying to do is shift to getting really quality eyeballs that are more deeply engaged and really care about our product because that’s the way that we’re going to succeed.

It’s not good enough to just get an audience in, regardless. What you need to do is get the audience in that is most likely to be an audience that will come back.

That was something that especially local media companies really understood for many years and delivered for many years. Which is, make something that your readers really want and value and do it in a way that encourages them to consume it every single day. And certainly in the old sort of days of print newspaper that was just part of the DNA. And whether it was encouraging people to, you know, pick it up off the newsstand and buy it for 25 cents or something or whether it was to become a subscriber. And then what happened is in the shift to the internet and to digital, that habit of engagement was lost. … The ability to sort of drive big audience surges via social media or drive, you know, sort of side-door traffic by a search and SEO sort of took folks off that old path of understanding what it took to create an engaging product that resonated with their readers.

It really helps to be a nonprofit if that’s your model. It really helps to have some sort of public benefit mission in messaging.

No. 1, it’s some way to track what stories, you know, what articles are actually getting people to become subscribers. So that’s probably the most important thing. The other is some sort of measure of how you’re growing user engagement over time. So, the Financial Times uses an index that they call RFV which stands for recency, frequency and volume. So that's the last time they came? How often are they coming? And how much are they reading? So how many articles are they reading? And they sort of multiply those together into an index. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be sort of a more complex metric than that. It's just some sense of how you're growing the proportion of users who are coming back again and again.