Amplify prototype Credit: Sam Ward/Reveal

In January, Reveal began exploring ways to connect more deeply with our podcast listeners and help them discover our content beyond what they were hearing each week.

During an intensive 10-week design sprint with Stanford University’s d.school, we came up with  Amplify, an SMS technology that allows Reveal listeners to request additional information by text – photos, data, video, graphics, etc. – and to receive that information immediately on their phones. We chose SMS because we wanted the experience to meet users where many of them already are when they are listening to a podcast (i.e., their cellphones).

Amplify prototypeCredit: Sam Ward/Reveal

In contrast with text messages that push headlines to users, Amplify empowers users to take control of their experience. It starts with a prompt from our host, Al Letson, at the beginning of an episode, inviting listeners to text us to opt in to the experience. Throughout the show, Letson or one of the reporters on the show invites listeners to text again when there is something for them to see, such as photos of people, key data points or excerpts of documents mentioned in the audio story.

We launched Amplify on three podcasts this year: Misconceptions, Street fight and Inside Trump’s immigration crackdown. With support from the Lenfest Institute, we also partnered with WHYY in Philadelphia – one of 450 public radio stations that carry Reveal – to launch Amplify to its broadcast audience. In total, we’ve sent nearly 30,000 messages to 7,500 users.

Screenshot of Amplify interaction during our Street fight episodeCredit: Hannah Young/Reveal

From our experiments, we’ve learned:

  1. Texting is a powerful tool to build trust with listeners. The most popular assets in Amplify are the ones that offer listeners a peek under the hood of our organization. From selfie shots of Letson and our reporters to the underlying source documents, the most engaged listeners are eager to learn what is behind the journalism they’re hearing, right in the moment they’re hearing it.
  2. Texting allows us to have a deeper, more personal relationship with our audience. In every Amplify experience we’ve launched, we’ve been surprised by the ways our listeners open up to us. Some texted back their own selfies or told us where they were  while listening. These exchanges can open the door to deeper sharing. For example, in our Street fight episode, we asked Amplify participants whether they are more or less likely to join a protest these days. More than 150 responded. And our Inside Trump’s immigration crackdown episode prompted more than 450 people to submit their questions about the immigration system. These responses will inform future reporting.

We’re excited to continue experimenting and building on these lessons in 2018.

Amy Pyle, Will Evans, Jim Briggs, Julia B. Chan, Sam Ward and Hannah Young of Reveal developed Amplify in collaboration with Benjamin Johnston and John McGinnis of Stanford University’s d.school.

Hannah Young can be reached at hyoung@revealnews.org, and Sam Ward can be reached at sward@revealnews.org. Follow them on Twitter: @HannahDotYoung and  @sward13.

Hannah Young is the Director of Audience at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, leading Reveal’s digital and social efforts. Using human-centered design, she and her team work to find new ways to expand the reach of Reveal’s journalism and engage more meaningfully with audiences across platforms.

Previously, Hannah was a Butler Koshland Fellow at Reveal focusing on creative engagement approaches in public journalism. Before that, Hannah worked at Code for America, where she led the Brigade program and grew it to a network of more than 50,000 civic tech volunteers in more than 80 cities across the U.S. During her time there, Brigade was responsible for nearly two thirds of total growth in the civic tech community in the country.

Sam Ward is a senior digital producer for Reveal, where he oversees the web team. He has years of experience producing creative digital media projects for Oregon Public Broadcasting, PBS, ITVS and the Smithsonian, and he has managed projects for funders such as the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education and Annenberg Media. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Ward is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.