How do we know if the information we’re providing is having an impact? How do we know if our efforts are worth it? If our plan is “working“?
Those questions don’t come up much if your ultimate business success can be easily quantified (dollars, users, sales, reach, etc.). But what if your goals aren’t so easily measured?
In a web analytics training earlier this year, I was the only person in the room who didn’t have a clearcut goal for my website. Everyone else had a page that all other pages were driving users to — a “thank you for purchasing” or “thank you for confirming your subscription” type page. Journalists tend to just want more of all of it — more views, more new users, more return users, more time.
And what about all the offline work we do?
I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on measuring the impact of mission-driven information. A lot of that work has been with journalists, but some of it has been targeted more generally to nonprofits. A few months ago, I brainstormed a whole host of possible metrics, and I figured I’d go ahead and share that list here.
Here are a few things to think about before diving in:
- Think through the story of your work from beginning to end. What do you hope will happen? You have to be clear on your goals before the metrics will make much sense.
- Look for correlation, not just causation. Metrics are imperfect, and cause and effect aren’t always neat and tidy.
- Focus on metrics that will help you solve problems or be more efficient. You could measure many more things that will actually be useful, and your time could be consumed in measurement that won’t actually make you better at your job.
I hope this list helps some folks think through what can be measured. I also hope it doesn’t feel overwhelming. A lot of this likely won’t help you measure the work you’re doing, so don’t consider it to be prescriptive. But if you get a few ideas, and someone else gets a few other ideas, I’ll be happy.
I’m delivering a webinar for the Knight Digital Media Center next week, and I wrote this blog post introducing it. It was originally published by KDMC.
If you sell shoes for a living, you have a clear metric for success: How are my sales, and are they enough to keep me in business? When you do or fund mission-driven work, the metrics are much less obvious, but it’s still natural to crave them. If you think your work is making a difference, it’s important on many levels to have evidence that you’re right.
But when your primary goal is not something concrete like dollars made or products created, how do you know if what you’re doing is “working?”
One good plan of action is to define what “working” means to you, find some metrics you can attach to those, then commit to the time it will take to track those metrics.
As a preview, let’s look at each of those three steps individually.
1. Set goals.The important first step is defining what you hope will happen as the result of your work. If this is hard for you, roll around in it for awhile and get comfortable, because you can’t move on unless you get really specific here. Do you hope people will get more involved with your organization? Take action on an issue? Attend an event? Or how about this one: Learn? Often, one core goal is raising awareness. Think about those days you leave work feeling really satisfied. What has likely happened? What drives you and your organization? What is success?
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Next week is How To Get A Job week in my Participatory Journalism class.
If you’re a journalism student or other interested Columbia-area party, you’re welcome to join us. We’ll be in 101A Lee Hills Hall from 12-1:15 Monday and Wednesday.
I’ll go over the basics of resumes, cover letters, interviews, etc. But those aren’t the most important lessons. Most important is how to tell the story of yourself. What’s your personal narrative as a journalist and potential employee? What do you want people to really know about you? Think about the intangible things that make someone a great coworker, boss or new hire. It likely matters more that you fearlessly dive into new technology than it does that you learned how to edit video. It might matter more that you challenge the people around you to do their best work than it does that you’ve covered a specific beat.
Let your resume do the listing of skills. Make sure you know how to sell yourself. Students in my class will practice selling themselves on video. See some previous students’ contributions in this post about learning to market yourself.
Other blog posts and links about job hunting:
I just watched this archived talk from September 2013 from Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s center for Civic Media.
Zuckerman is smart about a lot of things. Today, I especially enjoyed the last section of this 15-minute talk, when he talks about:
- news judgment and accompanying responsibilities
- encouraging the right kind of civic action
- reaching a new generation of media consumers with impact-oriented messages
What we can’t keep doing is building news that is disconnected from peoples’ ability to have an impact. We can’t continue to say, “We’re going to put this information out here, you’re going to be an informed citizen, and then something will happen and it’s all going to work out from there.”
In my Participatory Journalism class last week, we did a whirlwind tour through a bunch of social platforms.
Before we looked through Pinterest, Quora, LinkedIn and other sites, we talked about how we as journalists (or really, anyone who uses social platforms to get a job done) should decide which ones we should invest in. We also talked about how the answer might be different when considering an overall brand strategy versus a specific topic or project.
Here’s my list. What would you add?
- Is your audience there? You know, the people who follow you in general, or will be interested in the project you’re considering sharing there. Are they already there? (If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, here’s my list of questions to start with. And some advice from the brilliant Seth Godin.)
- Is your potential audience there? Think about audience growth. Who are the people you don’t currently reach but would love to reach? Are they there?
- What do people DO there, and do you fit in? Have you spent time studying the platform? Do you understand what the customs are, what the utility is and how people behave? Do you have content to offer that is genuinely consistent with all that? (Jeff Sonderman wrote about NPR’s advice to respect each platform’s culture.)
- Do you know what you want to accomplish, and how will you measure success? What do you hope will happen for you with this new adventure, and are you prepared to build in time for assessment? Each new platform takes time, and it’s better to do some things really well than to spread yourself too thin. What if you discover your audience really isn’t there? Or that what you thought you would do isn’t “working”? (More on why “what works on social media” isn’t a sophisticated enough question is here.) Whether you’re working for clicks, shares, crowdsourcing, community building, story ideas or something else, know how you’ll decide if the return on investment is worth it.
I have yet to work with journalists who I didn’t think could find good use with Facebook. (Here’s one of my favorite examples, from a small town Missouri newspaper.) But I’ve worked with some whose audiences just weren’t on Twitter, and plenty for whom Reddit, Pinterest or Tumblr probably wouldn’t be very useful.
So when asked “should I be on Pinterest,” my answer is always “it depends.” (Actually, as my students will tell you, that’s my answer to most questions.)
The key is to ask the right questions. What would you add to this list?
The Atlantic’s post on Friday about the list of the top New York Times stories of 2013 has prompted some interesting discussions.
The most-read story of the year was a dialect quiz — you answer questions about how you talk, and you’re shown which parts of the country mostly closely match your dialect patterns.
It’s a data-driven interactive quiz based on 350,000 survey responses collected by an NYT graphics editor. It’s a game. It’s not an article.
The Atlantic post says this:
“Think about that. A news app, a piece of software about the news made by in-house developers, generated more clicks than any article. And it did this in a tiny amount of time: The app only came out on December 21, 2013. That means that in the 11 days it was online in 2013, it generated more visits than any other piece.”
A journalist friend of mine expressed dismay that the quiz didn’t answer the why and how of the issue. It lacked context and utility, he argued, and he compared it to a Buzzfeed list.
Here’s what I think: Journalistic standards for importance and excellence can get in the way of providing a product people want to consume and use. Turning the research behind this quiz into a story would be valid and informational. But it’s not the only way.
It’s curious to me that my story yesterday about a St. Louis TV reporter’s questionable journalism has been distilled by so many into a black-or-white conversation about one question: Should journalists hug sources?
I really want to be talking about how sad it is that a large-market TV reporter covering a nationwide story had a key fact about the case dead wrong.
But first, let’s address the hugging thing.
I’ve hugged sources and will continue to hug sources. The same way it is sometimes most polite to accept a piece of pie in a source’s living room or tell a source you’re sincerely sorry for a struggle she’s having, it has sometimes felt appropriate to me to accept or offer a hug as part of my work as a journalist. There are times when backing off a hug when it’s offered would be awkward or rude.
The trick is to know when the emotion behind the hug would compromise my ability to do my job, or when the perception the hug leaves would compromise my integrity.
I’m actually an advocate for journalists embracing their humanness, and I’m vocal in my suspicion of black-or-white ideas about objectivity. My work in journalism lies in the changing nature of the relationship between journalist and audience/community. Frankly, I’m not a fan of living by a lot of strict rules in general. And a journalism that bans hugging altogether isn’t one I’m interested in.
Which is why I was interested in a Twitter conversation Wednesday night about journalists having been seen hugging Ryan Ferguson and his family. I wanted to see where the conversation went. My interest turned to curiosity and then outrage when the reporter I was talking to made it clear she was completely misinformed about a key fact of the story she was covering.
(If you missed my story, read it here: How a St. Louis TV reporter got both ethics and facts wrong.)
I’m disturbed by Melanie Moon’s cheerleader style of reporting on a controversial news story and her apparent pride in sitting squarely on Ferguson’s side. I’m also disturbed that she thought she could take back her problematic tweets by deleting them.
But I’m even more disturbed by the fact that she didn’t read or didn’t understand what the court ruling actually said. Even when faced with evidence that she was wrong, she didn’t back down.
I’m willing to forgive a hug (or sometimes applaud it). But I can’t forgive irresponsible distribution of facts.
Let’s pay attention to THAT problem, and bemoan the fact that so many people get their news from Moon and others like her rather than people who prioritize accuracy over emotion.
News coverage of the dustup that focuses on hugging:
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: KPLR’s Melanie Moon defends hugging man whose murder conviction was overturned
- Jim Romenesko’s media blog: St. Louis TV reporter: Yes, I hugged Ryan Ferguson while covering his release from jail
- **ADDED: Minnesota Public Radio: When reporters hug newsmakers
News coverage of the dustup that focuses on facts:
- Riverfront Times: Tweet and Delete: How KPLR’s Melanie Moon Got Facts Wrong on Ryan Ferguson’s Release
- **ADDED: Poynter Institute: For journalists to hug or not to hug isn’t the point
- **ADDED: Why KPLR’s @Moon_Melanie needs to address deleted Tweets
- **ADDED: Why this Melanie Moon thing with Ryan Ferguson actually matters