Check the analytics: Your users are talking to you

During my fellowship year, I hope to not only figure out what engagement is but start to chip away at how we as journalists know if we’re achieving it.

Measuring presents plenty of challenges, not the least of which is assessing qualitative, not just quantitative, factors. How can I “measure” user comments? (Definitely not just by number.) How can I “measure” in-person conversations? How can I “measure” listening?

There are some things, though, that we can measure. I’ve written just a bit about social media analytics. I’m going to expand the analytics conversation here, based on what I’ve learned from some smart people.

I’m so grateful I got to see Dana Chinn’s session at ONA a couple of weeks ago. Dana teaches at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, and her research focuses on analytics and audience.

Dana talked about verbs that indicate engagement — words like visit, read and interact. She was full of practical suggestions about what information to look for, how to track it and what we can learn from it. What story are YOUR analytics data telling?

For example: Don’t just look at your bounce rate. Investigate whether it’s new or returning visitors who are bouncing. The answers mean different things in terms of core customer satisfaction. Don’t just look at how many followers/fans/friends you have on social media. Track what is working specifically, and how your content is getting used or shared. Track the activity, not just the existence, of your networks. Make sure you’re putting your efforts in the right place.

That’s what it’s all about, right? Knowing what works, so we can do more of it.

After being blown away in person by Dana’s breadth of knowledge, I spent time with a report she did this summer for the Knight Foundation called “Measuring the Online Impact of your Information Project.” Check it out, kids. It’s easy to follow and totally worth it.

From the first page:

Organizations should use metrics that indicate:
— Reach: The site’s existing audiences are indeed the intended stakeholders in the community
— Penetration: The extent to which the site is reaching – or not – the intended audience
— Engagement: Audiences are coming back repeatedly, viewing more content and using or interacting with the site’s services

And more, just from the first page:

These metrics will help organizations answer the following questions:
— Over time and on average, is the site growing in audience reach and engagement?
— How have our team’s actions affected site traffic, either positively or negatively?
— When people visit the site, do they find what they are looking for?
— Are visitors returning?
— Is the site attracting the number of new visitors we should expect given our outreach efforts?

The report includes a helpful case study, showing how to interpret one site’s data, and 20 pages of drilled-down knowledge and specific suggestions.

Dana told me in an email that she’s a big believer in customized reports that line up with the priorities of the specific newsroom. If your focus is on users contributing content, for example, your report would look very specific, and growth wouldn’t be as relevant to you as it would be for other sites. (Dana is teaching a new analytics class in the spring geared just for journalism, PR & communications students, and she’s working on more ways to share what she knows as part of a focus on media entrepreneurship.)

I see analytics as an obvious method of listening to our users and being responsive to what they want and need, and I’m concerned that we’re not being aggressive enough with the information. I’m on the hunt for newsrooms that are really listening via analytics, and adjusting the newsroom’s choices and agendas based on what they hear. If you know something I should know, drop me a line.

I’ll have another post up soon about how one media company is making analytics easier to understand for its newsrooms.

This was originally posted on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where I am a 2010-2011 fellow.

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