A published report: Measuring the success of audience engagement efforts

I had the privilege of hosting, along with the awesome Reuben Stern, a workshop at RJI last month on measuring engagement. My motivation for the event was really justifying engagement. We can’t value what we don’t measure, and we can’t convince our bosses/funders/supporters to invest in audience unless we can show it works.

After an intense few weeks of editing, Reuben and I published (on behalf of our esteemed participants) the report of suggestions. Here’s the intro we put on the RJI website. Please go there to read the rest, or download the report (the link is at the top of the post). It includes a huge (but easily scannable and digestible) table that shows some specific engagement goals and strategies, what value they offer to newsrooms and how they can be measured.


Published by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, June 3:

Journalists have a lot to learn from other disciplines about tracking what works. We’re not used to gauging our success in ways more sophisticated than ratings or circulation numbers, and we’re behind the measurement curve. But these days, it’s hard to value what you can’t measure. And as newsrooms grapple with how to make room in tight budgets for audience engagement, it’s natural that they’d also wonder what the return on that investment might be.

With these issues in mind, a group of journalists invested in audience engagement gathered in early May at the Reynolds Journalism Institute to talk specifically about measurement. (http://www.rjionline.org/events/engagement-metric) Some of them were widely recognized experts. All were working to effect change in their traditional newsrooms or products. They came because they believe that as news organizations fight for survival, a more connected relationship with their communities should be valued, and therefore measured. They were joined by smart folks from other disciplines who shared their time to help guide the discussions and share their expertise.

Our multi-disciplinary group (see bios of some of the folks involved) focused our conversations around specific strategies for audience engagement, what their value is to the news organizations, and how the success of the efforts can be evaluated. We spent a day filling out a google spreadsheet together, and what you’ll find here is an edited version of that document. It’s not intended as a comprehensive guide to engagement, but instead as a sampling of practical ways to be strategic in our efforts.

Many people in the room have jobs that involve audience outreach and engagement, and they talked about their need to be able to show the concrete results of their work. They also felt the need to persuade their colleagues and their bosses to value engagement. Metrics are key. And by metrics, we don’t just mean web analytics. The number of people who show up for a newsroom tour is a metric. The number of people who like your Facebook page is a metric. The number of story ideas or new sources resulting from a community conversation is metric. Research also has a lot to teach us about measurement beyond counting. A content analysis, for example, can help us track the civility of conversations or the diversity of sources.

And if it’s information we seek, don’t overlook what we already know how to do: report. If we want to know if our work is making a difference in the community, what if we assigned reporters to find out, whether we publish it or not?

We urge you to read this report with this in mind: What do you wish you knew about your relationship with your community?


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