The Disconnect Between Analytics and Engagement: How Publishers Can Bridge the Gap
It’s uncommon to hear of any news or content organization without an analytics system of some sort, or many sorts, in place. In fact, investment in analytics is predicted to go up, but the goals of the investments are sometimes unclear. What do companies really want out of having analytics? Bigger numbers to report? More detailed reports to share? There’s a crucial gap between that investment and the goal, and not many companies are talking about it.
How does getting access to data translate into company success for a publisher?
The promise of it has excited the industry. Promising “attention” and “engagement” measurement and action spurs pockets to open and saviors of the web to be heralded, but measurement in and of itself is only a different type of data, and with varying sources and types of metrics, it’s rare that it’s even useful for anything but the most general of comparisons or a reporter’s instant gratification.
In the larger tech environment, data is not used to only measure engagement; it’s used to spur it. Teams get access to data so they can make changes that increase log-ins for an app, that create features that users will interact with more and that produce products (ads) that users are more likely to see and click on in Facebook, Twitter or Google. The companies doing this are the same companies taking dollars out of the pockets of publishers, often while they use much of the content created by those publishers.
Which should indicate to publishers one unavoidable fact: to compete, you have to be able to use the data available to do more than measure; you have to use it to power your organizations. Data and analytics are the new Gutenberg Press: a whole paradigm shift for how publishing works. Without it, other companies make money off of the content you produce.
Some publishers, particularly newer outlets unencumbered by legacies of print products or business structures have quickly embraced this. But seeing revenue free-fall makes even the largest organizations take notice and makes them willing to steer their ships towards calmer waters.
The oft-quoted New York Times’ Innovation Report was more than just a list of strategies and initiatives; it was a glimpse at their shift as they start to use data to guide company decisions.
They discussed (among other things) three areas where they see opportunities based on data they already have, but they missed a major part of the story by not discussing how to use the data going forward. Here’s our take on how The New York Times (and other media organizations) can use analytics to take advantage of these business opportunities.
1) Opportunity: Evergreen Discovery
From the report: “A new approach would be to take cultural and life-style content – about books, museums, food, theater – and organize it more by relevance than by publication date.”
The report discusses ways that the Times can build better pages and surface content that readers might still find interesting and useful. Making it easy for readers to find existing content reduces editorial effort while increasing readership and utility for the reader, a win-win for all involved. We’ve found that on Parse.ly’s network of hundreds of news and media sites the average site has 11 percent of its page views coming from evergreen posts, so it’s certainly something most people can take advantage of.
Next step: Don’t leave evergreen in the past — use it to guide the future.
The evergreen opportunity looks at content that has already been created and discusses how to make the most of it. But how does it help the publishers going forward? Information on what makes these posts different can be a powerful way to learn more about your readers and what they’re interested in consistently hearing about.
It also provides a way for an editorial team to quickly see stories and topics readers are already familiar with, which means looking at evergreen content and examining what made it successful should be considered a crucial part of creating new content. We recommend reviewing evergreen content on a monthly basis among an editorial team. If a new story is coming out that happens on annual basis (college football, anyone?) find out if past coverage resulted in evergreen stories and see where those readers are coming from. Can you use the existing evergreen traffic to boost future readership?
2) Opportunity: Front-line Promotion
From the report: “One approach would be to create an ‘impact tool-box’ and train an editor on each desk to use it. The toolbox would provide strategy, tactics and templates for increasing the reach of an article before and after it’s published.”
The New York Times recognizes how important data and analytics, along with social media and distribution, are for reaching a modern audience. Starting to build that awareness into the corporate culture plays a key role in the success of making all of these suggestions work, and having on-the-floor evangelists certainly increases the likelihood of the culture catching on.
Next step: Make it easier for everyone to participate in the culture shift.
Telling people things are important, and actually allowing them to experience it for themselves are vastly different learning methods. For newsrooms to really see metrics and analytics as more than a measurement or tool, and actually as an insight into their audience and a precursor to action from their staff, newsrooms have to think about integrating it into the workflow through CMS integrations, big-board screens, on-page extensions and more. Our users spend 36,000 minutes in Parse.ly every day which shows there’s an appetite for understanding; newsrooms just have to provide context for it.
3) Opportunity: User-Generated Content
From the report: “We should experiment with expanding our Op-Ed offerings to include specific sections and verticals, opening up our report to leaders in the fields such as politics, business and culture.”
When someone spends their time creating work for any outlet, whether it’s Facebook or your publication, they’re creating a connection with the brand. When you can create this connection, you can build stronger relationships and add value, which allows for greater opportunities like subscriptions, contributions, pledges or event tickets.
Next step: Give something back to the people creating content for you.
People can distribute their content anywhere online today, from Twitter to Medium to self-publishing ebooks. If they create content on your platform or for your publication, they’re also hoping to get something out of their effort: recognition, feedback, or action. They’re going to want and expect some sort of engagement, not just from readers, but from you – the publisher — that other third-party applications provide. The feeling you get from someone retweeting you? You can replicate that by offering them access to audience feedback to their work.
The Times concluded their report with a call for an internal group that would oversee these digital initiatives. Hopefully, that group, along with teams throughout publishing companies will be quick to recognize that the future of digital media isn’t going to be measured by analytics, it’s going to be created by the insights we get out of them. We’re excited to see what happens!
Sachin Kamdar is chief executive officer of Parse.ly which partners with digital publishers to provide audience insights through an analytics platform. Sachin graduated with a bachelor’s in Economics from NYU and a master’s in Education from Pace University. After graduating from NYU, Sachin was an NYC Teaching Fellow, using cutting edge technology to educate students in math and economics at an alternative high school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He then started an EdTech consulting company that built, implemented and managed systems across schools in NYC.
Next: Stakeholders are in Charge, so Organizations Count on Data Analytics and Insights by Juan-Carlos Molleda, Chair, Department of Public Relations, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications