How do Canadians go through shared national experiences together as a country, with the CBC and more importantly, not with the CBC?
That little black area is the point that I was hired to try to pin down. It represents the intersection between Canadians, their public broadcaster and a shared national experience.
A shared national experience is a big event that may only impact a part of Canada, but attracts the interest of the entire nation. It could be the wildfires in British Columbia, when Canadians tuned in to understand the impact on wildlife and nature. It could also be the Olympics, when the country tuned in live to watch Tessa and Scott win gold. National celebrations like Canada Day and elections also have this effect on the country.
Asking how Canadians go through shared national experiences with CBC grew from a need to align our understanding of our audience and how they experience significant events, like the Olympics or elections. It’s important to look at these events holistically because it’s the way our audience experiences them — all at once, on multiple platforms and with multiple news sources.
To capture this bigger picture, I had to take a step back. In order to weave together the story of the experience, I gathered data from multiple platforms, sources and people. My adventure as a researcher at CBC involved seeking out mentors from multiple departments when I needed them, employing my own methods with my own tools, and having a lot of space to follow the paths my data led me down.
With all of these experiences of my own, here are three things I learned while conducting exploratory research for a national corporation:
1. No instruction manual? No problem. Follow your curiosity
My work was self-directed and I was not told which tools or techniques to apply. I had the freedom to develop an inductive research plan that allowed me to follow a path from curiosity to observation to theory. This is the kind of structure needed to discover objective insights.
I decided to analyze Google Trends data because I felt it would reveal some of the user experience with the Olympics before they arrived at the CBC. Internal data tells us when users watch a show or look at a story on CBC.ca but it doesn’t show us when they actively look for the event itself.
I found that during the PyeongChang Olympics, Canadians did not search for the Olympics during their lunch breaks because of the 12–16 hour time shift. Time shifts significantly affect user habits and, accordingly, broadcasters need to provide new content when Canadians want it: summaries in the mornings and links to live coverage in the evenings.
2. Cast a wide net (or data scraper) and go deep
Capturing full news environments on social media is different from conducting a competitive analysis, as the latter requires pre-chosen competitors. My strategy of searching Twitter and YouTube with general event terms (such as “Ontario election” or “Kathleen Wynne”) meant that I captured every possible interaction with an event on a specific platform, agnostic of the information source.
One result was a network visualization of conversations around an event on Twitter and the recommendations for event-related searches on YouTube. I probed the aspects of these social environments for further insights on the user experience with CBC.
Taking a step back allows you to zoom in on specific groups. With millions of tweets for some events, and multiple datasets of recommendations for different YouTube search terms, the other benefit of stepping back in the digital age is you can retroactively choose the aspect of your findings you want to dive into next. The result of my deep dive into YouTube recommendation data was a CBC Toronto News article about a 9/11 truther who turned out to be more recommended than CBC on YouTube. I’m proud that the news article, and a Medium post about my methods, came out when they did, well before election day.
3. Do your own thing, make your own tools
CBC gave me the invaluable opportunity as a budding researcher to have a fair bit of ownership over the direction my research took. This was empowering and kept me engaged with my work. I used a combination of methods ― some I was already familiar with, as well as new-to-me practices. I didn’t have to rely on company research tools because I found all of my own data sources and analysis tools. This openness has trained me to think for myself and to own the research decisions I make. This breathing space fuelled my passion and curiosity every day.
Looking forward: Shared national experience research as a foundation for Service Design
Embarking on this research with CBC has left us with a lot more questions. How do Canadians make sense of an experience which is inevitably delivered to them by multiple news sources on multiple platforms? What does it mean to see misleading information next to CBC content on a platform we, as CBC, cannot control? Answering these questions is challenging, but critical, due to the ever-changing ways that people consume news. A learning mindset is required to have a pulse of the changing landscape and proactively design experiences that are relevant to CBC’s audience.
The question then becomes, how do we intentionally design the way Canadians interact with shared national experiences and develop a relationship with CBC over time? Answering this question requires listening to Canadians, challenging our assumptions and approaching things in a holistic way. CBC is embracing this approach, with a practice known as service design. I see shared national experience research as a platform for service design. Designing research studies around events means you can understand multiple touchpoints together and then understand the holistic experience you are trying to improve.
As I start a new chapter in my life (an MSc in Data Science in the UK!) I’ll be cheering for CBC from the sidelines, keeping an eye on my CBC News app push notifications and Instagram Story feed.