Audience engagement: A key metric for publishers and new ways to improve it

Innovative ideas and prototypes on how to change the way newsrooms deal with the definition and improvement of their “audience engagement,” developed during the Mic Editors Lab.

Nicolas Magand
May 11, 2017 · 10 min read

Some perspective on audience engagement

Workshop with Andrew Haeg, Founder & CEO of GroundSource

“Engagement can be defined as a change of behaviour in the reader”, that’s how Andrew Haeg, CEO and Founder or GroundSource, opened his workshop on the theme of how to get an audience to engage better with the stories, how to interact more efficiently.

“You need to frame engagement so people understand your intentions: Blank canvases are very intimidating.”

“If you want meaningful participation, you need to intrigue your audience first before asking for more. You need to lower the barrier of engagement.”

Building and engaging passionate audiences, a workshop with Cory Haik, Publisher of Mic

Some of the new content brands launched in March 2017 by Mic

“How to measure success on platforms? Growth, quality, impact, original reporting that get cited. And there’s of course a revenue aspect too.”

Haik insisted on Mic’s points of view being one of their main core differentiation feature. Opinions on Mic, while driving engagement up, also serves the journalists writing them: “How important is a billion views compared to the feeling of doing the kind of journalism that we’re proud of?” she added.

How metrics can tie into audience engagement, a workshop with Mike Sukmanowsky‏, VP of Product, Parse.ly

“Behavioural data can give amazing signals” explained Mike Sukmanowsky, VP of product at the social analytics firm Parse.ly, to the Editors Lab participants. “You can have many visitors with a low engagement, and you can have a few visitors with a high engagement, especially if your content matters to small communities or interest groups.”


Audience engagement tips in a nutshell

  • Calls for interactions have to be guided: blank canvas get intimidating for users and readers
  • Put the audience first, listen to the communities
  • Don’t port content over: Create authentic content for each platform
  • Opinions and points of view should not be overlooked
  • Choose which signals to listen to: “stickiness” of content, impact, growth, can sometimes make more sense than bounce rates and views.
Team from Vocativ hard at work, enjoying the view from Mic’s headquarters

What ideas did the hackathon teams come up with?

After two days of brainstorms, collaboration, design decisions, coffee, and polishing touches, the teams had to pitch their prototypes (list below) to the a jury of experts composed of Masuma Ahuja from CNN, Mike Sukmanowsky from Parse.ly, Nasr ul Hadi from ICFJ Knight, Nikhil Kanekal, and Sarah Toporoff from GEN.

  1. Mic (team 1): thought of an on-site feature that lets users switch, grade, and write their own headlines. — LINK
  2. Mic (team 2): worked on an embeddable widget chat-bot tool that connects readers with journalists.—LINK
  3. NBC News - NUSA’s team built a responsive widget that brings audience engagement to the homepage of any website.—LINK
  4. Team Guardian US built an article-level widget where engaged readers can ask questions to the content creators.—LINK
  5. The team from the Washington Post worked on a tool that allows readers to customise the type of articles they see in their news feed.—LINK
  6. ProPublica team’s project: A tool visualising where readers are in the story, allowing them to comment inline with prompted questions.—LINK
  7. The team from CUNY J-School & NYU developed a tool to annotate a published story with insights from their reporting.—LINK
  8. Montclair State University worked on a website which seeks to aggregate news content based on location/trending topics.—LINK
  9. Vocativ team’s idea: A text-to-audio tool called Feed Me that can read articles out loud while people are busy doing other things.—LINK
  10. The New Yorker’s team worked on an embedded module on stories that presents links to related news from the reader’s area. — LINK
  11. Fast Company’s team worked on an tool that lets readers react to the Fast Company news stream with emojis.—LINK

Which team got the ticket to compete at the GEN Summit Editors Lab Final?

The jury chose the team from National Geographic as the winner of the Mic Editors Lab.

The paywall, reimagined for boosting readers’ engagement

Their prototype, Counting Up, aimed at reimagining the paywall for media organisations, progressively rewarding users with free-to-access content based on their engagement patterns. Quality article completions, video completions, and social/community engagement, are measured by a widget following the user throughout the site. The reader’s behaviour can then unlock a premium access for a certain period of time. For publishers, this innovative solution can increase the overall reach and engagement beyond what paywalls would normally produce.

Scott Burkhard (UX designer):

Michael Greshko (science reporter):

C.Y. Park (creative developer):

Alejandro Alba & Tara Jacoby (Vocativ), Scott Burkhard & C.Y. Park (National Geographic), Michael Greshko (National Geographic), Kara Haupt & Susannah Kemple (The New Yorker)

Nasr ul Hadi, ICFJ-Knight:

Nikhil Kanekal:

The 2017 National Geographic Editors Lab team: C.Y. Park (creative developer), Scott Burkhard (UX designer), Michael Greshko (science reporter)

Editors Lab Impact

Prototyping the future of news

Thanks to Emilie Kodjo and Evangeline.

Nicolas Magand

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Critique enthusiast

Editors Lab Impact

Prototyping the future of news