Audience Engagement Traces its Success Back to its Content

Publications are learning that great storytelling drives engagement.

One of the many themes we touched upon this week was audience engagement.

On Friday, we spoke with Kelsey Arendt, Customer Success Manager at Parse.ly, who was no stranger to this concept and how to successfully do it. For digital publishers the first thing is to understand data, and this is where Parse.ly comes in.

Thanks to Parse.ly, we’ve gained insight on what keeps most readers coming back for more: great storytelling. So good news, journalists… Our jobs are safe.

We stepped into the office space with glass walls that paralleled a view of the Manhattan skyline. Dark wooden floors contrasted pale, fabric chairs illuminated by the morning sun. A sleek, chrome-wood kitchenette sat the end of the row of computers.

It was a minimalistic setup that screamed Ikea, but echoed the modern technology company that was Parse.ly.

In a way, the interior designed resonated Parse.ly’s simplistic platform. The company provides audience insights to digital publishers through an easy-to-understand data analytic platform. Here’s a quick run down video of what they’re about:

Essentially, their goal is for their clients to realize the power of understanding data.

“It can be measured and empower you,” said Arendt on the power of understanding data.

The visit itself wasn’t a “Hey, we’re Parse.ly and here’s what we do… Now do you have any questions?” sort of meeting, but more of a conversation. What Parse.ly finds success in among their clients, they practice through their employees as well: audience engagement is key!

Here are my main takeaways from our conversation:

1. Understand how to tell stories on different platforms.

As technology evolves, we bring in new mediums to tell stories in different ways. Video may be the next big thing in storytelling (which according to data and most of the publications we spoke with this week confirmed), but that does not mean publishers need to make that switch — at least not until they’re ready.

Arendt mentioned that many publishers don’t have resources to implement video, and until they do, they shouldn’t bring it in. If there is a lack of understanding, the story will not be as powerful.

“The audience opts into different kinds of storytelling. Focus on the success of the format of the story.”

But once there is an understanding you can reach out to more people and expand your audience.

2. Companies and publications are starting to focus on qualitative data more than quantitative data. If they aren’t, they should.

Page views will always be important, but should not be a determining factor on how successful your publication is. Content will drive engagement. This is a quick, simple fact.

3. Psychoanalytics vs. demographics

Too often when looking at data do we focus on things that shouldn’t matter. For publications like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, there is a widely known understanding that these publications cater to millennials. But, there is a problem with the generalization of “millennials and everybody else.” Content should cater to what people care about, regardless of age, gender, etc.

For example, we learned that about 40% of The New Yorker’s readers are millennials. This came as a surprise to most of my peers and me. A writing-heavy, legacy publication that most people interpret as a magazine for the older generation is actually read by many young folks. Then I think to myself… The New Yorker is writing to anyone who wants to read quality, in-depth, long form stories, regardless of demographics.

4. Sharable content vs. valuable social content

There is a difference between sharable content and valuable social content. Arendt gave the example of how rapidly articles were shared when gay marriage was legalized. But, people weren’t reading them. They already knew what was going on.

This is what Arendt described as sharable content: topics that people share content about to publicize the fact that they know about it. In terms of the legalization of gay marriage, it was a way for people to show support for the LGBT community, or simply to show that they weren’t living under the rock and that they too are keeping up with the status quo.

That is one way of success. Then there’s valuable social content. Arendt said,

“The story doesn’t stop when you press publish.”

The power of storytelling will drive the success of these stories. People who care will click. When they do, good storytelling will make them stay.

Special thanks to Kelsey Arendt for talking with us and reaffirming a room of storytellers that great storytelling will bring success in audience engagement!

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