The early days of chasing pageviews and counting unique visitors like our lives depended on it may have harmed the impression many of us have of metrics and analytics today. And rightfully so. If all you see metrics do for your organization is pit reporters against one another and make them compete for the limited number of pageviews that your site gets, you’ve got a right to dislike metrics.
But times are changing. We now have more sophisticated analytics tools and much more diversified advertising, marketing and distribution streams. Not only can every reporter or staff member access analytics specific to their contributed content, they have the ability to promote that content for free on a variety of social networks.
The question still remains, how do you get people interested in analytics? How do you share the love for analytics and data-driven decision making across your organization?
Through interviews and a community discussion on Twitter, we’ve identified many of the obstacles that stand in the way of people’s love of analytics. We’ve also compiled an actionable list of things you can do at your organization to get stronger analytics buy-in.
Obstacle 1: It’s an Audience Issue, Not a Metrics Issue
No one wants to waste their time writing stories or producing content that isn’t reaching people. If you’re a reporter, your job is to take complex information and construct it in such a way that it’s not only accurate but also understandable and engaging to an audience. I doubt you would find many reporters who would contradict that statement.
What people need to understand is that media metrics are all about people.
“In the end,” Rob Gates, analyst at the Louisville Courier-Journal, shared with MediaShift, “the metrics tell you one thing: are people reading your stories or not.”
Helping your co-workers understand that metrics aren’t a way to scold or congratulate, but rather a way to understand how audiences are engaging with or failing to engage with content.
“Audience and metrics go hand in hand,” Gates says. “Because that’s what metrics are measuring — audience. If your metrics are low, then you’re failing to connect with the audience. Let’s figure out why that is.”
Obstacle 2: Data vs. Insight
If you want reporters to make data-driven decisions, you need to do more than provide them with the data. Analyzing metrics is not a quick or easy job.
“Some people assume that just putting data in front of an individual will help them out,” Sachin Kumdar, CEO of Parse.ly, shared with us via email, “but really, it doesn’t mean much without the right company context.”
It isn’t, nor should it be, a reporter’s job to understand the company context. They have neither the insight, the time nor the bird’s-eye view to interpret organizational successes and failures from pure data. It’s the job of the analyst to interpret those things.
Many newsrooms, particularly the smaller, non-profit newsrooms may not have a dedicated analyst. But it needs to be someone’s job to take these metrics, contextualize them against newsroom goals, filter out misleading data and come to some very actionable next steps if you want to make data-driven decisions at all.
Gates has been working in newsrooms for over two decades. In that time, he’s come to understand that there are two kinds of newsroom analyst:
- Those who run reports.
- Those who contextualize good data, throw out junk data and bring the editorial mission into it the data.
You can’t just give reporters a spreadsheet and expect them to magically start producing more engaging content. You can’t just sit a reporter down in front of an interactive dashboard and expect them to act on trends unless you’ve given them some idea of what acting on a trend looks like. Should they make their stories shorter? Maybe the headline isn’t descriptive enough? Is the lede right? What about how it was promoted on social?
Will Federman, audience engagement editor at Fortune Magazine, suggests using this question as a starting point before sharing metrics with your newsroom:
A3: I have to ask our team, “Can someone act on this data?” If not, it’s time to focus on a better way to get metrics across #MetricShift
— Will Federman (@wfederman) April 8, 2016
Obstacle 3: Communication
Giving people access to a personal dashboard is one of the most useful ways to get people interested in metrics. General newsroom analytics are good and highly useful when you’re trying to understand institutional failings and successes. But generalized analytics don’t engage reporters. I mean… let’s face it. We’re all a bit self-indulgent. Personalized dashboards can be configured to show reporters a variety of different types of information, including average time spent on their content, scroll depth and social referrals. These numbers can also be benchmarked against previous weeks or months.
Segmented analytics dashboards like these are most readily available via paid platforms like Parse.ly and Chartbeat. Google Analytics does allow you to segment content, but the feature is more complicated to implement and analyze.
There are a variety of ways to make an analytics report something that a reporter will actually look at. Some people draft up a weekly, internal newsletter that provides analytics on a newsroom rather than a personal level. Other people like to use the popular data visualization tool Tableau Public to create graphics that make the trends and patterns easier to understand. And still others go for a more analog approach:
I’ve had good luck with creating old-fashioned posters in our office featuring our “top 10” posts. I should do more of that. #MetricShift A6
— Tim Cigelske (@TeecycleTim) April 8, 2016
Gates makes sure that everyone in the newsroom who has a hand in creating or producing content gets an initial analytics training. During this training, the staffer is set up with a dashboard that tracks metrics specific to their stories. They’re encouraged to look at this dashboard daily. Gates also make sure that they understand basic SEO theory.
Giving people this kind of initial training allows them to feel more in control of their own analytics. It also gets them looking at analytics from day 1, which helps them notice patterns and trends down the road.
In a recent whitepaper, Parse.ly suggests holding office hours or taking time every week to walk around the newsroom and talk to people about metrics.
It’s likely that some of the reporters in your newsroom are not interested in metrics. But I would guess that many, if not most, have a healthy curiosity about how metrics work. Hosting weekly office hours, either in person or via Google Hangouts can be a low-pressure way to answer people’s questions and give some examples of actionable steps reporters can take to try and improve their personal metrics.
The Pares.ly whitepaper also offers a variety of other tactics that you can try to get your newsroom to engage with metrics. PRO TIP: If you download the report, make sure you read to the very end. There’s an opportunity for you to make analytics much more delicious.
Games are a great way to encourage people to step outside of the box and try things that they never would have before. It’s also a great way to explore questions that, without total newsroom buy in, you might otherwise not be able to explore.
A Condensed Analytics Sharing Plan
Make analytics training part of new hire onboarding. Encourage reporters to look at their own analytics on a daily basis. The more they look at their own analytics, the more likely they are to notice trends and patterns in what is and is not working.
Provide more general newsroom analytics reports weekly and monthly. Make sure these reports take into account your organization’s goals. You should also benchmark successes and failures by including trends and changes over time. And most importantly, make sure you provide actionable suggestions on how to improve the things that aren’t working.
Make yourself available for questions and conversations on metrics. Making people come to you can be a gamble, but it might be more effective than an active approach which risks people feeling hounded. Also, relying on staff meeting as your major source of metrics conversation is likely to fail. People don’t generally want staff meetings to go on any longer than they have to.
Make metrics fun. When you feel like metrics-morale is low, or if you have questions that can only be answered by reporter buy-in, devise a game or friendly competition to energize your newsroom. Be aware that some people might see this friendly competition as a less-friendly, aggressive attempt to rank reporters. Be very clear about your intentions and the purpose behind the game. Ask people to come to you if they have questions or concerns.
Let Us Know What You’re Up To
Most of the information we provide to you here is only possible because real people in real newsrooms let us know what they’ve tried, what works and what doesn’t. If you have thoughts, comments, suggestions, strong feelings, etc. don’t hesitate to get in touch by participating in our Facebook group and to joining our bi-weekly Twitter chats!
Alexandra Kanik (@act_rational) is the Metrics Editor/Curator for MediaShift. In addition to her work with MediaShift, Alexandra is a freelance developer for news organizations around the country.