This is the first article for MetricShift by Kevin Mireles, an expert in business analytics whose columns will help explain business metrics in news media.
Right now, news organizations still haven’t really clarified what business they are in and/or what their audience is really looking for, and as a result they often measure and focus on the wrong things.
Information technology businesses fall into two primary categories:
- Entertainment: The goal for entertainment businesses is to help people have “fun,” to spend their downtime with you. And the more time spent with you the better. It doesn’t really matter whether that time spent makes them a better or worse human being, helps the planet or not. It’s fundamentally about entertaining people. Think Facebook, Pinterest, Netflix, gaming, etc.
- Work: The goal for work-oriented businesses is to help people take action and solve problems, whether that problem is paying the bills, stocking their pantries, losing weight, learning new skills, or influencing public policies, for example. In this case, the user’s goal is often to spend the least time possible, as the primary thing you care about is the outcome. Traditional B2B software — and Google’s search business — falls primarily into this category; you’re not using it for fun but to get the task done as efficiently and effectively as possible, and the less time spent the better.
Where journalists fit in
So are journalists and news organizations primarily in the entertainment or work business?
Traditionally, they have straddled both worlds and as a result have muddied their value proposition, measure the wrong things and apply the wrong business models.
Additionally, what one segment of the audience and what journalists often think of as entertainment, others often think of as work, politics being one of them.
Picking metrics for your business
In the entertainment world, your goal is to get people to spend as much time with you as possible, since the whole point of your existence is to fill people’s free time. In this scenario, display advertising as a revenue stream and products that encourage spending time make sense.
Entertainment metrics track time (time on site, visit length, engaged time, repeat engagement, etc.) and pleasure (satisfaction and sentiment metrics, among others).
In the work world, your goal is to minimize the amount of time people spend with you and instead give them the answers to their problems, or eliminate their problems all together. In this case, less time spent on your site or in your app is often better, since the goal is to increase their time. In this scenario, display advertising makes absolutely no sense and products that don’t solve problems are bad.
Business metrics track ease and speed (site load times and usability, for example), as well as success at solving a problem (capabilities, completion and drop-off rates, and yes, acquisition goals.)
So should news organizations focus on delivering more entertainment value or more work value?
And that will be a question for another day.
Kevin Mireles is a news, analytics, product management and UX geek. He writes at www.DontMakeMeWork.com.