Traditionally, audience research is a course that focuses on electronic media. Learning how to master TV and radio ratings in advertising media planning and programming, frequency and reach concepts is already very demanding for students. Digital analytics, with its trove of information for advertisers, media planners, and program directors, adds more to an already cramped course.
Without the luxury of a digital-only audience analytics course but with a clear need for students in the media business to have this basic knowledge in order to be marketable, it’s important to find the right balance for the best results. Facebook and web analytics are the most essential to know because of the high usage among the general population, so the second half of the course was dedicated to Facebook and digital audience analytics in general.
As a faculty member, how do we learn how to analyze these data? Apart from self-learning and taking free certificate courses provided by Google and Facebook, we should invite more guest speakers who are experts working in audience analytics companies and actually using social media on a day to day basis to our class on the latest techniques being used in the industry. I also wish the industry would develop some faculty professional development opportunities on different social media brands (especially Snapchat and Instagram) in academic conferences that we typically attend such as AEJMC or BEA. The more we and our students know how to use the data and the various tools available, the better we are able to be improve the social media content, sell advertising and other sponsored content opportunities for these digital media to advertisers.
I gave students a Facebook analysis project to provide recommendation on social media strategies based on Facebook Insights data. There were three learning objectives for this project:
- Practice analyzing the Facebook page of a media organization,
- Understand the social media metrics,
- Use social media metrics as audience input to provide recommendation on station promotion strategies and audience engagement.
The first problem is access to data. Many audience analytics software assumes the user is the owner and the manager of the web site or social media accounts. To solve this problem without diverging proprietary information of companies and using real data, I secured the Facebook Insight data from our student radio stations to teach our students (Another way to do is to partner with a non-profit organization with decent social media or web site presence). We have two student radio stations in our university: one is a commercial station and another is a non-commercial alternative music station. Both have a Facebook page. Our Audience Research class is a service-learning class, which means we need to use the class project to provide service to an organization. So I can also take advantage of teaching students how to do audience analytics while serving the two student radio organizations who have no expertise on using the data.
I allocate two class periods to explain the metrics used in Facebook Insights and what data are available on the numerous Insight spreadsheets. Then I introduce them to social media strategies used by media organizations so that they can analyze the data with strategy recommendations in mind, and can critique the posting strategies and identify the effective postings.
Social media audience analytics is not just about the numbers, but also about examining the corresponding content to determine what works and what doesn’t. A typical audience analytics data analysis includes both a content analysis of the posts and the corresponding metrics such as page views, likes, shares and comments. I explained to students the definition, use and limitations of each metric. I also emphasized specific content elements such as video, text, links, and pictures.
To my surprise, the students not only enjoyed the project and the responsibility of providing recommendation to the stations, they recommended many things beyond Facebook and suggested use of some other social media and metrics. They felt empowered with all the data they were given and now understood how advertisers and the Facebook page owners can use the data. Each group focused on different aspects of the rich data provided to them. Some focused on demographics, some focused on the traffic flow at different times of the day, some focused on specific type of content. Students also had to judge the two stations as competitors and explain with data which station was doing a better job of building their brand on Facebook. The client, the student radio station managers, who were students themselves, attended the presentations. They found the critique and recommendation constructive and helpful. This is a win-win situation. Instead of working for a professional client and the pressure of expecting high quality from unexperienced students, the students can experiment. Their recommendations are also more likely to be used by the student radio station. I recommended my students to put their project experience in their resume.
Students certainly cannot master social analytics in one project, and many of their first-time analyses only touched the surface of the data. I encouraged students to volunteer as the social media manager of a student or community organization. Then their experience will be beyond classroom, and they will have regular access to the latest data to hone their audience analytics skills.
Louisa Ha is Professor in the Department of Media Production & Studies, School of Media & Communication, Bowling Green State University. She is also the editor of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the oldest academic journal in the field of Journalism and Mass Communication and flagship journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Prior to teaching, she was the research director of the Gallup Organization and media Manager of Leo Burnett China. Her research focuses on mobile and social media audience behavior, media business models, media technology and research methods.