This article was originally published on the NewsWhip blog.
So you want to spread content analytics to more people in your organization. How do you make sure you go about it the right way? In many organizations, it’s still the case that metrics are owned by a data or analytics team, with knowledge staggered at various levels throughout the organization.
It’s not to say that other teams aren’t interested in the data. By now there’s a general acceptance that audience data is the critical strand in audience development. Most people in the newsroom have a curiosity about the readership anyway, or are keen to see how they can leverage statistical feedback to improve their work. To get a deep understanding of what readers are actually interested in reading and watching, a more-nuanced approach is needed from both journalists and content creators as well as those responsible for the story’s distribution.
When thinking about how to integrate metrics into different teams’ workflows, here are five questions to ask before giving everyone the master key to your audience.
1. Are these numbers relevant to the person seeing them?
Not all numbers will be relevant to individuals. Do video producers need to have access to ARPU (average revenue per user) numbers or homepage traffic? Sure, it’s nice to have, but more data on the site’s most and least popular videos of the last 30 days, 10-second and 30-second view rates, and competitor engagement data may be more useful for their immediate day-to-day.
Similarly, journalists can benefit from getting a 360-degree overview of the performance of their own stories, including time spent reading those stories, web traffic, and discussion and cross-sharing on social media, rather than something like internal UTM tracking data.
2. Will access to these numbers positively affect a person’s ability to do their job?
What impact does giving this information to a particular team have? Is there a danger that some metrics may negatively influence some practices?
These questions are particularly relevant with real-time data. Data doesn’t stop being created. There will always be a log keeping track of information like site visitors and impressions. That’s great for making those real-time decisions about content placement. But putting too much focus on those numbers risks getting stuck in the ‘eternal now,’ with a worst-case scenario being that creators feel the urge to keep churning out low-quality, sentimental content to keep their numbers ‘up,’ or tweaking content formats and tone without giving it time to circulate long enough online. For editorial staff, being able to see regular lists of the most popular stories over set time periods may be even more helpful than constant real time metrics.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of reducing datasets to an unrepresentative sample set. To take meaningful insight from the numbers, the full view is needed and not just a list of the top 10 most-shared stories or videos each day. Analyzing what didn’t work is often as useful for content creation teams as looking at what succeeded.
Ask about the potential positives before making metrics available. Ideally, access to these metrics will help positively inform the editorial agenda, rather than dictate it.
3. Are these numbers already available?
It’s possible that the person or team you’re trying to accommodate is already using some sort of measurement system or tool themselves. Perhaps they’re in a different format, or are being looked at over different timelines.
Making the numbers available in too many formats can potentially lead to messy scenarios, whereby teams are tracking metrics differently. If so, consider how to consolidate things. For instance, many NewsWhip Analytics clients use the dashboard to get a view of their social engagement data across multiple platforms, in one place.
It’s good practice to have an agreed-upon definition of the key numbers, and clarity on what they relate to. For instance, are you measuring the success of your link posts on Facebook by counting the total engagement on and off the platform, or just looking at the engagements from your owned pages?
It’s not to say that other data sources should not be consulted; it can be a messy business and a second opinion sometimes helps. But if that happens, the decision should be the prerogative of the data team, rather than desk editors.
4. Does the recipient know how to make use of the data they’re being provided?
Here’s a scenario some journalists may be familiar with: a Monday morning email provides them with login details to an analytics platform that they’ve never used. After logging in once or twice and not fully comprehending the system, the user forgets their password and quietly ignores the whole thing. The expectation is that the numbers will explain themselves.
For the beginner, metrics can be confusing. There are no stupid questions. Taking the time to explain what each metric represents, and how it relates to the user’s workflow can save lots of confusion further down the line, when KPIs may not be aligning as anticipated. And explaining the numbers themselves is only part of the effort; as mentioned above, the benefits really kick in when users can use those numbers to help inform their work. That’s a process that takes time, as well as plenty of conversation and collaboration.
5. Do the numbers align with organization-wide goals and strategy?
One of the risks of a metrics roll-out is the temptation to make use of absolutely everything, with the consequence that meaningful targets are obscured by less-relevant numbers.
By having agreement over strategic goals with set terms, it’s possible to make the metrics work for you, rather than just standing idle.
When explaining the role of the numbers, connect them back to the overall goal of the organization. For example, maybe it’s a company goal to be a market leader in mobile video; then it’s important that the individual doesn’t get too excited about traffic spikes to the site’s video gallery page, 85 percent of which came through desktop. Or perhaps your site wants to end up in the top three of their ten closest competitors by social engagement each month. In that case, a 20 percent bump in social engagement while ending the month in last place is not the happy outcome it might suggest at first glance.
Finally, it’s important to take KPIs seriously
Defining what metrics will have the greatest impact on your business and relationship with audience is the number one rule. If you or your team are the ‘data gatekeeper’ in your organization, make sure you keep a watchful eye on those metrics, even if you’ve rolled out other metric segments to various teams.
And of course, as is mandatory for any post about analytics, it’s important to stress the value of flexibility. Priorities, platforms, and audience avenues change. Being able to understand when to recognize and respond to those changes through their absence in the data is as important as reading the numbers in front of you.
Liam Corcoran writes about digital journalism and media trends, metrics and more for the NewsWhip blog.