In December, Alexandra Smith joined WhereBy.Us as its first growth editor. The growing company, which uses the slogan, “Live like you live here,” and has 24 employees, currently runs local media sites in Miami and Seattle as well as a creative studio. And it just launched an impact tracker internally. It’s notable as one of the first times commercial media has embraced impact tracking as a strategy for marketing and growth.
For local news organizations, tracking impact is a way to tie journalism’s value to revenue. Impact trackers can help show readers how news works and source powerful messaging for membership or subscription campaigns. Thirty-one percent of recent subscribers to local newspapers subscribed because they wanted to support local journalism, according to the Media Insight Project. Gannett, where Smith worked before joining WhereBy.Us, recently launched an internal impact tracker, and LION Publishers is now offering investigative reporting grants to local newsrooms and helping grantees use the impact of that reporting in fundraising.
WhereBy.Us has been at the forefront of using analytics to create news products for the local media market. This philosophy has led to a newsletter-first strategy, an emphasis on connecting people with the cities they live in, and a membership program with benefits that include merchandise, giveaways from local businesses and discounts for events. The company is currently using an institutional fellowship from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute to build a toolkit for using metrics in small, independent newsrooms.
I talked with Smith over email about her new role at WhereBy.Us, the metrics she tracks and why the company started tracking impact. Here is our lightly edited conversation.
What’s a typical day look like for you as growth editor?
I’m not sure I’ve had a typical day since joining the WhereBy.Us team in December! Much of my work so far has been around building workflows and processes for our growing team. My role is set up so I’m like a consultant for our local brands — The New Tropic in Miami and The Evergrey in Seattle (and more coming soon!) I check in with the local teams daily to brainstorm how we can engage our current audiences and capture the attention of new people. I also lead project work related to growth — things like our content distribution plans and tracking, CRM-like people tracker for editorial use and organic and paid social media strategies.
What metrics do you track?
Since we’re a daily newsletter, subscribers and open rates are important. We use a net promoter score system to get regular feedback on how our newsletter subscribers feel about our daily product. For social media, we look at engagement metrics, so comments, shares and reactions. We also look at things like number of responses to our callouts and how many people attend our events. I care most about metrics that indicate people have found value in what we’ve created and want to participate in our community. And, of course, we keep tabs on revenue.
It’s a new position, so in the bigger picture what does the company hope to learn through your work?
How to grow effectively. I’m tracking our experiments, big and small, so that we can learn over time what works and what doesn’t. Test, measure, learn, test again.
What can impact look like for WhereBy.Us?
We organize how we think about impact in four buckets: informed awareness, informed conversations, informed action, external recognition. We look for and track when someone tells us we taught them something or changed their mind, shared or talked about our work, took an action, changed a behavior, things like that.
Is there a great example you can share?
Our first experiment with Facebook Groups. Our Seattle brand The Evergrey launched “Embrace the Grey,” a Facebook group designed to help their community (and themselves!) make the most of winter there. Members participate in daily challenges, share ideas, start conversations, and we ask if they’ve changed their minds about winter after trying new things or considering different perspectives. The group is coming together IRL in March to celebrate a holiday that we made up and members chose the name for — Greybreak. This is a great example of how we can bring a community of people together around a shared experience and help improve lives in one way.
The group is open to the public — check it out here.
What pros and cons did you talk about before deciding to start using an impact tracker?
A lot of these conversations happened before I joined the team. There are lots of pros — making sure we’re fulfilling our mission to engage the curious locals in our cities, learning what qualitative value our projects and events provide, showing clients more than quantitative metrics. I think one of the pain points on this for many organizations is the effort and time needed to keep the thing updated and useful. My smart colleague Anika Anand kept the input process for our impact tracker as simple as possible.
Anything else on your mind right now related to metrics and impact?
WhereBy.Us’ ecosystem. Is it healthy? Are people who subscribe, or have conversations on our social posts, or attend our events, or pay us for marketing work, delighted with what we’re offering? Are they participating in our work on different platforms? I’m thinking about ways to measure and check in with each mini-community we’ve created so we never rely too heavily on any one space.
Jason Alcorn (@jasonalcorn) is the Metrics Editor for MediaShift. In addition to his work with MediaShift, he works as a consultant with non-profits and newsrooms.