Businesses live and die by big data. In fact, there’s so much content production (2.5 quintillion bytes per day according to IBM) that we can’t begin to make sense of it.
However, metrics and optimization tools are here to help us. As a new blogger, I don’t have to spend my day counting the different IP addresses that hit my site. WordPress magically aggregates the number of unique views and slices and dices them to my liking.
Reporters don’t have to scour through 2.9 million Google results pages to find an acceptable definition of “quintillion.” They can mostly trust the first page because search engine optimization (SEO) terms push the salient sites to the top.
Metrics have enabled us to analyze, infer, and interpret large quantities of information. Metrics have shown newsrooms which headlines spike traffic. And metrics have infatuated leaders to the point where decisions can be made based solely on numbers.
If data is available, it should be studied. Highly clicked stories can let an editor know what’s resonating with people. This is especially helpful for news outlets who are still trying to determine how to monetize operations as advertising and subscription revenues have decreased.
According to a study by Nikki Usher, Al Jazeera, the Middle Eastern media network, has captured the attention of millions (e.g., 220MM households), established itself as a notable news source, and grown rapidly over the last 18 years, all while being financed by monarchs. i.e., “They got money.”
To some, a news organization being owned by rich, powerful people sounds alarming, yet it’s worked for decades. Around the world, readers have trusted the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN despite the names Hearst, Murdoch, and Turner. (Albeit, Al Jazeera’s financiers are also government leaders.)
As a result, Al Jazeera has been insulated from the economic penalties associated with being a news organization. It doesn’t risk losing readers from the creation of a pay-wall. It doesn’t have to compromise editorial decisions to only produce stories that will guarantee a bump in web traffic. And its staff have the luxury to focus on what they want to do: report the news.
Is it worried about profits? Of course! But execs and managers keep track of the bottom line. While Al Jazeera is in a plumb position to ignore perilous economic effects, it still keeps up with metrics. Usher found that individual reporters want to see who’s reading what. Managers want to see what audiences want.
Even if Al Jazeera’s modus operandi seems vague to others, it clearly understands that measuring engagement is critical. Because of social media, viewers can tell companies what they like and dislike. Yet, direct conversation is not the only way to communicate.
Everyday, we interpret emotion and feelings from nonverbal body language. Likewise, news organizations, journalists, and bootstrapping bloggers infer a lot from metrics. By tracking the behavior of users, we can stay one step ahead in this content-saturated world.