metrics

Effective Engagement: Context, Conversation, and Booze

Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? Worldly discussions and cocktails! Similiar to sociable hosts, savvy journalists are conversation starters.

They pull relevant points from hour-long public speeches. They give background on municipal budgets worth $613 million. And they listen to the wants and woes of the community.

How have I engaged an audience in four months? By providing context, invoking conversations, and going where the people are.

For Olivia Pope the fixer, her end game is to make the public aware of a topic, gain interest, and ultimately change attitudes and behaviors. That’s the watered-down version of “audience engagement” as described in Philip Napoli‘s Audience Evolution. Some form of mental processing must happen before someone becomes engaged.

So how does a journalist grab one’s attention? By being provocative, news-breaking, or insightful. Provocation frequently incites argument and story-breaking is rare. However, informed commentary or detailed context can set a writer apart.

Geneva Overholser espouses that because of the proliferation of digital storytelling, wise journalists should spend time reporting extra details. No longer are writers limited by newsroom word-count limits. There’s no fuss over uploading a black and white versus a color photo. It’s even a cake-walk to cite other sources. (It’s elementary to hyperlink!)

Readers can gain more information from online mediums, therefore, it’s virtually our duty to add more insight, or context, to reporting. That’s what I’ve attempted by covering local events. Post-event quotes, venue descriptions, and historical details add oomph to scene blogging, (rather than posting aggrandizing announcements).

Yet, no matter how much data or detail one provides, social interests must be piqued. “If audiences are looking for a human dimension in the creation and distribution of news, they might as well be looking for themselves in that process,” said Doreen Marchionni in “Journalism-as-a-Conversation.”

Through Rising Stars, I found it salient to depict millennials through a casual lens. While notable city publications profile the careers of young do-gooders and their accompanying head-shots, they lack grit and grind. In real life, informality and humility win people over conversationally.

Thus, I took Marchionni’s advice and reflected what people saw in themselves. And it’s worked. Now, each Rising Star post has garnered at least 100 views and attracts new site visitors.

Lastly, one thing I’ve noticed that works in engaging my audience is…booze! How do I know? Because Mayer and Stern’s engagement tips mention the importance of metadata. Google “Memphis Patio Hopscotch,” and the first 13 results are all my doing.

I wasn’t Google-bombing; I simply added appropriate tags and strategically posted on public Facebook profiles. Further, I used the same tactic when reporting on local juke joints, and that entry clocked 1,551 views. Either the Internet has a drinking problem or Memphians are loyal to their barstools.

Okay, while beer and wine aren’t ubiquitous ingredients for engaging fans, they are apparently relevant to my audience. And that’s my parting point! Find what your readers want to know, and serve it up on a silver platter.

One of several Overholser's insights from her 2014 guest lecture at the University of Memphis. Click for a descriptive Storify.

One of several Overholser’s insights from her 2014 guest lecture at the University of Memphis. Click for a descriptive Storify.

They like it? Hey, Mikey!

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 UsherAl 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.

Visit Steadman's blog for quintillion explained.

Mark Steadman built this clutch quintillion infographic. Click graphic to see his Robin Leach-esque break-down.