This free tool will tell you what the internet thinks of your work

Analytics tools including Chartbeat and Parse.ly are full of ways to see how your audience is connecting with your work. This week's tool gives you a personalized look at who's clicking and sharing your work.

Hare: Ren! It’s summer and, despite our best efforts, we’ve slacked a bit here for the last few weeks. But we’re back! Before we get started, do you have some personal news you’d like to share?

LaForme: I do! Starting on July 17, I’ll be tackling the digital tools beat full time. Besides reporting out more articles here at Poynter.org, I’ll be building some online and offline training, starting a newsletter, leading live conversations and other great things to help news organizations adopt digital tools. I’m pretty excited.

Hare: #ToolsWithRen! I’m also excited and can’t wait to see how this develops. OK, slowing down my happy dance to get to this week’s tool. What are we talking about?

LaForme: I’ve actually been spending a lot of time over the past few lazy weeks appreciating a tool you’ve covered before. Back in November, Facebook bought up CrowdTangle and made it free. We still don’t have access to CrowdTangle — there’s a hefty wait list — but their Link Checker is available to everyone. And it’s awesome. Have you checked it out?

Hare: No, tell us about it!

LaForme: So, the CrowdTangle Link Checker is not an app. It’s not a program. It’s just a Chrome plugin. But it’s got so much going on. It sits there in the corner of your browser and, when you’re on a page with your article, or anyone else’s article I suppose, you can click it to get a ton of information about how it’s performing on social.

The info is all broken up into two sections: interactions and referrals. That’s a boring way to say that you can see who shared your article on what social network and what effect it had on how many people viewed your article that way.

Hare: Nice! How do you recommend using Link Checker?

LaForme: The easiest way to use it is to keep track of who seems to be sharing your work and figuring out why that might be. So, for instance, if I notice that someone sort of interesting or unexpected has shared one of my stories, I might reach out and ask what drew them to it.

It’s an analytics tool on its face, but also a great portal to get into more meaningful engagement with our readers.

For example, I’m looking at the Link Checker info from our post about Scribe a few weeks back and seeing a couple of journalism-related organizations that I’ve never even heard of. I’d love to reach out to them to learn more about what they do and what interested them in our article.

Related Training: How to Build and Engage Your Audience: Taking a New Approach with Analytics

Hare: Would it be creepy to tweet at someone and say, “Hi! The internet told me you read my story. Wanna chat?"

LaForme: Not really! Well, maybe when you word it that way. But I think people are generally pretty tickled to hear from the authors of the articles they’re sharing. Even though we’re all pretty busy, there can be some good opportunities to have a meaningful discussion in cases like that.

Hare: Totally agree. (Clears throat, shares links to this month’s community/audience discussion in Local Edition.)

So let’s flip this for a second. Is there a way to not let it track what you’re reading?

LaForme: There’s no way to stop it because it’s pulling from social data. And though it might be sort of creepy to know that there’s a plugin out there tracking how often your work is being shared on social, I think it’s totally something we should lean in to.

I’m still looking at the post from a few weeks back and just noticing that a ton of traffic came from LinkedIn. I generally only go there to see what sorts of weird jobs my high school friends are doing these days, so that’s a conversation I totally missed. Had I known, we could have hopped in the conversation and grown the reach of that post even further.

Hare: So let’s see if I have this right: If CrowdTangle takes the temperature of the internet, Link Checker can check up on your work for you and help you identify where to put your energy on building connections and conversations about your work? I kind of dropped the metaphor, but is that close?

LaForme: I think that’s a good way to look at it! One more thing: I mentioned it works on any website. You can totally scope out your competition and see which of their articles have taken off or fallen flat on social. That could give you some good intel about how you might approach a similar topic, or help you decide not to cover it at all. You could also see who shares their stuff frequently and try to curry some favor with them. It’s a wild west out there and I think it’s totally fair game to see what the info tells you and how you could use it.

Hare: Ohhh, I will try this! Anything you wish this tool did that it doesn’t currently?

LaForme: I wish it gave me full access to CrowdTangle! I don’t know how many people have requested access, but I’ve spoken to at least half a dozen journalists over the past two months who are still waiting. In the meantime, Link Checker is good to have in your tool arsenal.

Hare: OK, we’re back next week with another cool tool. Before we go, I want to give you an update on a tool you introduced us to recently, Grammarly.

I’ve discovered (the hard way) that it seems to interfere with spellcheck on WordPress. I had a few really dumb typos in a story recently and only caught them thanks to our very sharp audience. So if you’re using it with WordPress, turn it off and then enable it once spell check gets a shot.

It’s also saved me numerous times in other places, but just a little “live and learn.”

LaForme: If you’re signed in, you can click to disable it on any site you want. So you could totally turn it off if you’re working on WordPress, either temporarily or permanently, if it seems like it’s causing problems.

Hare: We plan to keep these chats up even after you’re the official man of journalism tools, right?

LaForme: Absolutely. You’re going to get sick of me soon.

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of articles that highlight digital tools for journalists. You can read the others here. Got a tool we should talk about? Let Ren know!

Learn more about journalism tools with Try This! — Tools for Journalism. Try This! is powered by Google News Lab. It is also supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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