December 2, 2010

Reynolds Journalism Institute

Given that publishers have a metric and a Web dashboard to report nearly every online reader activity, how do we recognize actions that aren’t as easy to measure?

Joy Mayer notes that when it comes to measuring reader engagement, mere numbers don’t tell the story:

“Quality counts. Meaning counts. Investment counts. Not everyone who’s invested is going to share content on social media or jump into the comments section. Wendy Norris, a reporter in South Carolina, recruited citizen volunteers to help her crowdsource a story about condoms. Seventeen volunteers went to 64 stores to help her see how condoms are being sold. Seventeen highly engaged readers, who’d never show up in analytics.”

This illustrates a problem that newsrooms everywhere are facing when it comes to social media. How do you measure a return on investment for an effort that may produce awareness, loyalty and future customers, but that doesn’t immediately drive page views?

Web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik wrote in a 2007 blog post that “engagement is not a metric.” He suggests that Web publishers offer surveys on their sites and ask straightforward questions such as: “Are you engaged with us?Kaushik also recommends keeping a close eye on other metrics that reflect engagement, such as time spent on site and average pages viewed.

As Mayer points out, though, you shouldn’t let the numbers distract you from other, less metric-friendly efforts that will also help you meet your long-term goals.

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