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Online news startups need help converting readers into supporters

A report by the Washington DC-based J-Lab has found that even though online news startups have access to a wide range of social media tools, they struggle with how to measure their impact. Respondents to the survey, which was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, said Facebook and Twitter were important for alerting readers to new stories but they did not know how to monitor meaningful engagement.

Nearly 80 per cent of the 278 “digital-first” startups who responded to the survey said they did not have the means to measure whether their social media engagement strategies were converting readers into donors, advertisers, contributors or volunteers.

Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab’s Institute for Interactive Journalism said:

These small sites can measure interaction with their content, but they don’t have good tools to measure meaningful engagement. This affects both the future of their operations and the impact they can have in their communities.

New analytics tools give news startups some useful data, but survey respondents said their top metric for measuring engagement was still website uniques and page views. One respondent said:

We feel these numbers only give us part of the information we need. We’re interested not just in breadth of engagement but more in depth of engagement.

The report identified a “broadcast” mentality as a weakness in measuring audience engagement. It recommends a number of best practices for news startups when measuring engagement and urged training in the use of currently available analytics tools like ThinkUp, Google Analytics and Hootsuite.

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#PPAconf: Why cover design matters for the Big Issue

May 10th, 2012 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Magazines

In the past year, the Big Issue has changed dramatically, regaining its reputation as a “magazine with teeth”, according to editor Paul McNamee.

Speaking at yesterday’s PPA conference in London, he said: “We are a very different magazine than we were a year ago and a radically different magazine from 24 months ago.”

The Big Issue has seen big changes since it teamed up with Dennis Publishing. With editorial now run from Glasgow and one national edition of the magazine, McNamee concentrated on  “the four Cs”, cover, content, columnists and community, to give the magazine some bite.

He told delegates: “The cover was the most important. [A bold cover] could attract a lot of attention and make a lot of noise.

“We had to find a way to find our own space again.”

Simplifying the cover’s design to one element, McNamee showed the delegates how the front page was markedly different to what it was before the magazine’s relaunch. He said: “[The cover has] one, single element to it every week that has power and impact and something to say.”

Along with enlisting footballer Joey Barton as a columnist and strengthening the magazine’s relationship with its vendors, McNamee said he believed the end product is something which will stand the test of time.

“We’ve been going for 21 years now – hopefully, we’ll be around for another few yet.”

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#PPAconf: How the Stylist got to know its readers

May 10th, 2012 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Magazines

For its 100th issue, women’s magazine Stylist wanted to try something completely different.

In a risky move that eventually paid off, the magazine put out a call to its readers to supply the content. What followed was an issue which got to grips with exactly what the readers wanted in a way quite unlike anything which had done before.

Lisa Smosarski, Stylist’s editor-in-chief, told delegates at yesterday’s PPA conference: “Through this process, we got to know [the readers] better than we could have in any other way. We were absolutely delighted with the product in the end.”

Handing editorial decisions over to the readers was a daunting prospect, but one which inevitably paid off for the women’s magazine. Equally daunting was handing over the reins to celebrity chef Nigella Lawson for an edition which took eight months to put together, a time-scale almost unheard of in the world of publishing, Smosarski said.

“We hadn’t expected that she’d spend eight months working on this issue – at times we thought we’d absolutely lost the plot. But spending time means you get something that bit more special,” she said. The issue was a commercial success and the caramel-covered Nigella on the cover made national news.

Just as the 100th issue changed Stylist’s dynamic with their readers, the Nigella issue changed their dynamic with celebrities. Smosarski said: “We learnt that there would be a few projects throughout our year that we should spent that much time on.”

Branding themselves “Britain’s thinking women’s weekly”, Smorsarski explained how Stylist’s risk-taking will take them to the next level in the coming year. She said: “We’re pretty confident this is going to be our most important year yet.”

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#wef11 – Panellists share advice on how to build communities

There were lots of nuggets of advice to take away from the community building session at the World Editors Forum in Vienna yesterday, from specific tips offered by panellists to inspirations to be taken from the projects they are involved in.

Some of the tips from three members of the panel have been collected below:

Jim Brady, editor-in-chief of the Journal Register Company

There is a difference between “shallow engagement” and “deep engagement”. He says shallow engagement examples are comments on articles which are not responded to, “you’re not really engaging just giving a platform for them to talk to each other”, user photo contests or sharing tools, which “allow the community to recirculate your journalism, but there’s no direct engagement”.

Deep engagement is about spending real physical time with the community, he said, such as through open newsrooms, hosting of events or curating work of community members. “This gives you feet on the ground”, he said.

But you have to give up some control if you want to work with the community, he warned, and you need them to view you as a partner, and then they will come to site more regularly, link to you more, tell their friends about you and “root for your success”.

Anette Novak, editor-in-chief, Norran

“It is about actions, not just words”, she said. Novak gave several examples of how Norran has been productive in responding to the views of the audience, such as starting a campaign about train service. A resulting poll showed 90 per cent of readers “were really happy about it”, she said. “They really felt we were on their side”.

Much like Brady, she also encouraged opening up the newsroom. Norran runs a project called eEditor, an online chatroom people can use from 6am until the newsroom closes to discuss the news list which is put out to the community to enable them to “co-create with journalists”.

Mark Johnson, community editor, the Economist

Johnson told the conference to think beyond the article, offering the example of month-long festivals the Economist ran which were based on themes of special reports.

He also urged the audience not to feel like they need to change who they are or what they do to fit in to the community, or feel the need to dumb down. “Work out what is special and unique and then decide how you can translate that wherever you want to build community,” he advised.

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Facebook lessons: from Paul Bradshaw and PageLever

Yesterday Paul Bradshaw shared his experience of running a blog entirely through a Facebook Page for four weeks, offering his thoughts on the month-long project in a post back on his Online Journalism Blog.

In the early days of the experiment he had already started noticing the pros and cons of the platform, from the impact of the 400 character limit on what he could write, to the possibilities presented by being able to post from a mobile phone via email.

So a month later here are his main reflections:

  • Facebook suits emotive material

The most popular posts during that month were simple links that dealt with controversy.

  • It requires more effort than most blogs

With most blogging it’s quite easy to ‘just do it’ and then figure out the bells and whistles later. With a Facebook Page I think a bit of preparation goes a long way – especially to avoid problems later on.

  • It isn’t suited to anything you might intend to find later

Although Vadim Lavrusik pointed out that you can find the Facebook Page through Google or Facebook’s own search, individual posts are rather more difficult to track down. The lack of tags and categories also makes it difficult to retrieve updates and notes – and highlights the problems for search engine optimisation.

  • It should be part of a network strategy

So, in short, while it’s great for short-term traffic, it’s bad for traffic long term. It’s better for ongoing work and linking than for more finished articles.

And his overall conclusion: Facebook should be used as “one more step in a distributed strategy” not in isolation.

Usefully in his post he offers a list of apps he used to integrate his Facebook content with his other online presences, which might a good reference point for others looking to use Facebook in a similar way:

  • RSS Graffiti (for auto-posting RSS feeds from elsewhere)
  • SlideShare (adds a new tab for your presentations on that site)
  • Cueler YouTube (pulls new updates from your YouTube account)
  • Tweets to Pages (pulls from your Twitter account into a new tab)
  • There’s also Smart Twitter for Pages which publishes page updates to Twitter; or you can use Facebook’s own Twitter page to link pages to Twitter.

There was also some interesting research published this month which looked at Facebook fan pages and engagement. According to the 10,000 Words blog a study was carried out by Facebook research company PageLever which suggested that as a fan page’s membership grows, engagement and page-views-per-member actually decreases.

From a purely aesthetic perspective, looking at the Fan Page and seeing that 10,000 people like your business on Facebook has its benefits. It makes you feel good.

But when it comes time to talk value, it can be a bit more difficult to find the silver lining. You might have 1,000 Likes on Facebook, but if you’re averaging around five Likes or comments per post, then only 0.005 per cent of your users saw the post and cared enough about it to respond.

Read more here…

Related content:

‘Readers may have the last say in what is and is not journalism’

How to: liveblog – lessons from news sites

#bbcsms: Al Jazeera developing new media tutorials for citizens

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#bbcsms: Use data to inform newsroom decisions, says panel

May 20th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Online Journalism

“Numbers are everything to our business” – this was the message from Washington Post‘s Raju Narisetti, speaking today at the BBC’s social media summit.

Narisetti outlined the “simple mission” for news organisations to have more people to engage with more of its content, and this is achieved through data – both numbers and importantly, context.

We’ve moved from our anecdotal newsroom to a newsroom where there’s a lot more data, a lot more measurement. Initial measurement was page views, but we very quicky realised we need to move to a world of context.

Data is not just about measuring eyeballs – it is a valuable resource in making decisions. You’re able to show with some data things we can stop doing, Narisetti said, without making an impact on the readership. This he said makes an “accountable newsroom” and creates an environment which is a lot more encouraging for digital journalists where they know the impact of their work.

Also speaking on the panel, which covered the cultural challenges for newsrooms trying to encourage the effective use of social media, was the Guardian‘s Meg Pickard.

She revealed that research by the Guardian has shown that when a journalist gets involved in the conversation online it halves the moderation need and the tone of the conversation “goes up”. This is a key example of such data being used to support proposals and ideas.

As for the culture of the newsroom the Guardian wants to focus on people and skills, she said, to “create a fertile medium” across the organisation and then trusting staff to “act as the intelligent adults that they are” and apply their best knowledge and judgement to the situation.

But, she added, there’s no point in forcing anyone to be active on Twitter from the get-go.

We should not be forcing someone to Tweet, it will be obvious, they will be grumpy and won’t know what they’re doing. So I don’t think on your first day when you’re handed an email address they should be told that you’re free to say anything you like about our brand to the world.

Within the first few months I would try and encourage them to do so, but by demonstrating opportunities to build the community and relationship with audience.

Journalism.co.uk’s own digital journalism event news:rewired – noise to signal, which takes place on Friday next week at Thomson Reuters, will dedicate an entire session to the issue of audience data in informing editorial and business decisions for news organisations. You can find out more and buy tickets at this link.

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NMA: P&G to test paying publishers for ad engagement

September 17th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Advertising, Editors' pick

Procter & Gamble, one of the UK’s biggest advertisers and owner of brands including Gilette and Pampers, is to trial ‘a results-based online ad model rewarding publishers for consumer engagement’.

The changes mean that publishers running P&G campaigns will get more money for engaged users e.g. those who watch video clips or register for newsletters.

Measuring ‘engagement’ will be tricky and several industry figures have said, according to NMA, that clickthroughs are still important.

This does, however, seem to be a step towards developing a new metric for the online advertising industry offering advertisers more than just rising audience figures.

Full story at this link…

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