Highlights from the J-Lab ‘Engaging Audiences’ Report

engaging audiences reportEngaging audiences and knowing how to measure that engagement is an ongoing issue for many news organizations. In particular, it’s even more pronounced for the news startups in today’s media climate.

Based on a national survey recently conducted of 239 “digital-first” news startups, nearly eight in 10 survey respondents stated that they “could not measure whether their engagement strategies were also converting readers into advertisers, donors, content contributors or volunteers.”

The survey was conducted earlier this spring by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism with funding from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation as part of the study, “Engaging Audiences: Measuring Interactions, Engagement and Conversions,” (pdf) by Jan Schaffer and Erin Polgreen.

This study highlights many of the best practices and challenges when it comes to community engagement practices among “digital-first” news startups. The Hub takes a look at a few key points from the study.

Engagement Strategies

Today’s news startups are not using one strategy but multiple approaches when it comes to engaging with the audiences they serve. The study highlights four kinds of engagement strategies being used by the news organizations surveyed which include engagement by:

  • Outreach – driving the audience to consume content
  • Reaction – inviting the audience to comment, chat about the content
  • Stakeholder participation – getting the audience to give their time, contribute stories, funding, etc.
  • Civic participation – empowering the audience to address community issues

Types of Engagement

When it comes to understanding the news audience, there are also a variety of ways the public interacts with the news organization. Over 90% of respondents said their audience members are social media connectors – for example, they are fans of the site or share content on Facebook. Another 81% said they have content contributors submitting photos, content or commentary to the news site. About 74% said they have email newsletter/listserv subscribers. Sixty-two percent said they have audience members who attend their events or participate in forums. About 55% are advertisers, 42% are volunteers for the organization, and 40% are donors.

Among the news organizations surveyed, they glean a variety of information from monitoring their community engagement. About 66% use the information for source or story generation, 65% for prioritizing their editorial content, and 63% for getting feedback on their efforts. Fifty percent use the information from the community to act on errors or clarifications in their news content.

Engagement Tools

A majority of the news startups surveyed said Facebook is their favorite tool for community engagement.

Aside from their use of Facebook, most of the news startups surveyed are using website metrics such as the number of unique visitors and page views as well as the number of comments made on the site for monitoring their online engagement.

Social media monitoring was considered a “secondary indicator for measuring engagement.”

A surprising finding in the study found that 79% of respondents don’t track or measure whether they convert site visitors to other roles (e.g. content contributor, advertiser, donor, subscriber, etc).

Report Recommendations

The study highlights some key recommendations for news startups, funders and journalism schools related to audience-conversion strategies that go beyond just measuring website traffic numbers or the shares or likes on a content item.

Some recommendations they suggest include:

  • The need for open-source tools to be developed to help news organizations have a better and deeper way to measure engagement and audience conversion.
  • The need for education through seminars and workshops on how to measure community engagement and how to understand the metrics that comes along with it.
  • The need for sharing best practices in engagement strategies among news organizations.
  • The need for funders to support the development of tools for measuring engagement and audiences at a deeper level.
  • The support by funders to allow grantees to hire an engagement or community editor to be on the news staff.

These are just a few of the major highlights from the study. For the news startup or existing news venture, there are several other gems of information in the report that should not be missed. The report can be downloaded here (pdf).