Weekly Reading Insights–Week 8

For this week’s reading, we take a look at metrics and the various tools available to measure our online activity.  Indeed, in contemporary online society and especially for digital journalists, it’s not just about writing an article to deadline anymore.  The capabilities of online tracking, measuring, and analyzing engagement have added responsibility to not only write good content, but to be capable of positioning it and promoting it correctly.  Because the tools are there, they should be used.  And knowing how to do that is crucial.

Analytics and metrics are obviously something we never needed to contend with when I worked in the television news business. Ratings operations like Nielsen have thankfully handled that task for the television industry  for years.  And the work of Nielsen was pretty much the only way metrics could be achieved for television entertainment and news.  But alas, the times have changed. That is easily evidenced just by signing on to Nielsen’s webpage.  The first headline that pops up is “Online Measurement” and this quote: “Understanding how your brand is doing online is about more than clicks and page views. It’s about the audience.”

In the readings for this week, I perceived a couple of categories when it comes to metrics: how to achieve metrics and the growing science of metrics.

In the “how to” category, I can already acknowledge that I have bookmarked Leo Widrich’s article titled “A Scientific Guide to Writing Great Headlines on Twitter, Facebook, and Your Blog.” This article is gold and a significant and practical resource for anyone who needs to ramp up their online headline writing.  These pointers are especially useful for me in particular. With the bulk of my professional news experience rooted in television news, writing headlines was something I never had much responsibility for or experience with.  Headlines per se don’t really exist in television news (although skill in writing them is relevant to good lead sentence writing).  But now, headline writing–and really GOOD headline writing–is a requirement for anyone who endeavors online, whether that endeavor is as a digital journalist or a blogger or even just a Twitter user.  Indeed, these pointers are good for all of us.

Specifically and most notably, this article specifies the importance of using action words in online headline writing, as well as being bold to ask for downloads and retweets. And very akin to the best practices for writing a television news story headline, Widrich wisely recommends using “you” when writing headlines in an attempt to make stories seem more personally relatable.

Widrich also highlights the importance of using photos–but not just any photos. He points out that images significantly increase online engagement, but even mores when they are images that can convey meaning without requiring text. Self-explanatory photography is an art, and an incumbent photography skill for online engagement.  Widrich speaks to brevity, as well. We all know the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter and how a requirement on brevity as such can be a challenge. But Widrich suggests to impose that same brevity in headline writing on Facebook and elsewhere. He specifically suggests to keep it under 80 characters.  Indeed, shorter is more engaging online.

I liked the advice in this article that suggested using Twitter for A/B testing, especially with blog headlines.  Using Twitter statistics to establish validity before placing a headline on a blog or elsewhere is inspired and something I would’ve never even thought of doing with my own online platforms. Yeah, gold. The healthy list of resources in Gerry Moran’s piece is invaluable as well.  I also bookmarked this one. Tools, tools, tools. Especially free ones.  This is a good thing.

As to what is apparently a growing science about metrics, the article by data scientist Brian Abelson was an eye-opener. I’m aware and familiar with metrics, having previously built my own public relations dashboard for another class at the University.  And because we talk about it in our graduate student circles even pertaining to our own personal social media, I have a command on the necessity and importance. But to read to what extent academic and scientific research is foraging into the arena was really compelling. In the article, Abelson details his research into how pageviews on the New York Times website can differ with the implementation of promotion of content on social media platforms.  Through a statistical and visual interpretation of his findings that were as detailed and complicated as any academic research article, Abelson establishes his findings that promotion increases said page views.

The author also details the often-overlooked aspect of resource investment into attaining metrics.  Comparable to the origination of the term “horsepower” that this concept’s evaluation of the strength of a machine does not necessarily take into account the “resources required to generate a given amount of force,” Abelson explains that likewise, news organizations can’t simply count pageviews on a website. These organizations have to account for the resource investment (i.e. cross-promotion/advertising, etc.) that is required to accomplished those pageviews.

This is all such a new realm of thought to me.  I’ve investigated my dashboard on my WordPress blogs and have enjoyed seeing those static results.  I have my own Klout score (and a pretty darn high one I’ve heard at 59).  And I’m constantly monitoring my level of engagement on Facebook–if for no other reason than to see how my ‘fans’ are enjoying my ‘show.’ 😉

To gain perspective from this article on the importance of the level of investment in attaining these metrics,  I feel like I’m even better equipped going forward with my personal online endeavors at self-branding but even more so with my “beat blog” on gay male stereotyping on television. Even a little better understanding at the science of metrics and the factors that fold into it will help me decide what my best strategies are as I proceed to attempt to leverage my blog and its content for the highest levels of engagement.

Overall, the readings this week did indeed provide more information than just the importance of measuring online endeavor.  As summed up in the piece by Moran, reach is about more than counting.  It’s about who you can reach and to what extent you can engage.  Moran’s simple pointers as to considerations of what time is best to post online content, attempting to reach beyond just your followers, finding the right followers, finding influencers, and branding correctly all point to the new role of responsibility that journalists face in the online realm that goes far beyond mere content and deadline.



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