Every story counts!

Every story counts!
6 March 2017 Erik van Heeswijk

Every story counts!

Every media organization seems to be concerned with metrics nowadays, how to measure success; of stories, of channels, of people. This is not unexpected. Thinking about metrics is a symbol of change, especially in the digital world where everything is measurable. Numbers are getting more important by the minute. Even in media and journalism.

Awareness of change is always a good thing, but there is also a hidden danger in this search for the truth. I do not mean mistakes in measurement. For example, Facebook announced this week that they inflated their video metrics by an amazing 80%, probably by counting 3 seconds views as complete video views. That is not the metric discussion advertisers like. Accountable numbers need to be correct and transparent. But as said, that isn’t my main concern.

There is also the long term huge problem that different people mean different things when using the terms ‘reach’, ‘view’ or ‘engagement’. This makes it hard for sponsors and advertisers to determine whether a big campaign is worthwhile, and makes it impossible to compare the success of different media organizations. This is the reason why a lot of people argue for a standardization in metrics, though it is very difficult to unify the scattered digital landscape. Its a big problem. But it is not the problem that keeps me awake me on a daily basis.

Differentiating metrics

What truly interests me is the hidden puzzle, what I like to call the “differentiation problem of the metric”. There is no ‘one-metric-fits-all’ concept, not even within the editorial room. Some stories are meant to deliver eye-balls, some to reach out to new people, and other stories are made to deeply engage the fans (look at the Hygiene, Hub, Hero model that YouTube propagates). Page-views, bounce rates, sales numbers, they all count, but not every time in the same degree..

In theory, every story is on the intersection of at least 5 dimensions – target group, channel, timing, business value, effort – which has a direct effect on the metric that is used to measure the story’s success. The logical consequence is: first decide what you want to achieve and then pick your metric accordingly. Do the math!
If your articles are like children you set into this world, you need to work with them on their own terms and the role they play in overall success. Take care of them, make them grow, and treat them equal but not as 100% the same.
This story-specific approach is the most pure methodology, but not very practical for now. It costs a lot of time to have a metric discussion on every article. You need trained people to implement such an advanced content strategy and a solid data architecture. When you do this hastily, you will get a editorial room in total confusion.
It is not a big gamble to argue whether this is the direction that content strategy is heading. The right technology and people will come and will integrate this seamlessly into the workflow. The ‘story specific metric’ has the future.

Transition

In the meantime, how do you make the change, what are the concrete steps you can take? Given that you have the right data available, I think it is worthwhile to make a gradual transition, to step away from simple reach numbers towards more real impact indications. Let your team get used to consumption metrics, like ‘total viewing time’ or ‘total session time’ or amount of article read in average session. Keep your eye on the bounce rates, on the effect you have on your audience. Then try to get some grip on your fans; measure engagement such as comments, likes, shares. What makes your fans really take notice?

Eventually after you mastered all these components,  the strategy of the ‘story specific metric’ comes in sight. When you visualize this in a simple diagram, with a generic set of formulas, it looks like this.

 

This is just a brain dump to label the problem, and the first line of thinking towards a solution. In the next blog post, I will sketch an advanced think model for matching metrics and story strategy, please feel free to jump in!

The details set aside, the lesson for media and content marketing teams should be: do not treat success metrics only as the end result, but discuss the steps necessary to get there. Make every story count!