While news outlets are increasingly open about the need to better engage their readers, definitions of what "audience engagement" actually is can be inconsistent at best and elusive at worst.
During a recent IJNet live chat, Rubina Fillion, digital engagement editor at The Intercept, emphasized that engagement is fundamentally about how much a news organization interacts with readers either before or after a story is published.
"That could be before or after a story's publication," she said. "It's about making sure readers are involved in the process, feel like they have access to the newsroom and aren't just consuming their content."
But why does engagement matter? Jake Batsell, an associate professor at Southern Methodist University who authored “Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences,” said engaging and interacting with readers isn’t just essential for staying relevant — it can make or break a newsroom’s financial survival as well.
With this in mind, chat participants shared some of their favorite free tools for measuring audience engagement:
Metrics and analytics
Google Analytics is the best starting point when it come to tracking your site’s metrics, explained Batsell. For tracking how well your organization is performing on social media sites, both Facebook and Twitter offer built-in analytics functions.
Additionally, tools like How Many Shares, SharedCount and CrowdTangle’s Google Chrome extension all offer a look into how many times your content has been shared on each social platform.
While analytics can give an effective snapshot of your audience’s browsing habits, they don’t show the full picture of how readers interact with content — leading to short-sighted strategies for newsroom growth and sustainability, journalist Frédéric Filloux recently argued in Quartz.
“Early in the online game, publishers embraced traffic metrics where they should have defended audience specifics and engagement,” Filloux wrote. “Most are now are stuck in that losing model. In retrospect, a terrible mistake.”
Many times, a reverse Twitter or Facebook search can be an effective way to find people engaging with your news content, said Ravin Sampat, senior producer of audience engagement at BBC News.
“Another way to measure engagement is by popping your link into Twitter and seeing who is talking about it,” Sampat said. “I do it all the time. I then go on and engage with that audience and sometimes give them other relevant content.”
Daniela Gerson, professor of community, ethnic and participatory media at California State University, Northridge, suggested using the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Impact Tracker, an open source platform for monitoring and visualizing stories’ long-term impact over time.
Metrics for News, built by the American Press Institute, can offer more strategic, engagement-based metrics as well.
Click here to see the complete chat transcript. For updates on future IJNet live chats, follow us on Twitter.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Aaron Crowe.