“Working with metrics is all about trial and error, adjustment and retrial,” Elisabeth Gamperl, a managing editor in a digital storytelling unit, wrote last year in a popular report titled Overcoming Metrics Anxiety. “Every failure is a step closer to success.” Added an editor: “We have as many open conversations about when things haven’t worked as possible without everyone getting really upset.”
Up until a few years ago, dashboards were mostly thought of for cars. But now they’re a growing part of the metrics process for many media companies—though maybe not enough yet. A study last year reported that some of the biggest obstacles for membership and subscription growth include: a lack of marketing results to track and analyze reporting; inadequate membership dashboards and reporting tools; and a lack of skilled data professionals to manage and work with the data.
One positive example came last week from an enlightening article on INMA. Three members of the Nine Metro Publishing of Melbourne, Australia, team—the head of audience development, the engineering manager and a data engineer—wrote: “Our data and editorial teams worked together to create two dashboards that could be used to inform decisions about the content, structure, frequency, and longevity of our newsletters…
“It was important that the dashboards could be used by anyone involved or interested in the success of our newsletters”—journalists, editors, production staff, and subscription and commercial teams. Their newsletter sign-ups have grown by 60% in two years.
Here are 6 metrics and dashboard keys from Nine Metro Publishing and others:
Keep it easy to analyze. Nine Metro used colored heat maps for key performance metrics—click rate, open rate, sent count, cancel rate—providing an easy visual guide. “Journalists are not analysts,” wrote Gamperl (pictured). “Most of them became journalists because they care about words and stories… It is important to provide the newsroom with data it really gets value from.” If you provide too much, it has a counterintuitive effect of making people less engaged with it because people don’t know where to focus.
Go beyond clicks and opens. Nine Metro’s first dashboard focuses on newsletter signups and shows: Signups by member type and engagement; trends in both signups and cancellations for a period of time or individual day; and audience overlap between newsletter products. The second dashboard measures newsletter performance and shows: send count, open rate, click rate, and cancel rate for any selected period of time; the recency and frequency of a newsletter audience; and the reading journey of newsletter users within an email and in subsequent Web sessions.
Educate your editorial staff. At Industry Dive, the audience and marketing team creates actionable dashboards for the editorial team. “This not only helps us measure more of the things that matter to our audience, but it makes it really easy for our editorial team to get actionable insights and make [informed] decisions,” said editor-in-chief Davide Savenije. A central analytics hub for the newsroom has a repository with all the reports. During onboarding, a training session walks new people through those reports. “We are trying to build a culture of data analytics in our newsroom, and we want to bring a balance to that culture.”
Focus on measures that support your editorial and revenue model goals. “If your goal is audience growth, you must start measuring new users. If your objective is to generate more subscriptions, perhaps you should consider measuring conversion journeys in more detail, from anonymous to registered readers,” wrote Gamperl. It should be an ongoing process to work with—a positive feedback loop. The question should not be: What is the number? But rather: What can you do in response to this number?
Don’t expect your journalists to DIY with the dashboard and be done. One analytics team developed a list of questions they work through before submitting data to the newsroom. And avoid posting individual rankings or standings. Instead, promote information that is helpful to your content team like, “Did you know that most people read us between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.? Ultimately, wrote Gamperl, analysts should be seen as vital members of the newsroom.
Further examine poor-performing content. Repackage and republish in another context and see how it works. “If a story should work and it doesn’t, we try to look at the presentation, change the headline, change the picture and publish it again at another time,” one editor said. When comparing articles, make sure they’re getting the same play. To solve this problem, The Times of London “developed a score that compares articles only with equivalent articles promoted in the same spot.”