Digital media disruptions 23 - audience metrics that matter, and the content brevity debate

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed September 11, 2018
It's time for another review of media disruptions, with the enterprise reader in mind. In this edition - audience metrics over vanity metrics, and subscribers for the win. And: content brevity versus long-form immersion.

Yep - it's time for another media disruptions gut check - the enterprisey review. Rules: I pick the impactful stories from my media disruptions channel and give them a hard look from the enterprise angle - along with an advised course of action.

This series is NOT geared for the media industry, but for enterprises looking to win audiences, and gain opt-in data the right way.

Lead story - Pinterest and Grubhub’s Former Growth Lead on Building Content Loops
by: First Round
key excerpt: "Converting those who see the content is a huge component of the loop. You need to make it sticky. If people came from Google to Pinterest and didn’t sign up, that's fine, but at the very least they should leave with a better understanding of how Pinterest can help them in the long run. So we were constantly experimenting with ways to unlock that."

What's a content loop? Basically it's about reaching users with content, who then engage with that content (sign up, trials, conversions), and then share that content (which completes the loop).

In a meaty piece from First Round, a seasoned B2C marketer opens the content strategy kimono. B2B companies can gain from the emphasis on content experimentation and measurement. Yep, it's about moving beyond vanity metrics:

But to take a step back, the key metric isn’t signups or traffic. The ultimate goal for a business like Pinterest is just engaged users. How many people are you actually providing value to? We measured that by looking at the repin rate because it also drove the quality of our content loop.

Content analytics will always yield surprises. Those who share your content isn't the only metric that matters. User commenting and other forms of thoughtful engagement - that require more than pressing a retweet/share button - matters more. I define engagement not just in actions but in this term:

Did the user give some real thought to your content, and take a thoughtful action that influenced their peers?

But the point is: this was the metric that drove user quality for Pinterest. And yeah, this is a big honking long-form piece - I'll get back to that debate below.

The FT will next year hit 1m subscribers, 17 years after putting up its paywall
: Ian Burrell

key excerpt: "Rather than a blunt “call to action” (ie a request for money), readers are tempted with more of the FT’s wares, according to their personal interest and geographical region. “If they are reading about Brexit we talk to them about what Brexit coverage they can read if they subscribe, or in the US we talk about the value of a subscription for a US reader.”

As The Financial Times heads towards 1 million subscribers, with digital subscriptions up 11 percent year over year, it's a triumph over the "Internet wants to be free" detractors who gave The Financial Times no shot at making this work. I'm not a big fan of The Financial Times paywall, but it's working for them.

The question becomes: would it work in B2B? B2B companies might not charge for content, but do they want the kind of data Financial Times has on its subscribers? You bet they do.

best course of action:

  • Financial Times lures in subscribers based on topical interests. Build out topical interest subscriptions well beyond a boring monthly newsletter. Micro-verticals that connect to your products are a good place to start.
  • The Financial Times is expert in taking users from one step in content consumption to the next, without losing them along the way by demanding credit card info too soon, etc. Figure out where your own content-to-conversion weak points are. Experiment with other tactics to win trust and loyalty - before data or payment is pursued.

Three audience attention metrics you should look at before conversion
Alexa Benatar

key excerpt: “If you value attention, you can really connect to an audience, market to them better, build loyal brand followers, and ultimately, make money."

best course of action:

  • Track which topics or angles resonate the most with your audience. Example: a food company that tags content by food ingredient.
  • Different content works for different channels. Make no assumptions about this: "e.g. video is engaging; long-form is dead.

As says:

Back in 2016, it felt like everyone in media and marketing was talking about pivoting to video. But was video actually engaging? Not necessarily, according to the data. As we found in the study, long form content was the most engaging across our network.

Axios reaches today's reader with “Smart Brevity” journalism
Shelley Seale
Seals shares the Axios view on the competitive news environment:

  • Complete less and react fast: Only 5% of readers actually make it to the bottom of an article.
  • Bounce quickly: Two-thirds of visitors leave a publisher’s Web site homepage before clicking on a single page or article.
    Share without reading: 59% of social media posts are shared without being clicked on.

Meissner (from Axios) called that last statistic about sharing without reading “terrifying.”

Seale then details Axios's focus on "smart brevity":

The news also needs to have brevity. “We know people’s attention span is non-existent. No one is reading 800 word articles. We’ve taught them to write in 200-word formats. Tell them quickly what they need to know.”

This Smart Brevity model the team came up with is an innovative storytelling format that gets to the point, telling readers what they need to know — and why it matters.

I can't lie - I find the obsession with content brevity disheartening. Granted, this is news consumption. But I'm not sure we can solve complex world problems in 200 words news snacks.

But that doesn't matter. What matters is:

Does content brevity matter to your audience?

Example: each of these mini-stories in this piece could be chunked out and published or emailed separately. However, sees statistical impact in long-form. The First Round piece I led off with is based off of an intentional long-form content strategy that is highly effective for them.

Assumptions about attention spans are just that. Stats and reader engagement will tell you what you need to know. I for one will not lose faith in the power of immersive content. But then again, I just binge-watched two seasons of "Sinner." I might not do that with predictive analytics webinars.

Bonus content - a few more stories worth tracking:

These pieces were picked from my curated channel, enterprise media disruptions. You can also view the entire digital media disruptions article series, including special features.

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