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Analytics are news media’s best friend — trust them

14 May 2014 · By Anette Novak

Only by bringing together their editorial, marketing, and analytics departments can news brands best determine the perfect blend of content to keep audiences satisfied and coming back.

One of the most crucial parts of news media operations is also one of the most ignored from a management point of view:

The content mix.

Instead of digital automation to control it better than ever before, many still rely on the editors’ gut feelings.

Your blend is your brand. And to defend your investment you need structure. Now.

Every journalist and editor knows how essential the content curation is for the overall reader experience.

Presenting too many long and complicated pieces, covering intricate political and financial matters, risks boring your audience into leaving. Too many quirkies might result in great short-term reader stats – but endanger your image in the long term.

These truths have existed as long as news media, even though strategies were becoming more fine-tuned during the 1980s and ’90s, when we designated fixed pages and formats for hard news or human-interest stories.

Those were the old print days.

But few publishers have brought this experience and know-how with them into the digital platforms.

Despite the fact the editorial output is our most important external communication tool, we rarely deploy a marketing perspective on it.

Instead, key performance indicators such as click-through rates or unique visitors, have created newsrooms that reproduce the same type of material over and over again. Often, they report on click-friendly crime and anti-social behavioUr – in a never-ending, gloomy feed.

Is this you and your news desk?

Then action is urgent, before your brand gets more damaged than it already is.

Bring editorial, marketing, and analytics departments together. And take these three simple steps that will lead you out of this cul-de-sac:

Identify your brand promise. If you don’t have a brand analysis, containing current position and future direction – create one. If you do, verify that everyone with hands-on responsibility over content understands how it relates to their work.

Workshop exercises (only to be carried out after the above is settled):

  • How do you trace the brand promise in daily operations?

  • Will delivering your current brand promise build long-term relationships with readers/customers?

Carry out an inventory of your content. Name your different topic families, categorise content. (And, no, I don’t mean by “news,” “entertainment,” and “sports.” I mean “police,” “accidents,” “politics,” “human interest,” etc.) This can be carried out manually – or, even better, automate it so that you can visualise the fluctuations live.Too many crime stories, for instance, should show up as a red warning sign.

Workshop exercises:

  • Can potentially “dark” stories be remodeled in order to fit in other topic categories?

  • How can a headline alter the “touch” or classification of a piece of content? Work some concrete examples.

Effectuate a content audit. Compare the brand promise and the current output. Does the content mix actually support the brand-building in the direction you wish? If not, how do you intend to address this imbalance?

Workshop exercise: Create a checklist or a protocol that will support the editorial staff in creating the optimal mix.

Experienced colleagues know how easy it is to detect who is calling the shots around the desk, just by taking a glance at the output. Every editor has her or his personal touch when curating. Sometimes these fluctuations are subtle; sometimes – when you have newcomers around – they can be flagrant.

Your brand is your most valuable asset. Prepped with notions like “credibility,” there are decades of investments behind the current value.

It is a mystery to me that so many news organisations don’t defend this business critical asset with rigid structures.

Analytics could be your best friend, by:

  • Revealing patterns no editor would ever detect.

  • Giving you the necessary facts to make the right decisions.

  • Supporting editors in creating the right mix, at the right time, for Web, mobile, tablet, wearables, or some other platform yet to emerge.

The numbers can help you get the letters right. Algorithms can guarantee you do not sway away from your brand promise. A promise that should be about so much more than credibility, like top-class, individualised curation. Like building a better society.

And, in the process, “making people smile or cry,” as one of Sweden’s most influential bloggers, communication ace Johan Ronnestam, puts it.

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About this blog

I am Anette Novak, CEO of Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, which conducts world-class applied research and innovation, creating groundbreaking user experiences. Also, I am an international media consultant, World Editors Forum board member, gourmet, long distance runner and Francophile – mainly because the Parisians walk and talk as fast as I do. I am former editor-in-chief of the Swedish regional media house Norran. I believe in digital opportunities for publishers, open innovation. The future belongs to media companies that are able to maintain the trust of the audience, who define themselves as active community players, and who are able to create amazing experiences.


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