Remember when all we wanted to know was how a story “did”?
“Doing well” used to be easy to figure out — it was just about the clicks — but in recent years we’ve all been trying to figure out how to define success better, to get away from the allegedly empty calories of mere traffic and integrate other metrics into the equation (while secretly thinking that nothing still feels quite as good as the guilty pleasure of pageviews).
But 2016 will be the year that we will shift the focus. It will be the year that we begin to understand what success really looks like, and realize that it takes as many different forms as there are different audiences on different platforms.
2016 will be the year that success will be defined not only by the quality of the journalism and its distribution and reach, but by the many other storytelling features that create satisfaction and commitment in a reader: Was it the right story for that particular audience, on that platform, in that format, at that time? A story that is successful will be less defined by how it “does” than by the effect it has — by its impact on audiences.
Success will be less about a result than a relationship.
Metrics will begin to get away from the page and into the heads of our audience. We will go beyond pageviews and engaged time — which was very popular in 2015! — and we’ll begin to measure the effect that the actual storytelling has on users. How did that topic, or the use of video at the top of a story, or embedding a chart or a graphic, or this particular length, or the option to comment, or placing share buttons, or offering a follow function, or sending a push notification — how did each of these editorial choices affect your audience? How did it make them behave?
We’ll still be analyzing the story, but we’ll also be analyzing the audience. We still want to know how the story does, but we’ll also be very curious about what audiences do — and what that behavior tells us about them.
Have they behaved in ways that we think are signs of satisfaction or pleasure or contentment or surprise? Did they scroll to the bottom, click on the animated explainer, follow the topic, tweet a pull quote, click on a related story, sign up for an alert, comment? The way audiences act on a website won’t be the same way they behave on a social media platform, in Apple News, or on a chat app. So 2016 will also be the year of bespoke distribution, when we begin to treat every platform like a publishing platform, with its unique audience, its own publishing schedule and formats, and its unique metrics of success.
Because no matter where audiences are and how they behave when they’re there, we’ll be trying to produce journalism that will make them act in ways that prove to us they find our content good enough to come back for more, more frequently, and consume more. That tell us they are satisfied, fulfilled, intrigued — even seduced! — enough to stick with the relationship.
It turns out that success in the age of disruptive digital media may actually be a pretty traditional thing: It’s about getting hitched. No one, of course, has the secret to successful lasting relationships. But we’ll be working on it.
Renée Kaplan is head of audience engagement at the Financial Times.