This week in my Social Media Theory and Practice class, we read articles centering on the concept of engagement and what that means for both journalism and marketing. The first article we read was “Journalism As A Conversation: A Concept Explication” by D. M. Marchionni. In this article, Marchionni conducted 2 experiments. The first tested whether readers perceive conversational stories as different from traditional stories and as more credible and expert. The second experiment tested types of journalistic conversation on based on these two factors. Interestingly, the findings presented in this article suggest the conversational features of sameness and interactivity are key, not only in distinguishing this type of news but in predicting its perceived credibility and expertise. I agree — the more at home you feel in using/interacting with any given media, engagement is likely to increase.
The second article was selected chapters from Napoli’s “Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences.” This article was really good at explaining the current evolution in how we define and measure this behavior of engagement and what it really means for both media producers and advertisers. With today’s growing social media and online opportunities, it is not enough to know how many impressions an article or ad received. Producers and advertisers want to know how the audience engaged with the media and be able to hone it down to a predictive model for advertising sales. To get the full spectrum of engagement, Napoli explains that media consumption habits, content preferences, degree of engagement and levels of anticipation for and appreciation of content that is consumed is being examined. I thought the graphic demonstrating Audience Dimensions was very helpful in understanding the progression of engagement. It moves from awareness to interest to exposure, which branches to loyalty and attentiveness and then to engagement, which can encapsulate appreciation, emotion, recall and attitude, resulting in audience behavior.
Having this kind of data is critical in making content decisions for what can be produced and where to spend advertising dollars. At the university where I work, we often look at Google Analytics with our website and we do look at stickiness — how long does someone spend on a particular page or piece of content — as an indicator of interacting with what is on that page. It could also mean that they were looking for something and it took too long to find it. We have researched doing the user tracking on our website, where you give someone a task to find certain information, and then see how long it takes to find it, but it is costly.
I also thought it was good in this article about buzz and momentum online. I was reminded how the TV fandom of Veronica Mars pushed until they got a movie, and how years after the show Firefly went off the air, it still has a loyal following clamoring to bring it back. This ties into the key factor of emotion. However, I would be interested to read more about how that passion translates into the advertising shown during programming. I also thought the Advertising Research Foundation’s definition of engagement was good: “engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context.” It is creating an experience and being memorable. I think this is a much better definition versus distilling engagement down to recall – that may be an easy way to crunch numbers, but you’re not getting the full scope.
The third article for this week was “Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter.” This article outlined the 3 current ways people can communicate with each other on Twitter: @user, hashtags #, and retweeting. Of course, the point of the article is what does retweeting really mean in the larger context of communication. I believe retweeting is much like buzz, it creates momentum. It gives weight and credibility to a person’s sphere of influence or to the importance of what is being said. As noted in the article, retweeting validates and engages others. I know I feel pretty proud when I get retweeted or favorited on Twitter. Of course, retweeting does bring its own set of issues with authorship, attribution and communicative fidelity, but honestly, Twitter seems to be such a fleeting medium, I don’t know if this issues are as big of a deal in this arena. I also thought it was good in this article that it noted that although Twitter only allows 140 characters, “creativity comes with restraint.” I thought it was good to note what people are retweeting. This is important for distributing communications at the university where I work. People most often retweet: breaking news and retweet for social action.
The fourth article for this week was “Why comments suck (& ideas on un-sucking them). I think everything that was stated in this article is true when it comes to newspapers and comments sections online. I have to admit to being a lurker on comments sections after articles, especially when reading NYTimes, WashPost, Slate or even Chronicle of Higher Ed. Investing staff time in moderating comments and checking in on the conversation is critical, but hard to do when many newspapers can’t afford a full staff anymore. One thing I think wasn’t addressed here is the tendency of some papers to purposefully bait their readers with controversial stories. I have seen this many times with the Tennessean and how they promote stories on social media. They purposefully pick stories that are controversial (religion, welfare, abortion, gay rights, etc.) and then plaster them on their social media to drive comments. What it usually drives is a downward spiral of conversation because the same readers comment every time and argue back and forth.
The final article for this week was by Joy Mayer and Reuben Stern — “A Resource for Newsrooms: Measuring the Success of Audience Engagement Efforts.” The one thing that really stood out to me on this article was the explanation for the purpose of engagement, broken down into 3 categories: community outreach, conversation and collaboration. On community outreach, this means actively sharing your knowledge with others and enriching the community. On conversation, this means listening to others as well as talking, and to make adjustments as you go. In order to take that first step of engagement, people need to know that their voice will be heard. On collaboration, this is the highest form of engagement. It means we have shared interest in working together between reporter and reader.