The News Blog – Measuring what matters

News UK Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Duncan, discusses how we measure the success of our content

We have been reminded over the past few days of the power of words and pictures to create an emotional reaction. News UK’s titles The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times have all covered events in Paris in their own way – all seeking to help their readers understand the events and their meaning.

Elsewhere, Nick Denton of Gawker spoke of a change in how his newsroom would define success. The company, once famous for rewarding staff writers based on page views, would bring back “a layer of editorial subjectivity” in assessing what good journalism looked like, to reward meaningful writing.

The fact this needs to be publicly stated says much of a measurement practice that holds all content to the same unique user count view of the world.

The social web has helped to create three distinct classes of content. All generate traffic, but with a different purpose in mind. Call them influencing, entertainment and commercial content for now.

The first type seeks to challenge and ultimately to affect the opinions of its audience. The second type seeks primarily to entertain and divert its audience, and has been the fastest growing category of the past five years. The third type is relatively new and seeks to generate ecommerce sales through ‘content marketing’.

Each of these types of content need their own advanced metrics to measure and compare performance and to gain future funding.

For commercial content this begins with a conversion rate and builds up to lifetime value, both tracked back to the original content that delivered the shopper to the top of the shopping experience. The purpose is in generating customer revenue.

For entertainment content it begins with dwell time and builds up to return rate, used as a proxy for habit. Typically the rate of daily active users divided into monthly actives – catchily known as DAUMAU – gives a sense of whether this is a daily habit or an occasional accidental flirtation. The purpose is in generating customer or advertiser revenue.

Influencing content is tougher to measure. It may seek to hold power to account through investigative journalism or – as we have seen over the past week – to bolster resistance to dark forces that challenge the rule of law. It may be part of a deliberate long term policy goal, like The Sun’s Fuel Price campaign or The Times’ Cycle Safety campaigns. The purpose is primarily in influencing opinions and outcomes.

For commercial and entertainment content we will increasingly be able to use automated measurement to know what good looks like. But as Ev Williams put it, “We want to create a platform that enables people to make an impression on others… it’s hard to measure any of that”

Content written with the purpose of influence must continue to be measured subjectively rather than lumped in with the other types.

If we want to continue to have journalism that stands up to be counted and that makes a difference, we have to stop trying to count it like it’s just the same.