NOLA Notes: Focus on ‘true’ digital audience

Another in a series of posts from notes taken at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.

You could be discouraged when Omar Sofradzija says the “true audience” for statenews.com, the student news site serving Michigan State, really is only 22 percent of the site’s visitors.

Or you could recognize that the “true audience” is a local, engaged audience that wants your local journalism and is valuable to advertisers. That leads you to then focus on building that audience without wasting time producing “clickbait” that really doesn’t serve your true audience or the advertisers who want to reach them.

That takeaway in two tweets from Judy Gibbs Robinson of the University of Oklahoma:

Build your digital future with smart local journalism? Yes, that’s the consistent message I heard from a bunch of smart people at NOLA13 — people who’ve done the deep dive into their analytics. Some of them are quoted elsewhere in my NOLA13 notes. Here are some highlights from a session led by Sofradzija and another by Erica Perel of The Daily Tar Heel at North Carolina.

Notes from Omar Sofradzija, editorial adviser at The State News (Michigan State):

  • Uses Google Analytics to see where are readers coming from – referrals and geography – how long they stick around, how many articles they read.
  • In a year, 1.6 million visitors. 822K unique visitors. BUT 2 out of 3 visitors stayed for less than 10 seconds. “They weren’t really your audience.” And additional 11 percent for less than a minute.
  • Only 22 percent stayed for at least one minute. They consider that their “true” audience.
  • People who stay over 60 seconds more likely to be hometown/alumni.
  • Users from East Lansing visit more pages, averaging 2.5 to 2 pages. They stay almost 3 minutes compared to almost 2 minutes for non-local.
  • Sofradzija: Most traffic NOT from home page. About a third to home page. 36 percent from referral traffic — Twitter, Facebook, etc. About a third from search traffic.
  • More followers on Twitter. 19,000 Twitter followers; that’s 4 times as much as Facebook. But Facebook generates more than twice as many referrals. (I heard consistently at NOLA13.)
  • In last 12 months, majority came from desktops. But 1,676 percent gain in mobile. Similar for tablets.
  • 30 percent from immediate area. 10 percent from big alumni cities nearby.
  • Building a regular following is critical.
  • To gauge “good calories,” (not “empty calories” of clickbait), check local unique page views. The State News wants 40 percent of page views to be local.
  • Check metrics throughout day because things change during day.
  • At Michigan State, traffic is heavier at start of week, dips in mid-week, up at end of week as students plan weekend,  nose-dive on weekends.
  • Exception to local audience rule: sports and other niches. He’s happy to get some sports traffic comes from alumni centers or other places with fans. Some of those people could be audience to build on. So for that, they’ll include alumni hubs. So measuring “true audience” is different for niche audiences if they will regularly return to your site.

Notes from Erica Perel, newsroom adviser at The Daily Tar Heel, North Carolina:

  • She uses Chartbeat, which measures when a user stops moving mouse for 5 seconds. They only count if you’re scrolling or typing. That yields “engaged minutes.”
  • Who is your audience? Age? New vs. returning readers? What do they share on Facebook and on Twitter? Which stories get comments? Which issues strike a nerve?
  • Who are your biggest referrers? Which sites link to you? What’s your social v. search v. linked traffic.
  • Be aware of “dark social” — clicks coming from a link in a chat or an email from a friend that don’t show up as social media referrals.
  • When search engines bring people to your site, is the bounce rate (one and done) different? Is time on site different? (“Clickbait” about Lady Gaga, etc., may draw lots of search engine traffic, but those users will bounce out quickly and never return. SEO optimization for your campus news, on the other hand, may help prospective local readers discover you as a valuable news source.)

And finally a few thoughts about targeting alumni and/or faculty online. My own philosophy is “students first.” The speakers mostly agreed, except as noted above where a lucrative niche, like sports, may be available.

  • Perel said nostalgia does very well for The Daily Tar Heel, probably because of alumni. Alums look for, and share, the paper’s regular “Kvetching Board” on Fridays.
  • We didn’t go far down this road, but I could envision someone trying a customized feed on social media for alums, especially if that audience could attract premium advertising. You might focus on development projects and on-campus achievements and aggregate news about and for alumni (partner with your alumni office?).
  • Ryan Frank, publisher of Emerald Media Group (serving University of Oregon), said staff and faculty might be an important audience on smaller campuses. Do a Q-and-A with the registrar, he said, and you count on all her employees sharing it on Facebook.
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About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on November 7, 2013, in Digital/social, Financial sustainability, NOLA Notes. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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