Is there a more immediate and honest judgment of one’s work than live performances? I think not. To a rock band I once performed with, our running barometer of success was the ability to (a) get people in the door and (b) get them to respond – ideally by dancing and raising their arms and or at least standing or at least by smiling and rhythmic head-nodding. We would know minutes into the performance what type of night it was going to be.
Similarly visceral judgments await those of us who are migrating our content focus from print to web – getting people in, then keeping them in. Web analytics provide us with an immediate and unblinking judgment: Did or did not a significant portion of our intended audience look at our content or didn’t they? A glance at the pageview totals will say yea or nay. Did they stay for long? A low average-time-on-site and/or high bounce rate will say, nope.
Gone are the days when we as print journalists could proclaim an article a success if we received a handful of favorable calls and letters or emails. Today the online brand with the most opens, unique visitors and pageviews wins. And this will be true for individual writers and articles as well. Audience response is not everything – there always will be room for the important story that absolutely must be published – but metrics increasingly will be how the money people keep score.
As journalists we can win this game. We (not publishers) must become the primary marketers of our own content. Posting our content, once the coda of our work, now is setting off a secondary step of “placing” links in social media; monitoring metrics; and modifying story angles, headlines, ledes, etc. in a gambit to reap more pageviews. This duty is falling on the individual journalist as surely as the work of crafting the very story itself.