Is Your Audience Fast-Forwarding to the 30% Point of Your Content?

CONTENT CAREERING

FFLet me know if this has ever NOT happened to you.

In your own reading you’re tooling along until you come across a headline that promises instant benefits – say, “7 Tips on Vacationing in Hawaii for Less Than $1000.”

Yes! you think. Tell me how! And then you start to read the lead:

“Emily Smith works a stressful job as a nurse in Blytheville, Mo. Rarely does she get a chance for a getaway vacation, what with her job; her home responsibilities; her husband Gaylord; her three children Vera, Chuck and Dave…”

Huh? you think. Who cares about Emily Smith?

You’ve just been struck by the superfluous lead – the personal anecdote many journalism consultants have espoused as a way to “humanize” a (what they might think to be boring) story. In other examples you might be offered a juicy little bon mot – a witty bit of sociological or historical observation to open things up. In this case you’ve also been had by author-throat-clearing.

When I come across leads like these I want to pull out my red grease pencil, slice an “X” through the first three paragraphs and bark at the unseen author (from under my editor’s green eyeshade, of course): “Just get to the point!” Not that these little openers are always mind-drags, mind you. In the right situations they might be just the thing to pull the reader in. But more often than not, you’re probably better to cut to the chase and deliver on the headline’s promise quickly.

By the way the propensity of content types to be long on the windup is not isolated to text, as has been noted by online trolls and digerati. In video the Wadsworth Constant is based on the phenomenon that the first 30% of most videos are perfunctory and of little value. Such leather-lunged videos are perceived to be so widespread, in fact, that there is a “bookmarklet” that jumps a viewer straight to the 30% point of any YouTube video.

Are our audiences skipping to the 30% point of our content? Let’s hope not. But the next time I’m nipping-and-tucking a story into a small space, I won’t necessarily start at the end of the story or even the middle. I’ll start at the beginning.

(And maybe I needed to have done that with this very post…)

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Web Analytics’ Unforgiving Eye

ONLINE MEDIA

unblinking_eye

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.