Texas Christian University: Increasing exposure to new visitors and improving performance using social media embedment

March 21, 2017


News organizations have long known that certain elements and topics can drive content. Visual elements such as photographs, graphics and even video can draw readers to stories. Stories about animals or crime typically pull readers, as well. But these are for the most part the tools of engagement for Legacy media. TCU360 is a digital operation, and as such we want to understand the relationship social media has to audience engagement.

The role of social media in journalism is still being defined. Journalists obviously use it to build brands, break news and drive traffic. But can it also be a tool of engagement that keeps the audience involved with the news site? If social media is a tool of engagement, what’s its role in the classroom?

During the course of the fall semester, we used data collected from Parse.ly to look for correlations between multimedia elements (specifically social media elements), content and article performance: Is there a relationship between the type of multimedia content in each article and its performance? Can a specific type of multimedia element should attract more views and extended the length of time on our site?

The major elements utilized in TCU360 articles include: text only, photo, video and embedded Tweets. The numbers and figures in this report are collected from running detailed reports on specific tags (“text only”, “photo”, “video”, and “embedded Tweets”). Our study involves crunching number from semester long reports. We examined metrics provided by Parse.ly and chose the numbers that support or deny our given hypothesis.

Content Review

We measured average engagement time per view and the percentage of new visitors to see how each multimedia element influences the reader experience and engagement. The percentage of new visitors is used experimentally to evaluate whether multimedia content incentivizes current readers to share the articles and expand viewership to new readers. We anticipated that multimedia embedment would increase the attractiveness of the article and push social media sharing, thereby increase the article performance.

We worked from the following premise:

  • Text only articles should hold viewers for as long as their reading.
  • Photos deliver content more concisely and more effectively; therefore, we expect photo embedded articles to have lower engagement time.
  • Embedded tweets are thought to draw more attention because the viewers might need to transition from one writing style to the next in reading one tweet to the next.
  • Video content engages readers for as long as they find video compelling.

What we found

The site average of engagement time per view is 0.81 minute.

Each category of content type outperformed the site average:

  • Photo 0.9
  • Text only 0.99
  • Video 1.04
  • Embedded Tweets 1.27

The site average for new visitor percentage is 98.43 percent. Each category of content maintains a much more loyal viewership base. Text only and video content maintain a more than 20 percent returning viewer rate. The returning rate for photo and embedded tweets is more than 10 percent.

In closer examination of top articles in each category, however, we realized that articles with multimedia elements are generally longer in length because the text is accompanied by Tweets and videos. Regardless of the length, readers spend more time with stories that have embedded Tweets.

In examining the content of the articles with embedded Tweets, we found out that multimedia inclusion usually prompts readers to do more than just reading. These articles typically enjoy large presence on social media: their content prompts readers to share on their own social media.

Articles with embedded photos and Tweets attract the most views and new visitors. Typically, these are lengthy articles covering big stories. They attract viewers from outside the TCU circle. Text only articles attract even fewer new visitors, but maintain a loyal viewership. These articles are often follow-ups to big events and football analysis.

Application in the classroom

Much of the content on TCU360 is produced by students in JOUR 30204 Reporting. These students produce a minimum of 12 stories a semester. In the spring, they will be asked to embed social media into at least some stories that correspond to the type of news they cover (football analysis versus the announcement of controversial speakers). They would then be asked to evaluate the performance of these stories can be compared with the rest of their work.

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