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What 2016’s most engaging content teaches us

February 14, 2017 | By Terri Walter, Chief Marketing Officer—Chartbeat @Chartbeat

From the U.S. Election and Brexit to the summer Olympics; from terrorism to the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, 2016 was filled with stories that 2016 captured our attention.  But everyone wants to know what type of content captures the most engagement.

It is heartening to see that it was quality journalism from well-established media outlets, not fake news, that people engaged with most. Chartbeat’s Most Engaging Stories of 2016 ranked the most captivating articles of the year from quality publishers as defined by Total Engaged Time — the total amount of time visitors spent actively engaged in content.

The Chartbeat Most Engaging Stories of 2016 were selected from over 46 million articles on over 50,000 global sites, and registered over 2.5 billion minutes of active engaged time.

From 538’s General Election predictor, which received more Engaged Time than the top five stories of 2015 combined, to personal narrative, longform and interactive, the top stories span categories and formats. More importantly, they teach us many lessons about how news is consumed and shared.

  1. Interactive, data-rich storytelling is alive and well. It’s no surprise that the topic that garnered the most amount of Engaged Time during 2016 was politics, which had nine of the top ten stories. In many ways, this was also the Year of the Interactive. Election prediction pages, live results pages and interactive maps from the likes of 538, BBC, Fox News, CNN and the NY Times captivated our attention and drove billions of engagement minutes.
  2. First person journalism resonates and gets shared. From major investigative pieces rooted in undercover work to the moving letter from a Stanford student to her assailant, first-hand accounts affecting personal and societal rights captured attention as well as empathy. (See “A sexual assault victim’s powerful message to her Stanford attacker,” a first-person narrative from The Washington Post). These powerful, personal narratives were strongly driven by social traffic, demonstrating that when we emotionally connect with a story, we’re more apt to share and discuss it with our network.
  1. The context of premium publisher environments matter.
    The articles that made the list and came out on top, regardless of topic, were those that stayed true to a publisher’s voice and audience. According to our research, readers that came direct to a publisher’s site were the most loyal and engaged in terms of time spent. Those who came from social and search were less engaged. In other words: All impressions are not created equal.
  1. Promoting articles is not just an art; it is a science.
    It is not enough to just write compelling content anymore. Consumer reading behavior varies by device, time of day and referrer channel (i.e. social, search). It also demonstrates specific patterns based on content type (i.e. breaking news vs longform). For example, as we’ve seen in previous Chartbeat research, in times of breaking news like the election, consumers use search first to find what they are looking for, then after the event, they turn to social to interact and share.For publishers producing quality content, it is critical to understand these audience platform patterns across social and search and how best to promote your stories.
  1. We expect consumer engagement around quality journalism to continue well into 2017.
    Publishers didn’t shy away from covering the truth in 2016, and if the early stories of 2017 are any indication, we expect this to continue. In fact, readership so far in January (of politics in particular) is seeing extremely high pageview and concurrent levels, indicating that consumers value quality journalism more than ever.

Terri Walter, the Chief Marketing Officer of Chartbeat, works every day to ensure that publishers and newsrooms have the tools and insights they need for quality content to thrive. A digital marketing veteran of 20 years, Terri has worked over the course of her career to position high potential brands and spearhead thought leadership in media and analytics at companies including DoubleClick, Razorfish and Microsoft Advertising.

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