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3 Things standing in the way of engaged time metrics

March 31, 2017 | By Clare Carr, Vice President of Marketing—Parse.ly @clareondrey

The idea of the “Attention Economy” as a currency on the internet goes back to at least 1997. So, 20 years later, we should have this engaged time metric figured out, right?

From a technological perspective, we do. We can accurately measure the time a reader spends actively reading a page, versus measuring how long a browser tab was left open with a page. Ads can measure engagement or time spent viewing.

However, we need to separate the technical ability to measure engaged time from the adoption of the metric as a valuable evaluation construct. Has the reality on the ground changed when it comes to using time to understand an audience?

Adoption at an Individual Level

We attempted to answer this question by partnering with Digiday’s CUSTOM studio on a research survey. Based on responses of almost 300 members of the Digiday audience, engaged time has gained a great deal of traction with journalists and reporters.

Time-on-page (the broader term we used in the survey questions) ranked the highest for what people use to evaluate their own work.  If you interpret this chart another way, it indicates that 50% of people working in publishing see time spent with their audience a personal goal for their work.

However, we also asked about which metrics people were responsible for reporting back to their company. When asked this way, time-on-page dropped to the sixth position – out of nine total choices.

While individuals may understand and value time-on-page as a way to show that an audience cared about the work of a piece, organizations are still prizing pageviews, impressions, and social sharing.

The disconnect between these two sets of responses emphasizes the gap between how writers view their relationship with their audience and that relationship’s value to the business. If the writer’s goal is to engage the reader, but the business still makes money from impression numbers, how can those two align?

Barriers to Organizational Adoption

In addition to the data from the survey, the report revealed specific challenges that companies face in trying to adopt any new metric or goal. Here are three takeaways:

  • Inconsistent messaging from leadership. Though executives are usually not immersed in analytics every day, leadership still sets the tone for how employees view company success. According to one of participant in the research, inconsistent messages from management can make things more confusing: “It shifts with whoever is in charge. Some new person comes on and says, ‘This is our prime metric. This is what we’re shooting for.’ And then they go off and work somewhere else and someone else comes in.”
  • The right vs wrong metric mentality. Conversations need to stay away from “the right” metrics and lean more towards what success means. Employees want their work to be successful; focus on that first and then connect the metrics to how to get there.
  • A lack of expectations and benchmarking. With new metrics, you have to indentify the status quo in order to tell if something is performing better or worse than expected, or to show improvement over time. For metrics that aren’t as intuitively understandable as pageviews or visitors, what kind of benchmarking or expectations can be set?

Over the coming years, which organizations will ensure that the goals for their audience relationships, employees’ work and business models will align? And which will be able to adopt time as a measure of how their audience values the work they do? I suspect we’ll be able to tell soon enough.

The full research cited in this article can be found on Parse.ly’s website.

clarecarrClare Vice President of Marketing at Parse.ly, which partners with digital publishers to provide clear audience insights through an intuitive analytics platform. She writes and speaks about all the ways companies can use digital analytics to improve their operations and reach their audience goals. Prior to joining Parse.ly, Clare spent five years on the publishing side as the Director of Marketing and Online Operations at Greentech Media. Previous to that, she did digital marketing and business development at ThePoint.com, the precursor to Groupon, and Venus Zine. Originally from Ohio, she graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Environmental Sciences.

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