Savvy organizations are listening to their customers to determine whether they're delivering the products or services that these clients expect and using these insights to make changes. In turn, business leaders are relying heavily on analytics to better understand the information that their customers are sharing with them.

Media organizations represent one of many industries jumping on the analytics bandwagon to seek an understanding of what content resonates with their customers and which areas need to change. This is especially important as several news organizations move from a print-based model to one that's more digitally based, and therefore more analytics rich.

Union Tribune San Diego is among those news organizations that recently moved to a digital and platform-neutral model and it was therefore important for the company to understand what it was doing right as well as identify areas of improvement. The company was cognizant of the need to determine what content resonates with readers and which articles were underperforming. They then shared the feedback with the writers and editors, allowing them to make the suggested changes to the content and writing styles.


Although U-T San Diego was using an analytics tool by Anametrix to look at traffic comparisons on a day-by-day basis, they weren't drilling into the data to determine the articles and authors that were most popular and were performing best in social media channels. When Joseph Gordon joined U-T San Diego in 2011 as the company's director of research, he realized that the company wasn't leveraging online analytics as well as it could and embarked on an exercise to change this, getting more granular insights into the different news sections, and later determining the performance of individual authors on similar beats. Because the tool was customizable and easy to use, the company was able to build a dashboard for all of the authors, allowing them to see for themselves how they were doing.


Some authors were wary of what analytics would reveal, concerned that the insight could lead to the omission of prominent articles in favor of trivial ones that were more popular with readers. There were also some disappointing results. "Sometimes a story that an author would have spent several hours writing would only get a couple hundred views," Gordon says.

Despite the initial disappointment, both managers and authors quickly realized that having this granular insight would allow them to invest resources on the stories that people wanted to read. Gordon uses the example of one particular reporter on the watchdog team who had one of the lowest numbers when U-T San Diego started leveraging analytics. By making changes, including becoming  more attentive to the wording he was using for headlines, tagging them properly, and leveraging social media, his pieces jumped from about 18,000 views per month to close to 100,000 monthly views.

The insights came in handy when U-T San Diego implemented a content paywall on the site. Gordon says most other news organizations saw the number of readers decrease by 40 percent after starting to ask for payment to access articles, but U-T San Diego saw a decrease that was less than half of what was expected, when taking into consideration the experience of other news organizations which introduced a paywall. "While we've taken a hit by making people pay for content, we're writing better content and leveraging it better, so it's minimizing our losses and helping us in the transition to paid content," he says.

Lessons Learned:

Listen to customers: Organizations need to ask their customers what works and what doesn't and then make changes to improve the experience.

Leverage granular analytics: By digging deep into data, organizations can better understand where they can make changes that matter.

Get staff on board: Employees might resist change so it's imperative for business leaders to explain the benefits of new ventures.