59% of readers share articles without reading – here’s why we should care

A recent report in the Washington Post alerted us to the fact that 59% of readers share articles on social media without reading them – a number that sounds fairly shocking, but probably won’t surprise many online editors. Anyone self-aware enough will look at their own online behaviour and know that the ‘retweet’ is a simple way to make a statement without having to get too involved in the facts. 59% is a pretty high number, certainly, but jaws shouldn’t hit too many floors.

Journalism of hatred
Good writing should enrich. It should not incite malevolent action or misdeeds

What continues to surprise us here on the Content Insights blog is the idea that anyone would still be using social shares as a valid indicator of engagement. Aside from the fact that most WordPress social plugins can be easily gamed, it should be fairly obvious to most astute editors that the measurement of ‘sharing’, ‘retweeting’ or ‘liking’ on social media is simply the measurement of the click of a button. At best it’s a behaviour that says, “the words in this headline resonate with me somehow”; at worst, it’s the digital equivalent of a grunt. It tells you nothing whatsoever about what happened next.

And yet these continue to be valid metrics. Community managers will gleefully report back on the number of ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ a post receives, not really thinking beyond the figures they’re spouting or what they might mean in terms of genuine engagement. Again, it’s not terribly surprising. We’re still dealing with a culture of single metrics, where page views have long ruled the roost.

A pageview simply measures a digital moment in time. On its own, it means nothing – reader intent be damned

It’s a bizarre culture, to say the least, especially given that most editors and advertisers are beginning to acknowledge that the pageview is – just like the ’share’ or ‘retweet’ – the measurement of a single goal triggered. In this case, it’s the opening of a page in a browser. It doesn’t tell you whether the reader opened it on purpose, by accident, whether their cat stepped on the mousepad, or whether they’ve keeled over and hit your link on the way down. It might not even be a human opening the browser page, for all the measurement can tell you. A pageview simply measures a digital moment in time. On its own, it means nothing – reader intent be damned.

Editorial analyticsWhat exactly is CPI and how can it help with your content?

A more mature approach to the measurement of any analytics that deal with the written word (or, indeed, video views) is to look at the compounded metrics that you’re presented with. At Content Insights, we use something called CPI (Content Performance Indicator), which looks at a variety of these metrics to determine genuine engagement. CPI is fairly complex – it’s not the simple sum of all your single metrics. The performance of your content is measured by taking a look at the ratios and relationships between multiple metrics, ultimately showing you how much of your content your readers consumed, what they did next, whether it prompted them to come back again, and so on. The higher your CPI reading, the more effective your article was – or, indeed, your writer was – at engaging and re-engaging your readers.

We need to stop falling for the single-metric fallacy

So, as editors (or content marketers making use of editorial content), why should we care about the 59% statistic in title of this article? The main reasons are twofold: we need to recognise that our relationship with our readers is never what we assume it is, and we need to stop falling for the single-metric fallacy.

In fact, the second point can help us with the first. By using an indicator such as CPI that deals with compounded metrics in a robust and vigorous way, we put pageviews to bed once and for all, and we begin to see a far more accurate picture of how our readers engage. And if that doesn’t sound like a step forward, then by all means, keep fishing for ‘likes’.

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