Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — Longer news stories gain steam on mobile devices

TODD SMITH — Longer news stories gain steam on mobile devices

TODD SMITH

TODD SMITH

As the news media continues to tap into an ever-mobile public – with the nearly roughly seven-in-10 American adults who own a smartphone – it is increasingly using methods to appeal to today’s plugged-in, digital reader.

With both a smaller screen size and an audience more apt to be dipping in and out of news, many question what kind of news content will prevail.

One particular area of uncertainty has been the fate of long, in-depth news reports that have been a staple of the mainstream print media in its previous forms.

These articles allow consumers to engage with complex subjects in more detail and allow journalists to bring in more sources, consider more points of view, add historical context and cover events too complex to tell in limited words.

A unique, new study of online reader behavior by Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, addresses this question from the angle of time spent with long- versus short-form news. It suggests the answer is yes: when it comes to the relative time consumers spend with this content, long-form journalism does have a place in today’s mobile-centric society.

To understand how mobile users interact with news, the study utilized audience behavior metrics provided by the web analytics firm Parse.ly, a company that supplies real-time and historical analytics to a broad mix of digital publishers, including over 170 top media companies.

All told, Center researchers spent months digging deeply into the details of 117 million anonymized, complete cellphone interactions with 74,840 articles from 30 news websites in the month of September 2015.

The analysis finds that despite the small screen space and multitasking often associated with smartphones, consumers do spend more time on average with long-form news articles than with short-form. Indeed, the total engaged time with articles 1,000 words or longer averages about twice that of the engaged time with short-form stories: 123 seconds compared with 57.1.

While 123 seconds – or just over two minutes – may not seem long, and a far cry from the idealized vision of citizens settling in with the morning newspaper, two minutes is far longer than most local television news stories today. And that print newspaper over which people linger contains many separate stories, not just one.

And here the conclusion across this dataset is consistent: People are spending more time on longer stories than on shorter ones, suggesting that engagement can expand to meet the demands of a more in-depth piece.

Among the key findings of the study:

» Across all five distinct parts of the day, readers spend about twice the time with long-form news content on their smartphones as with short-form.

» The gap between long- and short-form engaged time also persists across all five ways visitors can arrive at news articles (such as through a link from an external website, the largest share of traffic overall – accounting for roughly 40percent of cellphone visitors to both short- and long-form news.

» There are some noteworthy differences in the nature of the visits coming from two of the larger social networking sites – Facebook and Twitter. While Facebook drives more traffic, Twitter tends to bring in people who spend more time with content.

» Just a small fraction of users who access either a short- (3 percent) or long-form (4 percent) news story on their phone return to it on that phone, but those who do tend to spend more time with it than users overall. Return visitors to long-form articles spent nearly five minutes with the article compared with more than two minutes for users overall. For short-form content, return visitors spent an average of less than two minutes of engaged time with the article compared with less than a minute for users overall.

» Both long- and short-form news articles tend to have a very brief life span. Fully 82 percent of interactions with short-form articles begin within the first two days after publication, as did 74 percent of long-form interactions. By day three, that rises to 89percent of short-form interactions and 83 percent of long-form interactions.

» An overwhelming majority of both long-form readers (72 percent) and short-form readers (79 percent) view just one article on a given site over the course of a month on their smartphone. Users who visited at least one long-form article are somewhat more likely to view multiple articles on their phones than those who initially accessed a short-form article, but the numbers for both are small: 28 percent and 21 percent respectively.

5 Twitter Features You Should Tap Into

With the proliferation of social technologies, there are numerous innovations to keep each network fresh, engaging and exciting for users.

This week, The Spin Cycle will focus on five must-use features in building your brand through Twitter:

1. Polls

All users should now have the ability to create polls from Twitter’s desktop and mobile apps. Using polls creates a new engagement opportunity with fans, followers and customers.

2. GIF keyboard

Third-party GIF keyboards have been around for a while via iOS and Android SMS apps, allowing people to quickly respond with a GIF instead of text or an emoji. Earlier this year, Twitter followed suit with their own GIF keyboard, which is searchable by keywords, reactions and categories and embeds the GIF like an image or video. Consider using reaction GIFs for quick responses to followers and customers.

3. Event targeting

Advertisers on Twitter often seek impact around conversations and moments that unfold on and off the platform, including sporting events, award shows, debates and the like. Last year, Twitter ads released an Event Targeting tool to help understand the scale of event-related conversations and potential impressions generated. The tool also creates audiences based on people talking about each event, making it easy to initiate a campaign targeted to the right people.

4. Ad groups

Twitter ads recently added ad groups to the self-serve advertising dashboard to better segment audiences and creative within campaigns. Advertisers can create ad groups unique to different targeting mixes with their own budgets and flights (which used to be set at the campaign level) to better control and allocate spend. Ad groups will also auto-optimize the best performing tweet in each group.

5. Universal website tag

Before March, Twitter ads offered two web pixels – one for conversions, one for creating tailored audiences for retargeting site visitors on Twitter. Both functions are now part of the new universal website tag implemented through a single snippet of code instead of creating a new code for each conversion or tailored audience..

Biased Mic | Facebook’s Slanted Newsfeed

Allegations that Facebook workers manipulated the social network’s ranking of popular topics for political purposes has triggered new anxieties about the influence of Silicon Valley giants through both their software and their employees.

Facebook denied a report that its “news curators” altered its list of “trending topics” by suppressing conservative viewpoints and promoting news stories that weren’t popular. Media scholars say using human editors to curate trending topics inevitably introduces biases, both conscious and unconscious. The report sparked widespread criticism, particularly from Republicans, and the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, John Thune, sent a letter to the social media giant seeking more information.

Outside Washington, the allegations revived long-simmering concerns about Facebook’s unusual power to shape the outlook of its 1.6 billion users, as the lens through which they view much of the world.

By seemingly suppressing conservative viewpoints and promoting liberal views flies in the face of balanced journalism. As we march into a new era of news, it is imperative to preserve objectivity in journalism in all forms – print, broadcast, online, and, yes, social.

For this serious lapse of balanced reporting, Facebook gets a Biased Mic!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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