User engagement is increasingly important to European media organizations. It is changing the way news is produced and consumed. Readers, listeners and viewers can now communicate directly with news providers. Newsrooms can also interact with their audiences, to conduct research or seek feedback. Media no longer has the monopoly over news, instead, audiences expect to help set the agenda.
Media outlets are adapting to these changes in different ways. While user engagement is relatively advanced in the United States, European media sometimes struggles to catch up. A recent report from Austria revealed that its media is responding slowly and selectively. Most of the 36 news outlets surveyed say they actively try to engage their readers, but primarily to obtain feedback, rather than to involve them in content production or reporting.
The Engagement Lab and Fjum forum journalismus und medien wien jointly asked 103 Austrian media organizations about their progress with user engagement. Just over one third (36) of them responded to the online survey. They were asked the following questions: How important is user engagement in relation to interacting with users? What role does user engagement play in developing brands? Which formats are being used with what objectives? What do the media know about their audience?
Nearly all (35 out of 36 outlets) said they use specific tools and formats for actively engaging their users. Most engaged their users to obtain feedback, receive comments and encourage suggestions.
While news organizations said they welcomed feedback and suggestions from their audiences, they are wary of more active user involvement. A majority of the surveyed media consider readers to be “not so important” or “not important at all” as sources for stories. Directly involving the audience in the news gathering process, either in content production or in reporting, is not considered a priority and consequently it is not approached strategically. Most of the surveyed media said only about 20 per cent of their users were active.
One in three of the Austrian media outlets surveyed involve their users in the reporting process, mostly through traditional means, such as surveys or polls. Innovative approaches, such as taking advantage of the “wisdom of the crowd” or of “user power” when analyzing data are not being offered by most media. Real time interaction with users, for example via ‘hangouts’ or similar live events, are not employed either.
The survey found that Austrian media value user engagement, but only for increasing circulation and website visits, and to boost brands. The economic benefits of increased interactivity are still unclear, but according to the survey, attracting advertising revenue is considered higher priority than increasing subscriptions and circulation. In Austria, it seems that the paradigm shift towards user engagement is taking place – but slowly.
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