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Getting audiences to engage with stories is important to all media organisations, but this process can have different nuances for each outlet, influenced by the business model and overall strategic goals.

Renée Kaplan, head of audience engagement at The Financial Times, and Mary Hamilton, executive editor, audience, at the Guardian discussed how these goals differ in their organisations, speaking at the Online News Association’s (ONA) conference in London today.

Here is a breakdown of how Hamilton and Kaplan view their roles, how they think of metrics in their newsrooms, and how they approach comments on stories.

On how they define their work…

In her role, Kaplan said she tries to define what goals news organisations have in common, irrespective of whether their background is in print or broadcast.

“No matter what your media is, it's about getting your content out in front of the right audiences.

“What is new about audience engagement versus distribution in a digital world is the idea of a relationship between you and your readers,” she said.

Internal engagement in the newsroom is as important as interacting with the audience, she added, even thought the two are often “talked about in a different bucket or a different venue”.

The Guardian’s Mary Hamilton focuses on working out what the organisation wants people to do in response to the stories they produce.

“People can do so many things now – the range of available actions [for the audience] is so much greater, but we still want people to take some sort of action in reaction to our journalism,” she said.

“If an outlet starts writing news headlines for Facebook, for example, everyone starts doing it until Facebook changes the algorithm.

“There's a tendency to feel that there could be a one-size-fits-all approach."

On finding relevant metrics…

Both the Guardian and The Financial Times pride themselves on having a “data-informed, not data-led” approach to information about the audience in the newsroom.

The two outlets have developed internal dashboards for editorial analytics, Ophan and Lantern respectively, albeit slightly different due to their contrasting business models.

The FT’s newly launched Lantern platform harnesses data about the title’s subscribers from a commercial standpoint, combined with traditional reader metrics such as page views, time spent on page and a user’s behaviour on the website.

“Last month, more than 1,000 people in our newsroom logged into Ophan to see how people have reacted to their stories,” Hamilton said.

“As the Guardian moves more towards membership, we try to define what is the loyal behaviour we expect from people.”

Hamilton and Kaplan both agreed that page views are still an important editorial metric and often the common ground among newsroom members having the conversation about audience engagement.

“Page views are super important. It’s really difficult to understand what a session is or a unique browser, it's not the same as a person or user in a business that's not subscription-based,” explained Hamilton.

“[Page views] are vital, but they’re useless alone,” echoed Kaplan. “They’re valuable alongside other metrics, such as time spent on page, people returning to your website, sharing and liking a story.”

On the value of comments…

In January, the Guardian decided to cut down on the number of places it allows readers to comment on its website, in an attempt to better moderate them, rather than remove them completely.

“One of the issues with growing your audience is that comment moderation and management don’t scale easily, in the same way that other parts of the organisation might,” Hamilton said.

“People who comment on your journalism are likely to be the people that care about it the most. Caring doesn't necessarily have to mean in a positive way, and that’s fine,” she added.

As the Guardian reconsiders its approach to commenting, the FT too is in the process of developing a comment strategy.

Kaplan said the outlet is experimenting with different ideas, such as highlighting positive comments more prominently in stories to encourage people to participate in the conversation, or allowing readers to send in tips.

“Our comments are valuable to us because our commenters are our subscribers.”

“And people in similar business models will know that retaining existing subscribers is as important as getting new ones."

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