The Benefits of Using Data in the Content Creation Process

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A couple years ago, a quote that really resonated with me came from The New York Times digital-first report: "At the [NYT] far too often for writers and editors the story is done when you hit publish. At Huffington Post, the article begins its life when you hit publish."
But today, articles are beginning life earlier than that. Time Inc. has cut down on many of their analytics tools to focus on just a few. Writes Sarah Sluis in a post on the site AdExchanger: "[] moves data-based decision-making earlier into the creative process. In the past, the audience team would focus on promoting articles once they were produced. But [this] provides both real-time and historical data about article performance that editors can use to shape a direction of a story.
"We are a much more performance-driven culture than we have ever been before," said Time Inc. editorial director Will Lee. "You can see it on their screens, on what people are showing each other on their mobile devices. It's more of a part of the conversation than it's ever been."
Making performance part of your daily conversation is a big step for a publisher. In the past, maybe "Analytics Friday" would be enough every week. But with all the data available to us, looking at performance just once a week probably doesn't lead to the best outcomes.
The idea of using data to help shape your stories is a logical next step and fits snugly into a growing trend: why wait until something is finished if we can positively redirect it or fix it in the middle? The New England Patriots didn't wait for the end of the Super Bowl to change their strategy against the Falcons in January.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about Facebook being granted a patent that, if realized, would allow them to track the emotion of its users and modify message content based on that emotional input. The thinking is that this type of technology could help track how people feel during a conference—leaving time to adjust on the fly.
"The resulting modifications could range from choosing an appropriate emoticon to adjusting text size. The patent application lists methods of predicting emotion using relative typing speed, how hard the keys are pressed, movement, location and various other factors."
Time's page views on People magazine increased as much as 70%. They attribute that to "better insights through the tool and a change People made in how it displayed gallery stories."
"We can see our network at scale, and the results of certain decisions that teams make," said Kerry Doyle, digital business market research and insights manager, who oversaw the analytics implementation.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…