Book Review: Medill on Media Engagement

“Content may be why people visit a site, but community is why people stay.” – Business Week executive, late 1990

If you are a business owner or work anywhere near media, marketing or branded content, listen up. Many of you are still loading up your “content shotgun” and blasting it out (in one-to-many fashion), blindly connecting your Twitter feed to your Facebook wall, posting updates or links to blog posts and not ever returning to interact in a conversational way with your audience (the people who follow you). Those of you (yes, you), now officially have two options. 1) Quit what you’re doing, because not only are you doing it wrong, but you’re probably pissing people off, or 2) read Medill’s 2011 study on Media Engagement and learn how to do it right.

There is no longer an in between.

If you’re like me, you have a healthy ‘suggested reading’ list and have to decide which book recommendations (Amazon or otherwise) make it into your wish list or shopping cart. Titles like McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, the classic Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, the oh-so-trendy Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives and Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations pop up for me daily.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these titles. They provide a range of humor, encouragement and education, and if you’re a small business owner who has moved their entire advertising budget from print and (God forbid) radio to paying a college student to maintain your Facebook page, they’re probably telling you what you need to hear. And if you’re growing your lists (and your bottom line) and sleeping better at night, then more power to you. The problem is that all these titles tell you ‘you should engage,’ and not enough tell you how or why. These books state the well-educated opinions of their respective authors, and while most are entertaining (and some are even well-written) none of them are necessarily wrong, and this is where they succeed. If someone thinks you should engage your audience, you could try to debate them, but you’d lose.

What sets the 249-page Medill study apart from many of the self-help new media best-sellers is that it is crafted around volumes of rich, empirical research and data – a collaboration between Northwestern University’s Media Management Center, the Readership Institute and the Medill School. To give you a sense of the history Medill has with the subject, George Gallup (author/creator of the Gallup Poll) instructed a course called “Reader Interest” at Medill back in 1931.

It is, at its worst, a “textbook” – using big words (like “receptivity”) and speaking sometimes too directly to larger businesses or media companies. At its best, it is a comprehensive, 21st century map of how we interact with media that obliterates once and for all the line between concepts like “news” and “entertainment.” It is the new media bible, a definitive resource for those attempting to understand and succeed in audience engagement and other than your own market research and case studies should be the only book you grab in the event of a fire at the office.

For the purpose of the study, media “engagement” or “experience” is defined as a “set of beliefs that people have about how a media brand fits into their lives.” The touchy-feely terms like “Reading this newspaper makes me feel like a better citizen” or “I get good ideas from this website” are nicely broken down into visual experience/sub-experience structures that fit nicely alongside or as a layer to other integral maps, behavioral or personality type systems, etc.

According to contributing editor Bobby Calder, “Experiences are created by contact points – moments in which the consumer experiences the brand in a way that clarifies or distills the concept.” This conveniently allows for all media experiences to fall squarely along content (or channel) lines, and on all monetizable platforms (print, online, TV, radio/podcast, event). See previous post

It’s worth noting that in the world of news media, this type of research is not new. What is new, however, is that the study doesn’t revolve around the product or the standard media colloquialisms (cover story, features, listings, prime time, directories, talkers, pilots) so much as how the media product feels in its various forms and is perceived by the end-user.

Some of the user experiences (based on some 20 years of study) are as follows:

  1. Anchor/Editor Camaraderie – “I feel like I get to know the people writing the articles.”
  2. Civic – “Reading this paper makes me more a part of my community.”
  3. Community-Connection – “I’m interested in input from (or would like to meet) people who visit this site.”
  4. Co-Producing – “I contribute to the conversation on this site.”
  5. Entertainment/Diversion – “Once I start surfing, it’s hard to leave.”
  6. Identity – “Reading this paper is a little like belonging to a group.”
  7. Makes Me Smarter – “It’s educational and addresses topics of concern to me.”
  8. Talk About and Share – “I share things I’ve read with other people (discussions/arguments).”
  9. Timeout – “I feel less stress after reading it.”
  10. Utilitarian – “It helps me find things to do or make decisions.”
  11. Visual – “I look at pictures/video even if I don’t read a story.”

The study also explores Ad Receptivity (“I look at the ads as much as I look at the articles.”) and also touches on negative (or disengagement) experiences – Lack of Focus, Negativity, Overload, Political Bias among others.

But what actually motivates someone to engage with a media company (or business)?

Medill provides the following “participation drivers”:

  1. Anticipated reciprocity – Receiving information in return
  2. Increased reputation – Becoming known as an expert
  3. Sense of efficacy – Making an impact or difference
  4. Attachment/commitment – Brand loyalty/pride

Consider your audience (there are no wrong answers).

How are you interacting with them on the platforms or touchpoints that they engage with?

Are you simply promoting yourself or are you growing a community?

What would it take to change your behavior in order to leverage an already content-hungry crowd to participate in more conversations per day?

For those on the fence, this book is recommended for anyone producing content (online, in print, or otherwise) but if content is your business, it is an indispensable game-changer.

Thank you, Medill, for shaving an hour or two off my next focus group.

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One response to “Book Review: Medill on Media Engagement

  1. Pingback: Content Delivery: A 7-Platform Publishing Model « The White Elephant | Reflections on Media and Philosophy in the Integral Age·

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