Why community engagement matters

by Jason Preston on December 1, 2008

Community engagement is one of those buzzwords flying around the internet. Everyone “in the know” seems to think that you ought to have a “community manager” at your company, or that you should spend a lot of time interacting with your readers through twitter, facebook, ning, or even (gulp) real life events.

But why bother? What’s the ROI on community engagement?

There may not be many traditional ways to measure how much benefit your newspaper gets from fostering community, but there are some definite tangible benefits. If you’re working to build community around your newspaper, you may already be seeing some of these three benefits.

Quality comments

As I pointed out in the Ultimate Guide to Newspaper Curmudgeon Talking Points, there are a lot of reporters who have either given up on comments or never even given them a fair shake.

The truth of the matter is that the quality of your comments is directly proportional to the amount of time and effort you put in to fostering community. More quality comments means that your community building efforts are finding success, and it’s the kind of success to builds on itself.

If you have an active and thoughtful community, more people will want to participate. And I don’t need to tell you that more people commenting and having intelligent discussions means more page views, and more…

Time on Site

It’s problematic to rely on any one metric as a way to define success or failure. I think there are inherent problems with the page view, and there are similar problems with Time on Site.

That said, everyone agrees that time on site is a good barometer for how engaged your audience is, and therefore, a good number to have handy when you want to charge a premium for advertising space.

Successful community building efforts will lead to a non-trivial increase in your user time on site, as readers come to the site more often and stay longer for intelligent conversations in the comments.

Useful interaction

Every time your reporter doesn’t need to chase down her own lead, you save money.

Every time a user emails you to let you know about an error on your site, you can improve your user experience for thousands of people.

Every time a reader shares an article with their friend, you have the chance to gain a new reader.

Engaged audiences are the ones that invest in your product and your brand. They are the ones who will care if your paper survives, they will pay for merchandise, they will evangelize your product.

Now more than ever, you need an engaged audience.