News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Research

July 11, 2011

Smartphones: Who’s getting them, how are they using them? Pew report

Here’s one more reason for news organizations to focus on their mobile web sites: according to a new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, one fourth of U.S. smartphone owners use their phone for most of their online browsing…

On smartphones, users can often access similar content via a publisher’s web site and via platform-specific apps. However, the Pew report did not refer to apps as a channel for “online browsing,” so that statistic probably refers just to mobile web access via smartphones, not app use.

Pew also estimated that 35% of US adults currently own a smartphone—similar to comScore’s latest estimate that 33% of Americans 13 and over own a smartphone.

Pew also noted that 83% of US adults own a cell phone of any kind—which means that simpler, cheaper feature phones still are the most popular type of mobile device, used by about half of U.S. adults.

Other highlights from Pew’s smartphone report:

  • Affluence. 59% of U.S. adults from households earning $75,000/year or more own smartphones; but only 22% of people with household annual income under $30,000 own smartphones.
  • Education. 48% of U.S. adults with a college degree own smartphones, compared to 18% of people with no high school diploma.
  • Gender. 39% of smartphone owners are male; 31% female.
  • Age. “Smartphone ownership is highest among Americans in their mid-twenties through mid-thirties, as fully 58% of 25-34 year olds own a smartphone.”
  • Ethnicity. 44% each of African Americans and Latinos own smartphones; compared to only 30% of whites.

Pew offered more insight on mobile internet access:

“Even among smartphone owners who use their phone as their main source of internet access, computer (i.e. laptop or desktop) ownership is quite prevalent. Indeed, fully 84% of these individuals also have a desktop or laptop computer at home.

“At the same time, a notably smaller number have access to high-speed internet service, as just over two-thirds of these users (68%) have broadband at home. This is slightly above the national broadband average (61% of all adults are broadband adopters), but still means that 32% of these ‘cell mostly’ internet users lack traditional high-speed home access—even though they may go online from other locations outside of the home.

“...Usage of smartphones as a primary internet access device is highest among several groups with relatively low rates of traditional internet and broadband adoption—for example, those with no college experience as well as those with relatively low income levels.”

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 15, 2011

Don’t overlook search optimization, e-mail strategies: Pew research

While many news organizations are focusing resources on social media and mobile apps—but new research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project is a good reminder not to overlook some more basic (though perhaps less “cool”) tools for engaging digital audiences…

According to Pew, search and e-mail still top the list of most popular online activities. Specifically, 92% of U.S. online adults use search engines to find information, and 59% do so daily. Similarly, 91% use e-mail, and 61% do so daily.

In contrast, only 76% of online adults get news online. While Pew did not specify, this probably refers to deliberate visits to online news venues, rather than news stories encountered via search engines.

Pew notes: “E-mail and search form the core of online communication and online information gathering, respectively. And they have done so for nearly a decade, even as new platforms, broadband and mobile devices continue to reshape the way Americans use the internet and web.”

What does this mean for news organizations?

First, don’t slack off on search optimization. Does your content management system allow you to provide separate search-optimized headlines for web and mobile presentations of content? Are you using tools like Open Calais for semantic analysis, or tagging your content with geodata? (These are becoming more important for search optimization.)

Are you reading blogs like Search Engine Land to keep up with how search is evolving—and adjusting your CMS and editorial processes to adapt? Search is changing fast, and you need to do a lot more than pump keywords to keep up with it.

And as for e-mail: Do you offer e-mail newsletters or alerts? Are they available in non-HTML versions for easier mobile reading? Do they serve niches, and are they customizable? Can you generate them from your community calendar? Are you placing text-based ads in them? Are you using them to promote the breadth of features and services you offer (not just list your top stories)? Are you offering “e-mail this” links with every piece of content you publish?

These ideas may sound boring compared to a snazzy iPad app—but given the popularity of search and e-mail, they’re probably far more likely to support your bottom line.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 29, 2011

Social networking growing fast beyond young adults

If your news organization’s social media strategy has been mainly targeting young adults, it’s time to think more broadly. New research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicates that U.S. adults aged 30 and over are the fastest-growing segment in terms of frequent social networking usage…

Pew’s research indicates that for the first time, half of all U.S. adults (and 65% of online adults) now use social networking services such as Facebook. The only online activities that remain more popular are e-mail and search.

The percentage of young adults (18-29) who use social networking may have topped out at just over 80%, but older adults are catching up fast. Pew reports: “In the past two years, social networking site use among internet users age 65 and older has grown 150%, from 13% in April 2009 to 33% in May 2011. Similarly, during this same time period use by 50-64 year-old internet users doubled from 25% to 51%.”

Women tend to be the most active users—48% of women use social networking services on a typical day, compared to 38% of men.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

September 06, 2011

Geotagging: Pew research shows why news orgs should do a better job with it

“Where” is crucial context for mobile media—and for news. New research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicates that a significant and growing portion of U.S. cell phone users are using the built-in GPS to take better advantage of mobile services and content…

According to Pew:

  • “28% of cell owners use phones to get directions or recommendations based on their current location. That works out to 23% of all adults.” (This includes 55% of smartphone owners.)
  • “A much smaller number (5% of cell owners, equaling 4% of all adults) use their phones to check in to locations using geosocial services such as Foursquare or Gowalla.” (12% of smartphone owners do this.)
  • “9% of internet users set up social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn so that their location is automatically included in their posts on those services. That works out to 7% of all adults.”

Continuing a trend revealed in their earlier mobile research, Pew found that Latinos are leading in U.S. adoption of location-based services. Specifically, while only 7% of U.S. white smartphone users use geosocial services such as Foursquare or Gowalla, 25% of Latinos and 17% of blacks who own smartphones do so.

Bucking this trend, white smartphone owners are in the lead (59%) in terms of getting location-based directions and recommendations—followed by 53% of blacks and 44% of Latinos.

Is your CMS geodata-friendly? So far, most news organizations have done little to upgrade their content management system to systematically and consistently geotag every piece of content—either with a latitude/longitude point, or by a polygon defined by a set of such points.

Offering this kind of geodata is the key to integrating your content with popular geo services, from mapping to Yelp to social media and more—and even to search, which is increasingly personalized based on location and other user-specific context.

Mentioning place names as text in a dateline, headline, category/tag, or story body generally is not sufficient for locative services to integrate your content.

So now is the time to make your CMS geodata-friendly, and to train all your editorial and production staff in how to correctly geotag every piece of content you publish. This upgrade will position you to more easily capitalize on opportunities offered by whatever location-augmented services exist now and in the future.

Reporters, editors, and ad staff should be using locative media. This will help you understand opportunities to integrate content into locative services, identify potential partners and prospects, and more. It’s also a great tool for finding or fleshing out stories.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

September 13, 2011

Gallup social media poll shows retweets mean more than followers

Like many businesses, news organizations increasingly are using social media to build awareness of their brand and to engage consumers and communities. New research from Gallup shows how this really works…

A recent Gallup poll of 17,000 social media users identified why three key bits of conventional wisdom about how social media can build your business are myths—and how businesses (including news orgs) can use social media effectively to achieve their real goals.

One key myth, according to Gallup, is that social media initiatives drive customer loyalty and acquisition. In fact: “Engagement with a brand drives social engagement. Customer engagement with a brand drives social engagement, the degree to which customers will work for or against your company or brand within their social networks.”

In other words, the real benefits from social media come not from when you post your own headlines on social media, but when people in your network re-share your content to their networks. Such personal recommendations are far more valuable to brands, including news brands.

So rather than tracking your number of followers or fans, keep an eye on how often items get retweeted or otherwise shared—including via e-mail.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

October 04, 2011

Do your online ads offer good “reach”? Tips from Nielsen

Most advertisers know quite well who they want to see their ads. How can publishers prove whether advertising on your site or ad network will reach the right audience?

New research from Nielsen indicates how online publishers can prove which kinds of advertisers they’re a good match for—something that can help you hone your advertising prospects…

The Nielsen Company’s original claim to fame was studying broadcast audiences and translating that into “the ratings” both revered and feared by broadcast content producers, stations, and advertisers. They’re continuing this business model by researching advertising audiences in the digital realm—a considerably more complex and thus daunting challenge.

For their paper Reaching the Right Audiences Online, The Nielsen Company examined a beauty care ad campaign focused on women 18-34. This campaign served 213 million impressions across 14 websites and ad networks over six weeks. The result? It ended up reaching an estimated 40 million people, including only 10.5 million women.

In the ad world, “reach” is a key concept. Here the Wikipedia definition of advertising reach offers a good summary:

“In the application of statistics to advertising and media analysis, reach refers to the total number of different people or households exposed, at least once, to a medium during a given period of time. Reach should not be confused with the number of people who will actually be exposed to and consume the advertising, though. It is just the number of people who are exposed to the medium and therefore have an opportunity to see or hear the ad or commercial. Reach may be stated either as an absolute number, or as a fraction of a given population (for instance ‘TV households’, ‘men’ or ‘those aged 25-35’).

“For any given viewer, they have been ‘reached’ by the work if they have viewed it at all (or a specified amount) during the specified period. Multiple viewings by a single member of the audience in the cited period do not increase reach; however, media people use the term effective reach to describe the quality of exposure. Effective reach and reach are two different measurements for a target audience who receive a given message or ad.”

Nielsen offers some tips to publishers regarding how to prove their potential to yield good advertising reach:

  1. Know your users. Nielsen seems to recommend site registration—which may not be possible or easy for free news sites. However, consider offering special services, contests, games, quizzes, or premium content that might be a more contextually appropriate path for registration. This would not capture demographics for your total site audience, but it still might offer some useful insight on who’s most engaged with your site.
  2. Prove (and improve) your advertising effectiveness. Find some way to measure the effectiveness of your ads—clickthroughs, time spent on page, etc. Then “experiment to create increasingly more effective ad units or placements.”

    This could also mean experimenting with offering various activity options on your site (polls, games, photo galleries, watching videos, etc.) or in channels that drive traffic to your site (such as social media)—and then working with advertisers to incorporate their campaigns into placements on your site that involve the types of activities your audience likes to do. Actions are generally measurable, and advertisers value measurable actions most of all.

  3. Think media mix. Your audience probably does not experience your site in a vacuum. Rather, the media you offer online might naturally complement other media in newspapers, flyers, QR codes in ads or postcards, “schwag,” event sponsorships, radio, TV, magazines, and more. Consider how you might either create some presence in complementary media to increase the effectiveness of your reach—and keep an eye toward how to measure that effectiveness across the various media elements.


While Nielsen’s guidance seems mostly geared toward the needs of advertising for national brands, the basic principles can be applied to local advertising and niche ad markets. In fact, smaller advertisers might be even more willing to work with regional, local or niche sites to experiment with new types of ad presentations and measurements. 

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

November 02, 2011

Downloading mobile apps is popular; using them less so, says Pew

Half of adult U.S. mobile users now have apps on their cell phones. However, only half of these people actually use their apps on a regular basis—and nearly one fifth never use the apps they have at all. This is according to a new Pew study on phone and tablet apps, which holds clear implications for mobile news strategies…

“Having apps and using apps are not synonymous,” the report cautions.

Virtually all smartphones and most feature phones now come with at least some basic apps preinstalled (especially for weather, games, etc.). Indeed, at the time Pew did its research, only about one third of mobile handsets in use in the U.S. were smartphones—which means that a significant portion of apps are installed on feature phones.

What about tablets? Pew noted: “Among adults who have a tablet computer, 39% report using six or more apps on a weekly basis, while just 8% report using no apps regularly on the device.”

As of August 2011, 38% of all U.S. adult cell phone owners reported that they had downloaded apps to their phones—double the figure from a year earlier.

Downloading apps remains primarily an activity of those who are younger, more privileged (higher incomes and education levels), and who live in or near cities.

News is part of the category most popular with phone app downloaders. Over three quarters of app downloaders report downloaded apps that provide “regular updates on news, weather, sports or stocks.”

Still, this does not mean that news apps get used particularly often. Pew cited recent app research from Nielsen: “According to Nielsen’s quarterly Mobile Insights Survey, games continue to be the most popular apps in terms of use in the 30 days prior to the survey. In the second quarter of 2011, Nielsen reported that 64% of app downloaders in their survey had used a game app in the prior 30 days. Next most widely used were weather apps (60%), followed by social networking (56%), maps/navigation/search (51%), music (44%) and news (39%).”

Getting consumers to pay for apps presents a mixed picture. According to Pew, just under half of U.S. adults who download apps (about 16% of all adults) report having paid for an app at some point. Half of people who have purchased apps report that the most they’ve ever paid has been $5. But 17% have paid more than $20 for an app. Urban dwellers, college graduates, people from households earning at least $50,000 per year, men, and those aged 30 or over are especially likely to pay for apps.

Pew asked about mobile internet use—which mostly means mobile web access. Even though a mobile web browser is technically an app, consumers often view it as a different type of activity. Currently nearly half (48%) of adult U.S. cell phone owners access the internet from their phones—significantly more than the 38% who have downloaded apps.

A mobile-friendly web site is accessible to a broader mobile audience, which makes it a stronger base for a news organization’s overall mobile strategy—compared to native apps for smartphones and tablets, which are platform-dependent.

If you do develop smartphone or tablet apps, consider focusing on specific demographics or audience needs, rather than simply repackaging all of your content (“shovelware”). Pew’s research shows that apps are more popular with certain types of people, and for certain types of activities. Apps that allow people to do things they already enjoy doing, rather than simply absorbing content, stand a better chance of getting used more often.

Remember that downloads are not the best measurement of app success—usage is.

Perhaps the best way to ensure mobile success is to understand the composition, preferences, and constraints of your news org’s potential mobile market. Pew’s app research was national in scope, but mobile market characteristics vary considerably by geography. That’s why it’s a good idea to do your own local mobile market research.

But be careful about how you ask about app usage. Many mobile users aren’t really clear on the “app” concept.

Kristen Purcell, Pew’s associate director of research, explained: “There is some confusion among segments of adults about what an app is and whether their phone has any apps. We have found that virtually all adults know if they have ever downloaded an app or not. But 10% of cell owners answer “don’t know” when asked if their phone came equipped with apps. This is even higher (15%) among cell phone owners age 50 and older.”

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

December 06, 2011

NAA: Mobile traffic to news venues up 65% since last year

According to the Newspaper Association of America, mobile pageviews for news websites and apps are up 65% compared to a year ago…

“Many newspapers reported triple-digit page view increases to their mobile sites and apps,” said the NAA announcement. “NAA’s analysis is based on traffic figures for more than 20 newspaper media companies—large and small, public and private—that supplied year-over-year internal measurements of mobile page view traffic and unique visitors from September 2010 and September 2011. Unique visitor count increases ranged as high as 200%, with an average increase of about 70% for the publishers reporting.” 

The trouble with measuring the growth of mobile news audiences is that—especially for mobile apps, but sometimes also for dynamic or HTML5 mobile websites—the concept of a “pageview” can be rather nebulous and thus complex to gauge.

Also, this study did not take into account mobile traffic or engagement that happens via the social media presences maintained by news organizations.

Randy Bennett, NAA’s senior VP for business development, acknowledged that in this research NAA asked only for total metrics across websites and apps. “We understand that there are some inconsistencies in how news organizations report that data,” he said. “We didn’t attempt to track or separate out apps vs. sites.”

While this research did not uniformly gather data to compare mobile traffic to overall traffic, Bennett noted: “Anecdotally, some news organizations reported that 7-12% of traffic is now coming from mobile.”

NAA will be discussing mobile news traffic and trends in more detail in its upcoming benchmarking study, which is due out in early 2012. “We’ll have data from individual newspapers to get more detail one usage for different mobile device types and platforms,” said Bennett.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

December 09, 2011

PEJ: Twitter, blogs harsher on candidates than mainstream news

With the U.S. presidential election less than a year away, people are talking about the candidates. However, the tone of these discussions varies considerably by venue. Recent research by Pew’s Project on Excellence in Journalism compared the tone of candidate-related posts on Twitter, blogs, and the mainstream news—and found that mainstream news tended to be more neutral and less harsh…

A few highlights from PEJ’s findings:

  • “The candidate conversation on Twitter is tremendously active. Indeed the number of statements about candidates on Twitter vastly outnumber those offered in blogs by a factor of more than 9 to 1.”
  • “Congressman Ron Paul has enjoyed the most favorable tone on Twitter of all candidates examined. ...Paul is also the most favorably discussed candidate in blogs. While he trails significantly in the polls, and has received less coverage than every Republican candidate except Rick Santorum from news outlets, Paul seems to have struck a chord with some cohort in social media.”
  • “In the blogosphere, since May only one candidate other than Ron Paul-Cain-has received more positive than negative coverage, and that by the razor thin margin (32% positive and 30% negative). The most discussed GOP contender in the blogosphere has been Romney, but the tone has been mixed, with 33% of the conversation positive and 35% negative. Yet that is a much better result than Romney has had in Twitter.”

But PEJ also notes:

“Neither Twitter nor blogs function in general as a form of vox populi that either reflects or anticipates changes in public mood as expressed in representative samples of the population in polling. Sometimes these social media move with polls, but often they do not.”

Today, media is practically defined by fragmentation and personalization.  People choose where they get and discuss political news based on their own tastes and the people they know (or choose to listen to).

Some people’s daily media diet of news and discourse may include a great deal of political content; others, almost none. Some people seek out a wide range of political views, information, and topics; most probably stick to a more narrow range.

A bird’s-eye view of the overall tone of political discourse or coverage across three huge and intensely variable types of media might be very useful indeed to campaign strategists. But what about for media consumers, or even news organizations? Given how people really use media these days, it’s questionable whether this research indicates anything about how people experience that content, and how it affects them—and how it might influence elections.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

January 23, 2012

Tablet/e-reader ownership doubles over holiday gift season, says Pew

More of the U.S. media audience is going mobile, fast—as indicated in the dramatic spike in ownership of media-focused mobile devices over the recent holiday gift season. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found now nearly 30% of U.S. adults now owns either a tablet computer or e-reader device…

According to a new Pew report: “The share of U.S. adults who own tablet computers nearly doubled from 10% to 19% between mid-December and early January and the same surge in growth also applied to e-book readers, which also jumped from 10% to 19% over the same time period. ...The number of Americans owning at least one of these digital reading devices jumped from 18% in December to 29% in January.”

What caused this shift? The introduction of smaller, cheaper tablets such as the Kindle Fire. Although these devices are marketed as e-readers, they actually are modified Android tablets capable of browsing the web, doing e-mail, running apps and more—even though these devices have less functionality than an iPad, and the Kindle Fire in particular is comparatively more clunky to use. Pew’s data considered the Kindle Fire and Nook Color as tablets, rather than e-readers.

Meanwhile, the price of many simpler e-readers (those with e-ink screens and very limited online access, such as the basic Kindle or the Nook Touch) has fallen well below $100. In fact, the New York Times recently started giving away the Nook Touch for free to readers who purchase a $20/month Nook subscription to the Times.

Who’s using tablets more? Pew found a surge in ownership of tablet computers among college graduates and people from wealthier households (annual income over $75,000). “Additionally, those under age 50 saw a particularly significant leap in tablet ownership.”

For simpler e-readers, Pew found different patterns: “Ownership of e-readers among women grew more than among men. Those with more education and higher incomes also lead the pack when it comes to e-book ownership, but the gap between them and others isn’t as dramatic. For instance, 19% of those in households earning $30,000- $50,000 have e-book readers. They are 12% behind those in households earning $75,000 or more in e-book reader ownership. The gap between those income levels on tablet ownership is 20%.”

What does this mean for news publishers? News organizations, entrepreneurial journalists, and other publishers should recognize that e-books are now a bigger market than ever. So 2012 would be a good time to start repackaging your content (or creating spinoffs) in e-book form. See Online Journalism Review’s recent journalist’s guide to e-book publishing for advice on understanding this market and getting started.

Also, when crafting your overall mobile strategy, take the form factor, opportunities, and constraints of smaller tablets into account. Your responsive web design, mobile themes, or app design should should accommodate the Kindle Fire and Nook Color as core use cases. Also make your mobile apps available through Amazon’s app store and the Nook Color app store. Those devices don’t access the full Android Market.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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