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How to choose the right data to monitor your growth?

March 29, 2022

Contributed by

Khalil A. Cassimally

The Conversation

photo of Khalil A. Cassimally

Khalil is the Audience Project Manager at The Conversation. He has grown audiences in the news media space for ten years. He also writes on a freelance basis, and has bylines in The Guardian, Scientific American, among others. He posts about user needs on LinkedIn.

One thing I hear all the time is: “There is so much data.” This is typically followed by: “I don’t know what to focus on. How do I know what data is actually important?”

The answer, it turns out, is deceptively simple: data needs to be in the service of delivering success. And if that success is growth – as is the case more often than not – here’s an even more succinct answer from Crystal Widjaja, an Executive-in-Residence at Reforge: “data is a strategic lever for growth.”

That answer may be simple, but applying it can be tricky. First off, it supposes you know what success means for your team or your organization. Secondly, it assumes you are capturing data that can give you clarity on whether you are moving towards that success.

At The Conversation, a global digital-native nonprofit news organization, we use a simple framework to ensure that data is in the service of delivering success.

Here’s the 3-step framework:

  1. Identify a north star – this is your top-level success.
  2. Set goals that feed into the north star – these are your more granular successes.
  3. Determine meaningful and actionable data that gives insights into those goals.

Below is an example of how we applied this framework:

Identify a north star

While The Conversation has a large viewership, we thought we could do better job on user retention. In the runup to the 2021 UN climate summit, we decided to prioritize increasing the number of loyal (or retained) users to our climate coverage. This became our climate team’s north star.

Set specific goals that feed into the north star metric

With the north star identified, we moved to set a goal that fed into our north star. We knew that first-time users were more likely to become loyal users when the content we produce addresses their needs. So, we set ourselves a simple goal: publish content that is even more valuable to users by addressing their needs.

Our north star and key goal were set: we would increase the number of loyal users to our climate coverage by publishing content that is even more valuable to users. The next step was to determine what data would give us insights into our progress towards publishing this more valuable content

Determine data that give insights into those goals

The Conversation user needs uncovered by user research: "Motivate me", "Educate me", "Keep me on tred", "Give me perspective"

We decided that the data we’d focus on would be the portion of new climate articles that specifically addressed our users’ need to feel motivated. Our user research had shown that more than anything our users needed to feel motivated but it was barely addressed by our climate coverage. When we compared the results of user research to our existing climate content, we found a mismatch between the needs of our users and the number and types of articles we were publishing.

Looking at the portion of new climate articles that addressed users’ need to feel motivated was a meaningful data. We knew what it signified: increasing that portion would make our coverage more valuable to users, which would, in turn, lead more of them to become loyal users.

The Conversation user needs uncovered by user research: "Motivate me", "Educate me", "Keep me on tred", "Give me perspective"

The data was also actionable. We had direct control over it. We could increase the portion by commissioning more content that would motivate our users — more guides, for example.

This framework helped The Conversation deliver success — so much so that we’ve since launched a newsletter on climate action that discusses solutions to climate issues. It very much addresses the “motivate me” user need, is valuable to users, and is increasing the number of loyal users to our climate coverage.

So, if you’re overwhelmed by the amount of data you have at your disposal and are at a loss as to what is actually important, don’t stress — the right data are simply the ones that help you deliver success.

Contributed by

Khalil A. Cassimally

The Conversation

photo of Khalil A. Cassimally

Khalil is the Audience Project Manager at The Conversation. He has grown audiences in the news media space for ten years. He also writes on a freelance basis, and has bylines in The Guardian, Scientific American, among others. He posts about user needs on LinkedIn.

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