Here’s how to decide which engagement metrics you should track

What constitutes useful metrics depends on an individual newsroom’s goals and needs.

Hey y’all! Anita here. Fall has officially arrived, which means it’s time to put on your übergangsjacke. Shout-out to my CUNY colleague Anita Zielina for teaching me this handy German word, which means “transition jacket.” 🥼

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Übergangsjacke is a word I didn’t know I needed, but am now embracing because of its precision and therefore usefulness (also because it’s fun to pronounce). Catch-call terms like outerwear can be unhelpful categorizations for some shoppers because they’re too broad. In contrast, übergangsjacke specifically refers to the kind of outerwear you put on in between seasons, like trench coats and leather jackets, which makes it easier to purchase exactly what you need. 

That’s how I’ve recently been thinking about engagement metrics in journalism, which have long been debated and dissected in such articles as “Engagement Metrics are Hard to Measure but Maybe That’s a Good Thing” and “It’s Time For Better Engagement Metrics.” The best response I’ve seen to pieces like these is that what constitutes useful engagement metrics really depends on an individual newsroom’s goals and needs. 

As Hearken co-founder and CEO Jennifer Brandel wrote in her widely read 2018 Medium post, “It’s surely frustrating for folks searching for a universally agreed upon engagement metric that can be efficiently measured and monetized, that there isn’t one and there will likely never be one.”

This came to mind after a couple of folks in the journalism industry told me they’d checked out The Green Line’s Instagram account during this pre-launch phase, and said engagement for our stories had been inconsistent. Their comments struck me as uninformed because they didn’t explain which engagement metrics they were assessing, and didn’t ask me about which metrics I’m prioritizing. (Engagement on Instagram refers to likes, comments, shares and saves.)

Industry consensus says good engagement on Instagram falls between 1 and 5 per cent. Since The Green Line published our first story on Aug. 5, 2021, our overall engagement rate is over 10 per cent, which includes purely promotional posts. The average engagement rate for our actual stories is even higher, entering the 15- to 20-per cent range. 

More importantly, Instagram started hiding the number of likes on individual posts earlier this year, so saves — which aren’t visible to the public — have taken on greater significance. It’s the engagement metric I’m prioritizing because The Green Line’s value proposition is that we help young Torontonians survive and thrive in a rapidly changing city by producing journalism that investigates the way they live. So, saves are a strong indicator that our content — especially our journalism — resonates with our target audience because they find it valuable enough to save and revisit later. This thrills me to no end because it means so far, action-oriented gen Zs and millennials in Toronto genuinely find The Green Line helpful, which is exactly what we’re trying to achieve.

Take, for instance, our 2021 federal election guide; it currently has 85 likes, four comments, 34 shares and 36 saves. That means 42 per cent of people who liked the post saved it. Obviously, we should include a margin of error because not everyone who saved the post liked it, too, but it’s an instructive comparison that when tracked over time can show the increasing value of our posts among our target audience. 

Besides, The Green Line’s save metrics are consistent with the positive qualitative feedback I’ve been receiving from our target audience. 

What’s more, how many times have you mindlessly liked a post on Instagram without really interacting with it meaningfully, or seen performative sharing on social media? In terms of relevance for The Green Line, my engagement metric funnel would look like this from top to bottom: like, comment, share, save. 


Follow The Green Line

My team and I are having a blast building The Green Line! So, join us and tune in to our Instagram (short-form news), TikTok (comedy, op-eds, BTS), Twitter and Facebook to see how The Green Line develops.


Paid opportunity: Apply to be a Green Line fellow

The Green Line is currently hiring Business Development Innovation Fellows, as well as News Innovation Fellows who are interested in reporting on digital communities and sports, especially through a Toronto lens. I’m prioritizing applicants who identify as being from underrepresented communities in Toronto, which in this context means people who don’t see themselves reflected in legacy local media.

If you want to learn more, feel free to contact me for more information. Or if you’re interested, please send me your resume, cover letter and links to three clips (multimedia is preferred). 


Vote for me in #ONAElects

I’m running for re-election in the 2022-23 Online News Association Board of Directors election this year! Visit my ONA profile and check out this extended Q&A to find out how I’ve contributed to the digital journalism community. Then be sure to attend the virtual candidate forum, which takes place tomorrow at 12 p.m. ET, where you can AMA.

Polls close Oct. 18. Vote for me if you share the same vision for the future of journalism that I do — one that embraces both 🧠 and ❤️


In my community

  • Check out this Eyeopener article, which looks at how The Green Line reports on local solutions that impact young Torontonians the most, and encourages them to take action on issues that matter to them and their communities.

  • The Royal Society of Arts Connectors are a network of international RSA Fellows. I recently became the Toronto Connector, and am planning RSA Canada’s launch event with HEC Montréal economics prof and Montreal Connector Amine Ouazad. Reach out if you’re interested in collaborating!

  • ONA is hiring a Learning Director to oversee and create innovative training programs for digital journalists throughout the year, including its annual conference and the Women’s Leadership Accelerator. Apply here.

  • Watch this video of The Walrus’ Talks at Home: News & Platforms panel, which explored innovation, impact, and access in a digital world. It features myself, The Narwhal’s Emma Gilchrist, IndigiNews’ Emilee Gilpin and Le Devoir’s Brian Myles.


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