Don’t underestimate the audience

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In a world of short attention spans, one of the challenges media organisations face is trying to engage digital audiences for longer. (You’re still with me, right?)

This is particularly important because visitors who spend longer on a site are more likely to come back.

Last week, ABC political reporter Julie Doyle wrote a story revealing that 10 per cent of teaching students are failing a literacy and numeracy test. We immediately saw an opportunity to let the public try answering the questions themselves.

We got our hands on some sample test questions and I started putting it together using our quiz builder. The test required people to read a 560-word passage of text about “re-inventing traditional schooling” and then answer a series of questions. As I prepared the quiz, I felt like we were asking a lot of our audience: this was a long chunk of text and the writing was particularly turgid.

Despite some hesitation, I pressed ahead – but switched the order so there were a couple of simpler, shorter questions first.

As it turned out, I’d underestimated our audience. The quiz was a hit: it garnered more than 100,000 pageviews and average time on site was extremely long by digital standards: 6min 48sec on desktop and 6min 35sec on mobile. The story garnered more than 700,000 engaged minutes, by far the most of any article that week.

On reflection, I think the critical factor explaining why people were willing to invest that extra time is because the quiz offered a clear payoff: feel smarter than your teacher.

Making sure there’s a clear reward is critical to garnering this kind of engagement. It’s a similar concept to Vote Compass: people are only willing to spend time answering 30 questions about policy because they know the tool will deliver them something valuable at the end.

(Give me the tl;dr version.)

This post was adapted from an email sent to ABC staff about digital storytelling.

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