What are you doing with your treasure trove of audience data?

Sure, audience data can inform product experiments and ways to engage harder-to-reach audiences, but it’s rare to hear of a newsroom that is expanding or an organization launching a newsroom based on that data. That’s what Crain Communications did in Michigan in 2023 with the launch of Crain’s Grand Rapids thanks to the audience engagement data it gleaned from API’s analytics platform Metrics for News (MFN) and its own internal culture of product experimentation.

Crain has published Crain’s Detroit Business since 1985, but in recent years the publisher used the analytics insights from MFN to help the 108-year old news organization identify a new market. Crain has been using MFN since 2019 across many of its newsrooms to experiment with identifying the most valuable metrics that drive retention, reach, and engagement as well as trying to reach younger readers on LinkedIn.

“There’d long been a feeling that we could make inroads in West Michigan, and we were able to use MFN to help guide that strategy. We built several custom audiences based on geographic data pulled in from Adobe Analytics,” said Elizabeth Couch, director of audience engagement, Crain City Brands. That geographic data included one targeting the Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek region.

By sending data from their targeted audiences in Adobe Analytics into MFN, Crain was able to more clearly understand what topics, categories, and even story types (briefs, enterprise, breaking news) were engaging readers in key parts of their coverage area. They could run this analysis in the data dashboards provided by MFN.

Metrics for News is a strategic tool that complements real-time analytics that allows publishers to track what, why and how audiences engage with their journalism. These insights inform their ongoing editorial and product strategies aimed at growing and retaining audiences. By pulling in data from a multitude of sources, MFN can identify overarching patterns across all of your data sources that individual analytics tools can’t do on their own. MFN also has unique customization and analysis features, including:

  • Engagement Scores that let you blend many metrics into one custom number that gives you a simple yet comprehensive view of your data
  • Artificial intelligence that categorizes your content and identifies patterns
  • The ability for your users to evaluate content against larger strategic organizational goals, we call Newsroom Priorities

“By running a custom report for this audience, we were able to see what readers on the other side of the state were engaging with from our Detroit newsroom,” said Couch, about a special MFN feature that allows newsrooms to run regular reports on their most valued metrics. “It was pretty clear that there were certain categories where we were already connecting with this audience—and that there was an opportunity to do much more.”

Those categories included food and dining, business news and real estate, among others. However, before launching a full newsroom, they started with a smaller, targeted approach.

“We started with one reporter in our Detroit newsroom focused on telling stories about West Michigan. Her work was really finding an audience – on both sides of the state – and it was clear we could do even more to serve these readers,” said Couch.

The expansion into Grand Rapids marks Crain’s fifth city brand, serving alongside Crain’s Detroit Business, Crain’s Chicago Business, Crain’s New York Business and Crain’s Cleveland Business.

Crain’s Grand Rapids Business was created from the consolidation of the Grand Rapids Business Journal and MiBiz, both of which Crain Communications acquired in 2022.

“The news team we have assembled in Grand Rapids is spectacular and I’m excited for our readers to see the stories they deliver,” said Mickey Ciokajlo, executive editor of Crain’s Grand Rapids Business and Crain’s Detroit Business in a news release at the time of the newsroom’s launch. “This team has deep roots and vast connections in West Michigan, which is so important in local journalism today.”

The news team is led by Editor Joe Boomgaard, who previously served as editor of MiBiz. Working alongside Boomgaard are Managing Editor Andy Balaskovitz, who held the same title at MiBiz, and Special Projects Editor Tim Gortsema, who previously was editor of the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

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