In uncertain times, like the COVID-19 crisis, people actively seek out news and information, but only from trusted brands and journalists, as well as platforms providing news and information relevant to their community.
It is no wonder, therefore, that visits to and engagements with our content have exploded over the past few weeks. To demonstrate this surge in demand for USAGM’s journalism, I’ve compared the digital analytics from the week of April 12-18 to the average week from the previous fiscal year (FY2019). I selected the week of April 12-18 as it was the latest dataset that my team had completely vetted, and I also wanted to avoid reporting analytics from March where web traffic was spiking globally. (According to Harvard’s Nieman Lab, overall online news consumption was more or less back to normal by mid-April.)
The data indicate a remarkable jump in consumption and engagement across our networks and platforms, which proves something we’ve known for a long time: audiences trust us, and our journalists are delivering unique, value-added reporting in markets where news and information aren’t free, and where reporters are often harassed and censored, if not worse.
I’ll highlight three metrics here:
- website visits;
- video views on social media; and
- engagements on social media.
While far from comprehensive, these three provide valuable insights into the reach of our networks and levels of engagement with our audiences during these difficult times.
One of the foundational metrics, website visits, jumped from an FY2019 weekly average of 23.4 million to 38.8 million webpages viewed the week of April 12-18 in aggregate across USAGM’s networks. Remarkably, these gains occurred as journalists are facing growing obstacles and restrictions to their work, from increased threats to the press to the difficulty of recording and producing content while working from home. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in particular, saw explosive growth online, gaining nearly 9 million additional views, driven in part by coverage from Current Time, its Russian-language digital-first news network.
Video Views on Social Media
While each network experienced increased web traffic, in certain markets, those websites are censored or blocked. When audiences can’t easily access independent news directly from the source, they often go to social media platforms.
Video views on social media is an especially important metric for us as our networks aim to connect with younger audiences that are increasingly consuming news via social media on mobile devices. As our journalists embrace the digital pivot, they cater to audiences with bite-sized, informative videos that are easily shareable on social platforms. While video views on social platforms can be short, research by Facebook and Nielsen found that people can recall mobile feed content after just a quarter of a second, and that 74 percent of the value of a video is delivered in the first ten seconds. For the week of April 12-18, USAGM’s networks experienced 419 million video views on social media, far exceeding the previous year’s weekly average (178 million).
Engagements on Social Media
Engagements on social media, which include likes, reactions, comments, and shares, are indications that our programming is considered valuable or thought-provoking. Crucially, these inputs come straight from our actual audiences, so we can get a good sense for whether our journalists are reporting on issues that are worthwhile and moving to our audiences. For the week of April 12-18, the number of interactions on social media more than doubled compared to the average week in FY2019 (11 million), totaling just under 24 million aggregate engagements.
Radio Free Asia gained over five million additional social media engagements, nearly six times its FY2019 weekly average. This is in large part due to its network of journalists, freelancers, and sources all across Asia. RFA contributors continue to report from the frontlines despite increasingly oppressive and draconian conditions for a free press in countries like North Korea, China, Laos, Vietnam, all of which are among the absolute worst offenders according to Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
The COVID-19 crisis has changed daily routines overnight, and audiences around the world are consuming and engaging with more of our online content than ever before. Our data confirm that in this period of pandemic-induced social isolation, our audiences remain loyal and are increasingly attentive to our products. Our journalists continue to inform, engage, and connect our audiences worldwide – and they do it with incredible innovation and creativity, aimed at providing the most objective and accurate information.