KPI: Choosing Key Performance Indicators for Your Digital Story

In a May 9th, 2012 B2C post, Ingeborg van Beusekom discusses how digital storytelling - with its emphasis on interactivity - differs in fundamental ways from Old World storytelling.

In the Old World of filmmaking, numbers like box office gross and DVD sales were the gold standard - the industry's accepted measures for success.

In the New World of online storytelling the tools for measuring success are different.


In the Old World there was a box office where numbers (gross and attendance) could be counted. In the New World, stories spread through recommendations and shares on social media.

In the Old World money came in predictable ways that were easy to track. In the New World, monetization may not happen until long after an online film has been viewed by thousands of fans (e.g., a filmmaker may get paid by advertisers after the film or website has become popular, or as a result of various types of post-viewing user interaction, like subsequent subscriptions or merchandise sales).

In the New World, the creators of online stories (e.g., perhaps an ad-supported web-series or a subscription gaming experience) must become comfortable with using a whole new array of tools for measuring audience engagement and interaction.

For an online filmmaker, determining which metrics matter (and what numbers can be ignored) may seem like a daunting task.

So what are the most important "key performance indicators" (KPIs) for filmmakers working in the New online World?

The first thing to understand about KPIs is that they will vary from story to story.

The numbers that one filmmaker might use to measure the success of his or her online story may not be helpful in analyzing the success of another filmmaker's online story.

Obviously a brand manager who's hired a filmmaker to create a "viral video" to increase awareness of her brand will be looking for certain signs of success, while the creator of an ARG might be interested in an entirely different metric (e.g., for audience interactivity).

The most common metric (and perhaps the least useful) when looking at how successful you've become on social media is the number of visits.

In general, simple visits are not the goal. What most filmmakers (and most marketers) really want is for users to become aware and then convert into being advocates and customers. Having someone spend a few seconds on your site is not the same as having them share your content or buy a copy.

So instead of simply measuring visits - and maybe even the length of each visit to your site - online filmmakers will want to dig deeper.

Some companies offer measures of sentiment (e.g., positive or negative). Sentiment analysis (also known as "opinion mining") searches the web (e.g., posts to social media, such as tweets, likes, posts, discussions, reviews, etc.) and runs the collected data to determine whether the views about a film (or brand, topic, or keyword) are positive or negative.

This kind of sentiment data will often fold in the more obvious measures of social media success - for example, the number of likes, comments and shares (typically these metrics are described as measures of "engagement").

Basically, online filmmakers want to know more than just how many times their site has been visited - or how many people have "liked" their site. In an ideal world, filmmakers working online will have meaningful information about what triggers advocacy, who the most ardent advocates are, and which content results in the kind of engagement that leads to shares, recommendations and sales.

The new online world does more than allow for new levels of engagement and participation (e.g., in the funding, production and distribution of motion pictures). Online tools seem to have been custom built for the needs of a new generation of content creators. Like Irving Thalberg at MGM in the 1920s (who was a pioneer in his day, gathering audience reactions at preview screenings and often ordering extensive re-shoots based on test audience opinion), today's new online filmmakers can measure and respond to audience engagement in ways that may forever change the motion picture business.

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