I have been thinking and writing about how critical analytics can be applied towards public service media. This sort of analytics measurements become crucial when we are thinking through public issues – a core focus for a democracy supportive institution such as PSM. I am still convinced the digital influencer model can work for public service media, especially if we borrow from the successes and learning from multichannel networks (MCNs).
Below is the abstract for my upcoming paper to be presented at the RIPE conference, in Antwerp:
How can governments and policy makers understand their citizens’ value for their public service media (PSM) organisations beyond traditional audience metrics measurements? Public service media is under attack at the governance, remit and funding levels. This shift in political ideology and media policy towards the beneficial elements of public service broadcasting is strengthened through conservative governments, introspective and disorganised left political parties, hostile media environments, and substantially reduced funding arrangements (Barnett, 2015). Recent scholarship has attempted to promote the significance of ‘value’ of PSM (see esp. the collected edition by Lowe & Martin, 2013), which has been unable to protect the increasingly questioned relevance of public service broadcasting in a neoliberal and digitally advanced communication environment. Often these sorts of value judgements are based on governance structuring, content production and, importantly, audience engagement measurements.
Audience engagement measurements typically rely on historically boosterish and inaccurate audience measurement apparatuses that are incapable of understanding public engagement beyond ‘eyes on screens’. Inaccurate audience metrics are particularly problematic when mapping the relationship between PSM’s purpose, its value and government/subscription funding models. Social media, however, provides a new opportunity to explore audience engagement beyond these basic audience measurements, by being able to track and analyse PSM social conversations. In tracking these conversations in real time, scholars, media makers and policy makers will be able to understand the relationship of a PSM organisation with its citizens via social media, and how social media metrics relate to public service value.
The ABC especially relies entirely on the Australian Government to provide its funding, the level of which is decided by the government-elect. The allocation of funding is associated with the value of PSM to its citizens, which has historically been determined by out-dated and inaccurate audience metrics. Australian government funding agencies measure PSM value through audience engagement in traditional standards, yet the intellectual puzzle this research addresses suggests new evaluation processes are required to understand how audience engagement practices have shifted through social media. As such, this paper explores, how can government-funding bodies identify and use social media metrics to understand public service media value?
However, social media metrics are often associated with what has been framed as vanity metrics. Vanity metrics are those measures that refer to social media likes, fans, followers or friends and can be easily construed by marketing and advertising folk to tell a particular type of story. This approach towards audience metrics is not useful for PSM as measuring how many people might like a Facebook post fails to indicate if the remit of the organisation is indeed performing as they are legislated. Instead, what is useful in this environment to engage social media measuring of what Rogers (2016) terms an issue network, that is a network that is interested in social issues and social issue engagement. It is in this mode that audience research shifts from researching vanity metrics alone, which tell us one unique story, but to an approach that includes critical analytics to clearly understand if the PSM is indeed ‘entertaining and educating’.
This paper uses cultural intermediation as framework to understand a particular subset of intermediaries: digital influencers. Digital influencers provide a unique opportunity to explore how commercial entities, specifically Multichannel Networks (MCNs) have established cutting edge engagement strategies and economic models. While MCNs operate within the commercial sector, the strength of their ability to engage large audiences and influence their opinions cannot be ignored by large cultural organisations such as PSM. While digital influencers construct their business model around what can be termed vanity metrics (Ries, 2009), the strategic benefits can be aligned with what Rogers (2016) terms critical analytics. By incorporating critical analytics into PSM, which relies on monitoring and initialising discussion around public issues, the opportunity to engage new and larger audiences that have since left PSM properties emerges. The challenge is to align digital influencers with appropriate public issues that can be aligned with the remit of PSM. Critical analytics, then, provide us with new audience metrics that can be aligned with the remit of PSM, ultimately providing a new approach towards the value generated by these cultural facilitating organisations.
The significance of addressing the current measurement of the audience’s representation of public service media value and aligning it with contemporary social media practices provides insights of how to accurately allocate taxpayer funding to Australian public broadcaster programming. This research also showcases a new mechanism to highlight what the Australian public consider to be high-value public service programming as discussed in their social media conversations.