How to measure your content's resonance, not just reach

How to measure your content's resonance, not just reach

For one year, I served as the head of content to a wonderful team at a software company. I was in my mid-20s, trying to figure out who I was and what I stood for, professionally.

It wasn't that the company was inherently bad. Really, it was like so many of my prior career stops I disliked: it was a bad fit for me. After all, finding best practices isn't the goal. Finding the best approach for you is. At the time, I lacked the self-awareness to identify (and admit to myself) the kind of job or work that would make me happy, that would give me energy. I spent a lot of time pursuing work that would make me unhappy by draining me of energy -- because it sounded fancy or fit the narrative of "business success."

And so, at that company, I toiled away as a manager, spending 99% of my time in meetings and my inbox, barely writing or creating a thing for a full year. I did my best to lead a team of writers and content marketers, but my "best" (especially given the circumstances) wasn't very good.

At one point, I sat down with my boss at the time and told him, "I don't think I'm doing my best here." He bluntly said, "I agree," and spent the next few months sending me job opportunities around Boston. No context, no caveat like, "I hope you stay, but I really hope you find the best fit for you." Nope. My boss just peppered me with links to job openings.

It messed with me.

Fortunately, I landed in a great place (which I found myself, mind you), working as director then VP of content and community at a VC firm, NextView. It was the best in-house job I've ever held. There, I launched my first podcast, began my public speaking career, and learned an MBA's worth of lessons by seeing and interacting with more startup founders and teams than I can list (adding many of those folks to my network, too). It was also at that time I began to craft a side project -- a little show called Unthinkable.

My work at NextView, plus the three amazing partners at the firm, changed the trajectory of my career.

Every so often, I look back at my failures as a manager. I realize now something that would have helped me better persuade management to create the kind of content I love creating and thought we needed to create back then. I realize, we were a metrics-driven company that only talked about one kind of metric: reach. I wanted us to focus on something else: resonance.

I languished, thanks in large part to my inability to actually measure resonance.

It's easy to measure reach. It's harder to measure resonance.

Measuring reach sounds like traffic, clicks, impressions, views, and followers. It sounds like total leads and subscribers joining the list. Measuring reach is all about who arrives.

But our work isn't about who arrives. It's about who stays. To change people, to push the world forward, and to make things that make a difference (all of which, yes, helps us build our businesses beyond what we ever thought possible), we need to step beyond what's easy to measure to instead examine what's important to measure. To do so, frame it this way: measuring resonance is largely about measuring who stays.

That's what I'd call sustainable resonance. You don’t just have traffic. You have an audience, or even a community. It's not merely that people arrived. They stayed. They came back, kept engaging, spent serious time with you, developed a deeper relationship, and enrolled in the journey you're on to make a difference. So how do we measure that kind of resonance? How do we measure "who stays"?

You can buy traffic, clicks, impressions, views, and followers. You can purchase leads and subscriber emails. (You shouldn't, by the way. But you can.) You can buy all that stuff. You can buy the "who arrives" part of the equation.

Tip of the iceberg, my friend. What lies below the surface buoys the entire darn thing. That's the real work -- and the important stuff to measure. That stuff can't be purchased. It must be earned.

You can buy traffic for your blog. But you must earn repeat visitors.

You can purchase downloads for your podcast. But you must earn episode completions.

You can purchase followers. But you must earn word-of-mouth.

You can purchase emails. But you must earn replies.

You can buy initial attention. But you must earn loyal fans.

Reach can be bought. Resonance cannot. If you want someone to stay, there's only one "tactic" that works: serve them. Provide a better experience. Earn it!

Healthy growth is something we can earn, but so often, we want to force the flywheel to spin faster, and so we press. It never occurs to us that perhaps the way our particular thing is meant to grow is not as fast as the arbitrary totals we hope to reach. When we lose sight of that, or when someone else turns the screws in our backs, we fail not only to build something long-lasting in favor of short-termism, we fail ourselves. We toil away at something that drains us of energy, and we end up miserable.

Throughout our careers, we've spent so much time getting indoctrinated into a single school of thought about growth and success: It's about totals. But it's not. It's about impact. It's about value.

This work we do isn't about grabbing attention. It's about holding it. We can't make a difference based solely on who arrives. We need to serve those who stay. That's the work. That's the focus. And if that's the case, that's what we must measure.

Want to make what matters?