David Tvrdon writing on The Fix says he learned early on in his publishing career that every story needs something to engage readers. Simple go-tos, quizzes are disregarded by some as gimmicks, but David says the research shows they are powerful engagement tools.
Research into the effectiveness of quizzes for publishers goes back almost a decade. In 2013, The Center for Media Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin published How Online Quizzes Can Benefit Newsroom Websites.
Polls are also a popular interactive tool, but were viewed as somewhat problematic in the study. The concern is that they can create an inaccurate picture of wider public opinion and researchers advise quizzes because they can highlight present ‘factual data from reputable sources’.
David acknowledges the potential problems with polls, but also recognises their ability to draw engagement. His recommendation is to treat polls as a feedback mechanism for the writers and newsrooms.
Turning back to quizzes, the 2013 study concluded that, from the audience perspective, online quizzes are enjoyable, aid learning and improve recall. They also appear to provide a focus that audiences can identify with. MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle told Wired magazine in 2014:
It gives people something to look at, an object to think with. I think these quizzes are a kind of focus for attention for thinking about yourself.
From the publisher’s perspective, quizzes bring the commercial benefit of encouraging people to spend more time on the page.
Using polls and quizzes
We are very familiar with the ‘Which Harry Potter Character Are You?’ style quizzes run by sites like Buzzfeed. But publishing outlets that are generally regarded as more serious have also turned to regular quizz slots to develop audience engagement. The examples given by David include:
- The BBC – Quiz of the week
- The New York Times – The week’s headlines
- Der Spiegel – Weekly football quiz
- USA Today – Weekly news quiz
The USA today quiz is only available to registered users so as well as building regular engagement by encouraging users to compete ro make it on to the leaderboard, it is also a driver of new registered users.
David’s favourite quiz example is run by current affairs and culture site Slate. He highlights the competitive aspect of The Slate Quiz, pitting readers against a member of staff to find out if they are smarter than Slate’s news director, managing editor or a staff writer. He says:
Some may oppose such an idea, showing a journalist as less knowledgeable than a reader, but I guess it’s about how much your audience trusts you and understands that being in a newsroom doesn’t make you omniscient, even when it comes to news.
Looking beyond simple interaction with the quiz itself, David highlights the opportunity to reward readers for participating. In an experiment that saw him grow his newsletter subscribers and improve dwell times, David also got feedback that suggested that for a quiz to become a habit, gamification and reader rewards might be required.
Competitive tension created by leaderboards or a face-off against a staff member and free access to exclusive content or even subscription discounts will both maintain engagement.
David recommends Journalist’s Toolbox as a useful resource for tools to help publishers develop their own quizzes.