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Audience engagement (also, user engagement) refers to the cognitive, emotional, or affective experiences that users have with media content or brands. Contrary to passive exposure to news content, engagement denotes an active and intentional orientation toward what users read, view, or hear. The concept thus assumes that users are captivated by a brand, a news application, or media content. These psychological experiences would motivate them to use it longer and more intensively, and stimulate user loyalty, attentiveness, and thought formation. Moreover, engagement is presumed to result in users acting upon their experiences with media. It implies behavior, that is, what people do with news. This could result in them consuming more news, interacting with online content, buying certain products, or building upon the provided information to take political action in their personal life. Engagement therefore is a precondition for processes of meaning‐making, value creation, and connecting to public discourses.
Audience Engagement
University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Audience engagement (also, user engagement) refers to the cognitive, emotional, or
aective experiences that users have with media content or brands. Contrary to pas-
sive exposure to news content, engagement denotes an active and intentional orienta-
tion toward what users read, view, or hear. ey “invest time, attention, and emotion
(Lehmann, Lalmas, Elad, & Dupret, 2012, p. 164) and internalize a media message.
media content. ese psychological experiences would motivate them to use it longer
and more intensively, and stimulate user loyalty, attentiveness, and thought formation.
Moreover, engagement is presumed to result in users acting upon their experiences
with media. It implies behavior, that is, what people do with news. is could result in
them consuming more news, interacting with online content, buying certain products,
or building upon the provided information to take political action in their personal
life. Engagement therefore is a precondition for processes of meaning-making, value
creation, and connecting to public discourses.
Audience engagement has been a common term in the twentieth-century news
industry. Newspapers and broadcasters have measured their audiences for over more
than a century in order to proof to advertisers how many consumers they have reached
and which demographic groups a certain publication has catered to. However, these
studies were mostly exposure- or impression-based. ey measured circulation and the
been dicult, and rather unsatisfactory for advertisers, to show to which specic news
content people devoted time and attention, and even more dicult to say if and how
they processed the information in a news item. Moreover, the limited in-depth research
conducted in the industry was always restricted to small samples of the user population
because of time and nancial restraints. e individual transactions” in which the
intake of media content results in some kind of output, whether cognitive, emotional,
or physical action, thus largely remained hidden in the era of mass communication.
Following the rise of the Internet, audience engagement has gained increased impor-
tance in the media and advertising industry. In newsrooms the audience traditionally
was largely taken for granted. Especially the decline in print circulation of newspapers
and magazines, but also the loss of television viewers and radio listeners, caused more
solely gearing their news production toward market demands. is was fostered by the
new opportunities for interaction that online journalism oered. “Increasingly, com-
panies are seeking to monitor (though some would describe it as surveillance) these
e International Encyclopedia of Journalism Studies. Tim P. Vos and Folker Hanusch (General Editors),
Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou, Margaretha Geertsema-Sligh and Annika Sehl (Associate Editors).
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
DOI: 10.1002/9781118841570.iejs0060
networked transactions as they seek to better anticipate what kinds of content con-
sumers value, how much value they put on it, and in what contexts they are willing
to pay for content” (Green & Jenkins, 2014, p. 121). Now that consumers have more
become increasingly important.
On the advertisement side, the second traditional source of revenues for news
companies, it was considered a top priority by media companies to shi from
impression-based (quantity) to performance-based (quality) indicators. Accordingly,
engagement became the new buzzword. Online platforms have made it easier to
measure engagement on an individual level through online behavior metrics. is
would present a clearer indication of the commercial and societal value of journalism
than passive exposure does. Indeed, a range of studies have consistently found that the
level of engagement with media content is positively related to recall, receptiveness,
and persuasiveness, and positive engagement translates into a higher willingness
to purchase products. Most of these studies, though, are not about journalism and
news specically but about adjacent elds, such as social psychology, marketing, and
human–computer interaction.
ere is no agreement in academic literature, the news industry, or professional jour-
nalism practice on what engagement actually entails and how it should be measured. It
is, as Napoli (2010) notes, a complex, multidimensional, and ambiguous construct that
functions as an umbrella concept for active audience behavior. Napoli compiled a list of
20 denitions that are used and could easily be expanded based on industry reports and
scholarly work. Part of the confusion about denitions is due to the fact that engage-
ment is applied in dierent elds and on various levels (ranging from psychological
to behavioral experiences) to study dierent objects for dierent goals. is ambiguity
allows both scholars and the media industry to loosely apply engagement wherever it
ts their aims and priorities. However, “basically all of the post-exposure dimensions of
audience behavior have been associated with one or more denitions and operational-
izations of engagement” (Napoli, 2010, p. 90). For news organizations, engagement is
merely instrumental and commodied. It is a means to other ends; to create more loyal
It is useful to distinguish between manifest and latent categories of engagement. Man-
ifest categories are derived from usage and exposure, and can be measured quantita-
tively. Metrics such as unique visitors, page views, time spent, percentages of content
that is read, shared, or liked, and click-through rates, function as proxies for engage-
ment. e presumption is that when usage is more frequent, sustained, and interactive,
users are more engaged. Although this might lead to gures that can be compared
between dierent media types and outlets, it is still unclear what these numbers actually
mean. Groot Kormelink and Costera Meijer (2017), for example, distinguished between
30 reasons that users had to click or not to click. ey showed that clicking does not
mean that people are interested in a news item or not. ey conclude that this is a awed
metric. In general, it is questionable if so-called engagement metrics actually represent
this complex and multidimensional concept in a reliable and valid way.
Latent categories of audiences’ engagement are derived from qualitative or holistic
approaches to how users perceive media content, how they interact with it, and how
they participate in the production of it. A classic example of the last type of engagement
is letters to the editor. ese illustrate how newspaper readers have perceived news,
attached meaning to it, phrased a well-considered response, and, based on these views,
contributed to public debate. On the Internet, this has translated into reader comments
and other forms of participation in the journalistic process. But engagement is also
increasingly provoked by journalists and newsrooms by reaching out to readers and
inviting them to put issues on the media agenda and contribute to news coverage.
Next to text-based methods, self-reported engagement is studied via interviews,
focus groups, and surveys. Users here indicate themselves how they perceive media
content, how this triggers them to develop certain attitudes, and if and how they act
upon this. Cognitive research applies an experimental setting to measure via task-based
as eye tracking, heartbeat ratings, and recording of facial expressions and mouse
Contrary to what many of these indicators for measurement might suggest, engage-
ment should be conceptualized as a process rather than as a measurable stable state of
being. Scholars have, albeit in dierent terms, commonly distinguished between four
stages in the process of engagement (O’Brien & Toms, 2008; Oh, Bellur, & Sundar, 2010).
First, there is a point of engagement at which passive news consumption translates into
active news use and users decide to physically interact with media content. is could
be via dierent interfaces such as the television screen, the newspaper page, the mobile
determine if they engage with content in the rst place.
Second, in the stage of actual engagement, cognitive and/or emotional attachment to
media content takes places. Users here interpret news texts and invest energy in making
sense of them by relating them to existing knowledge and integrating them in cognitive
frameworks. e degree of involvement with news can vary between simply investing
time and paying attention, to being absorbed in a story, and to interacting with news or
participating in it. e intensity of the activity, based on a continuum of use practices
ranging from more passive to more active behavior, results in various modes of engage-
ment. Scrolling through one’s social media timeline, for example, results in a dierent
kind of experience than intensively reading a newspaper article or watching the news.
Moreover, the engagement stage can be longer or shorter due to the level of interest
users have in the item and the extent to which their attention is grabbed. e latter
relates both to the content and design of media content and to the degree in which the
aordances of the platform facilitate and stimulate engagement.
In the third stage, referred to as disengagement, users stop investing time and atten-
tion in a specic news item. is could be due to reasons on the psychological level
such as negative eect, or on the contextual level when users, for example, lack time
or are interrupted. In this stage outreach take place; engagement then leads to actual
behavior. is could be immediate when users, for instance, decide to post a comment
or it could be delayed when they decide to take political action. When there is a positive
eect,thiscouldleadtoafourthstageofreengagement in which users decide to engage
again with similar media content, for example, by following a hyperlink to a new arti-
cle or by online searching for new information on the topic. User engagement is thus a
continuous process that builds up to meaning-making, value creation, and connecting
to public discourses.
Moving from the audience perspective to news production, engagement is also
increasingly picked up by newsrooms and included in day-to-day journalism practice.
While in the second half of the twentieth century disengaged journalism, in which
the profession claimed autonomy from politics, business, and, also, from its audience
new millennium. is has been motivated by the fact that for news organizations the
ratio between revenue from advertisements and from paid circulation has radically
shied. ey are now dependent on news consumers for the majority of their business.
Moreover, because of the decline in audience share, news organizations have come to
realize that their legitimacy and existence is contingent on their relation to audiences
and society at large. ey have even increasingly created new positions of engagement
editors to nurture their relationship with the audience.
Engagement is conceptualized here as listening to audiences, communicating with
them, taking their needs into account, and collaborating with them. e minimalist”
mode of considering audience engagement is rooted in the growing importance of
metrics in the news process. Many news organizations nowadays distribute lists of
high-performing news articles on a daily basis. Moreover, editors can follow live on
screens in the newsroom how news items on the website are being read. Some argue
that this functions to discipline journalists and gets them to write articles that perform
well online. Others contend that metrics help to produce better journalism. Heat maps,
for example, indicate where users have stopped reading. Taking such metrics into
account could help journalists to write stories that readers engage with longer or more
A more active strategy for fostering engagement and improving relationships with
audiences is taking their questions and feedback seriously. A “middle way” approach
is to ask users to provide input at the end of the assembly line. eir responses to
published content might be organized through comments on the website, posts on
social media, actively asking for tips, or oine discussion meetings about topics
addressed in news coverage. is should not only make news consumers feel they are
involved in the journalistic process, but also result in valuable input for news cover-
age that is of interests to people. Especially on social media, reporters and dedicated
engagement editors interact with news consumers and try to create conversations about
the news.
A “maximalist” approach involves activating users and engaging them in the
newsmaking process. In the 1990s, the public or civic journalism movement already
coverage. It urged news media to organize audience input and debate about public
issues. Moreover, it had the ambition to not only cover issues that matter to people but
also to help solving them. Reminiscences of public journalism resonate in movements
like constructive and solution journalism. Participatory and reciprocal journalism
have similar characteristics. ey promise to not only listen to their audiences, but
also take their ideas and interests on board when practicing journalism. e gist is that
professional journalists and amateur citizens join forces to report on stories that matter
for communities. is would raise the level of engagement and thus create better and
more valuable relationships with audiences which can also be commodied.
As a concept, engagement oers an indicator for the value and worthwhileness of
news for individual users and society at large. Although denitions dier, it denotes
both valuable relations between journalism and its public, and between users and the
public world. For many in the news industry engagement might be merely instrumental,
geared toward securing the loyalty of news consumers which can be commodied and
sold to advertisers. Others have a more holistic and idealistic view on engagement and
contend that it should not just be about involving the public in news, but also about
activating them to participate in public life. Engagement with the news is an important
precondition for civic engagement with public issues, specic communities, and society
at large. As such, it is an important indicator for the function journalism claims to have
in society and democracy.
SEE ALSO: 21st-Century Journalism: Digital; Audience Measurement; Audience Stud-
ies; Audiences for Journalism; Citizen Journalism; Letters to the Editor; Media Market
Research; Reader Commenting
Green, J., & Jenkins, H. (2014). Spreadable media: How audiences create value and meaning in a
networked economy. In V. Nightingale (Ed.), e handbook of media audiences (pp. 109–127).
Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
Groot Kormelink, T., & Costera Meijer, I. (2017). What clicks actually mean: Exploring digital
news user practices. Journalism, 19(5), 668–683.
Lehmann, J., Lalmas, M., Elad, Y.-T., & Dupret, G. (2012). Models of user engagement. In J.
Mastho, B. Mobasher, M. Desmarais, & R. Nkambou (Eds.), Proceedings of the 20th Inter-
national Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation, and Personalization (pp. 164–175). Berlin,
Germany: Springer.
Napoli, P. (2010). Audience evolution: New technologies and the transformation of media audi-
ences. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
O’Brien, H. L., & Toms, E. G. (2008). What is user engagement? A conceptual framework for
dening user engagement with technology. Journal of the American Society for Information
Science and Technology, 59(6), 938–955.
Oh, J., Bellur, S., & Sundar, S. S. (2010). A conceptual model of user engagement with media. Paper
presented at the 60th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association,
Singapore, June 22–26.
Further reading
Batsell, J. (2015). Engaged journalism: Connecting with digitally empowered news audiences.
New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Lawrence, R., Radclie, D., & Schmidt, T. R. (2017). Practicing engagement: Participa-
tory journalism in the Web 2.0 era. Journalism Practice. Advance online publication.
Napoli, P. (2010). Audience evolution: New technologies and the transformation of media audi-
ences. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Nelson, J. L. (2018). e elusive engagement metric. Digital Journalism, 6(4), 528–544.
Peck, A., & Malthouse, E. C. (2011). Medill on media engagement. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Marcel Broersma is professor of media and journalism studies at the University of
Groningen. His research focuses on the current and historical transformation of jour-
nalism, changing media use, social media, and digital humanities. He has published
numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, chapters, monographs, edited volumes,
and special journal issues on transformations in journalism, social media, and political
communication. Among his recent publications are: Rethinking Journalism Again: Soci-
etal Role and Relevance in a Digital Age (edited with Chris Peters; Routledge, 2017) and
Redening Journalism in the Era of the Mass Press, 1880–1920 (edited with John Steel;
Routledge, 2017).
... In the framework of interactive media experiences, emotions can be of particular interest in a broad range of ways, and at many levels. Emotions and users engagement are indeed strongly linked, as audience engagement can be defined as the "cognitive, emotional, or affective experiences users have with media content" [2]. Several research works have been conducted with a view to study such relationship, e.g., to increase audience engagement in live interactive performance [3], or even to investigate the role of emotions in live streaming [4]. ...
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This paper delineates the preliminary outcomes of the “IQ Journalism” project, which endeavors to develop an intelligent agent tailored for journalistic articles. By harnessing the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence methodologies, the proposed advisor is designed to provide journalists and editors with real-time suggestions to enhance audience engagement and improve the quality of the written text. As the advisor's content and functionality have been previously determined through the model, the interface's graphical design remained the principal factor in optimizing its usability. Recognizing that the AI advisor's service ought to be specifically tailored to the requirements of the journalists using it, a user-centered design was adopted, and an Iterative Design approach was employed. Firstly, we reviewed existing systems of online text editors and AI assistants, which led to the creation of visual prototypes. Secondly, the prototypes were presented to a group of 10 professional journalists and MSc students in a focus group, where the participants discussed their preferences regarding the prototypes and what adjustments they would like. In total four design phases were conducted, resulting in the creation of a functional prototype with an improved user experience.KeywordsUsabilityUser Centered DesignAI AssistantJournalismAudience Engagement
This study aims to explore the use of biosensors to capture the emotional responses spectators while watching competitive Counter Strike: Global Offensive matches. The focus was on the heart rate variability (HRV) indices of the participants (n = 20) and self-report emotions using the PrEmo scale to identify variations in the subject’s states such as relaxation, mental stress, frustration, anger, joy, sadness, and fear, as well as activation of sympathetic and vagal activities. The results showed that it was possible to determine the most engaging rounds of analyzed matches by analyzing the heart rate variability, which can have a significant impact on the way the broadcasts are made. This study emphasizes the importance of using biosensors for future studies in eSports spectators, and a comparative analysis with other related studies is necessary to better identify emotions felt by the spectators. The self-reports showed that pleasant emotions increased during the videos, and there were variations between the videos, indicating that different situations within the same game can arouse different degrees of satisfaction in viewers. The use of these technologies can provide valuable information to game designers and developers, as well as offer potential therapeutic applications in the field of gamification. The results of this study can serve as a guide for future eSports projects, taking into consideration the different needs and preferences of players and spectators.KeywordseSportsCS:GOspectatorshipbiosensorsemotional engagement
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Although dubbing has traditionally been associated with the so-called dubbing countries, the advent of digitalisation and streaming is nowadays encouraging the consumption of dubbed content across territories unaccustomed to watching foreign fiction with dubs, such as the Anglophone market. Despite the effort put into drawing in a wide and satisfied audience in these countries, an unfavourable response from some viewers has called into question the quality of English dubbed versions and the odds of forging a consolidated dubbing industry in such regions. The main aim of this article is to offer insights into how poor quality and the lack of a long professional tradition might compromise engagement and cinematic illusion and into how the lack of exposure to this mode might have a negative impact on the way the dubbed content is received and enjoyed by English users. The article also intends to discuss the many ways in which quality and habituation affect the dubbing experience. This is done by exploring both the potential constraints that impair the final version and the factors that encourage an amenable attittude to this mode amongst the audience, despite their inexperience as dubbing consumers. The conclusions stress the need to enhance English dubbing quality at different levels and the importance of habituation to make dubbing work from a cognitive, linguistic, and prosodic standpoint.
For online news organizations trying to improve audience engagement strategies, Facebook Groups and Messenger chats constitute promising avenues. We explore whether these meso news-spaces, with different discourse architectures and group sizes, affect the substance of the discussion and people’s impressions. In this study, we experimentally tested how training and intimate forms of news engagement in small-group discussions on Facebook Messenger compare with larger conversations in a Facebook Group. The study draws from a real-world experiment in collaboration with Vox Media and its popular Facebook Group for the political podcast The Weeds. Results show that participants perceive the Messenger group as more civil and respectful and report being less prone to self-censor in the Messenger group. Comments in the Messenger group, however, are less relevant to The Weeds podcast and participation in the Messenger group leads people to have less favorable views of the large Facebook Group. The ways in which discourse architecture and group size affect digital discussions provide theoretical and practical insights.
Informed by the theoretical framework of media effects and resonance theory, this study investigates how issue obtrusiveness and information richness as message attributes, and media hierarchy and orientation as source characteristics influence audience engagement with news posts on social media. The data of news posts (N = 943,793) from the top 99 Sina Weibo accounts of Chinese media with likes, comments, and reposts as indicators of audience engagement were retrieved. Through multilevel modeling, the study finds that source characteristics exert stronger effects on audience engagement than message attributes, and the effects on comments differ from those on likes and reposts. The association between issue obtrusiveness and comments is stronger than that between obtrusiveness and likes/reposts. Posts of high information richness draw more audience engagement than posts of low information richness. Through their news posts, central-level media attract more engagement than local media. The implications of the findings are discussed.
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Scholars repeatedly argue that ‘audience engagement’ as a concept and, consequently as a practice, remain inconsistent and ambiguous. Such conceptual inconsistency is in tension with the relevance that the phenomenon of audience engagement has gained in contemporary discussions about journalism. In this article, we tackle the conceptual inconsistency of audience engagement by conducting a qualitative examination of all academic peer-reviewed publications (217) that dealt with ‘audience engagement’ and interrelated terms such as ‘user engagement’, ‘news engagement’ and ‘engaged journalism’, published between 2007 and 2018. Grounded in this empirical examination, we found that, first, definitions and operationalisations of audience engagement emphasised the production context of journalism over that of reception, yielding relatively unbalanced insights into the phenomenon. Second, we offer a Dynamic Model of Audience Engagement composed of four dimensions: normative, habitual, spatio-temporal and embodied. By grasping the complexity and multidimensionality of audience engagement and by aligning audience engagement with the notion with journalism’s democratic goal of informing the citizenry and more concretely its audience, our Dynamic Model of Audience Engagement facilitates future academic discussions in and around the topic of audience engagement.
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This article problematizes the relationship between clicks and audience interests. Clicking patterns are often seen as evidence that news users are mostly interested in junk news, leading to concerns about the state of journalism and the implications for society. Asking and observing how 56 users actually browse news and what clicking and not clicking mean to them, we identified 30 distinct considerations for (not) clicking and classified them into three categories: cognitive, affective and pragmatic. The results suggest, first, that interest is too crude a term to account for the variety of people’s considerations for (not) clicking. Second, even if one aims for roughly estimating people’s news interests, clicks are a flawed instrument because a lack of clicking does not measure people’s lack of interest in news. Third, taking users’ browsing patterns seriously could help bridge the gap between what people need as citizens and what they actually consume. Finally, we argue that all metrics should be critically assessed from a user perspective rather than taken at face value.
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Our research goal is to provide a better understanding of how users engage with online services, and how to measure this engagement. We should not speak of one main approach to measure user engagement – e.g. through one fixed set of metrics – because engagement depends on the online services at hand. Instead, we should be talking of models of user engagement. As a first step, we analysed a number of online services, and show that it is possible to derive effectively simple models of user engagement, for example, accounting for user types and temporal aspects. This paper provides initial insights into engagement patterns, allowing for a better understanding of the important characteristics of how users repeatedly interact with a service or group of services.
This paper proposes and develops a model of audience evolution. The concept of audience evolution in this case refers to the notion that the dominant framework employed by media industry stakeholders (content producers, distributors, advertisers, media buyers, etc.) to conceptualize the audience evolves in response to environmental changes. These environmental changes primarily involve technological changes that simultaneously transform the dynamics of media consumption as well as the dynamics of gathering information on various dimensions of audience behavior. These technological changes also interact with one another, in that the technological changes that affect the dynamics of media consumption also simultaneously provide new means of gathering information on previously umeasurable aspects of audience behavior. These technological changes, and their economic and strategic implications, are then filtered through a process of stakeholder resistance and negotiation, out of which new institutionalized conceptualizations of the media audience emerge. This paper asserts a causal relationship between the decline of traditional exposure metrics and the emergence of alternative conceptualizations of audience behavior. That is, the extent to which the fragmentation of the media environment is undermining the long-institutionalized exposure-focused conceptualization of the audience is creating an environment of exploration of – and receptivity toward – alternative conceptualizations of the audience that are derived from dimensions of audience behavior that are better capturable in today’s increasingly fragmented, increasingly interactive media environment. This pattern suggests that the institutionalized audience is a very malleable construct; something that evolves in response to environmental conditions in order to facilitate the continued functioning of the audience marketplace.
How Susan SpreadGoing ViralSpreadability Made SimpleUnderstanding AppraisalThe Ecology of Media ConsumptionConsumption PoliticsReferences
The purpose of this article is to critically deconstruct the term engagement as it applies to peoples' experiences with technology. Through an extensive, critical multidisciplinary literature review and exploratory study of users of Web searching, online shopping, Webcasting, and gaming applications, we conceptually and operationally defined engagement. Building on past research, we conducted semistructured interviews with the users of four applications to explore their perception of being engaged with the technology. Results indicate that engagement is a process comprised of four distinct stages: point of engagement, period of sustained engagement, disengagement, and reengagement. Furthermore, the process is characterized by attributes of engagement that pertain to the user, the system, and user-system interaction. We also found evidence of the factors that contribute to nonengagement. Emerging from this research is a definition of engagement—a term not defined consistently in past work—as a quality of user experience characterized by attributes of challenge, positive affect, endurability, aesthetic and sensory appeal, attention, feedback, variety/novelty, interactivity, and perceived user control. This exploratory work provides the foundation for future work to test the conceptual model in various application areas, and to develop methods to measure engaging user experiences.
A conceptual model of user engagement with media. Paper presented at the 60th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association
  • J Oh
  • S Bellur
  • S S Sundar
Oh, J., Bellur, S., & Sundar, S. S. (2010). A conceptual model of user engagement with media. Paper presented at the 60th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, Singapore, June 22-26.