Last week, I attended a Dow Jones webinar, hosted by Mary Ellen Bates and Anne Caputo, on “The true value of information”. It was a very interesting hour, and I came away with a few good insights into how to demonstrate the value of information in the age where everything appears to be freely available online.
The first point made was that the golden days of free information are behind us – information now wants to be expensive! Currently, 39% of business sources are available for free on the web, and only 31% make their archive available for free. This percentage has been shrinking year-on-year – in 2009 47% of current, and 37% of archive material was available for free; in 2008 these figures were 61% and 44%.
Mary Ellen noted the trend for “just in case” rather than “just in time” purchasing – effectively, purchasing access to sources you may need at some point, rather than only buying access to what you need when you need it. This is probably a result of increasing paywalls for news content, and the shrinking availability of both current and archive content.
One very worrying trend discussed was search engine personalisation and customisation – this means that people searching Google news at the same time, using the same terms, won’t see the same stories. What you see will vary depending on search history, geographical location, etc – very worrying, especially for politically sensitive or controversial topics! This also causes problems when troubleshooting, as you can’t replicate someone else’s search to see what problem they’re having. Mary Ellen recently carried out a brief survey of her users on Google News, to get an estimate of the extent of the filtering – you can view the results on her website.
The presentation continued with a side-by-side feature comparison of Google News Alert and Dow Jones Factiva Alerts. The results were unsurprising – Google News obviously has fewer search, filtering, and power tools. The opinion was expressed that Google news alerts are probably fine for basic staying on top of how often someone/thing is mentioned, but if you want some detailed, business critical info then Google News is not customisable enough.
Moving on, Mary Ellen discussed how to measure return on investment (ROI) for premium news. She pointed out that knowing how often you use it doesn’t tell you the ROI: activity does not equal increased productivity! You need to find out how has access made a measurable difference: e.g. how much time was saved? Collect case studies that show value, as well as simple stats.
Tools to measure ROI:
- Usage data from vendor (essential when making purchase decision! Find out from vendor what stats they provide and how you can use them)
- Collection of case studies from internal users
- Internal user satisfaction surveys
- Calculation of time savings
She then talked about creating & adding value – how do we make information expensive, i.e. “immeasurably valuable to the recipient”? Most important is to ask “How can I make this more useful for you?” She acknowledged that this can be a scary question – will often lead to extra work, and we don’t all have extra time!
Other than this, May Ellen noted that the format indicates value – making something look interesting indicates that more work has gone into it, rather than it just being information pulled off Google. She also said to assume that your client has Googled the topic first: so do the same, see what they might have already found, then try to top that.
In the Q&A at the end, someone asked the very good question of how can we educate clients to realise how crap Google News is! Mary Ellen suggested “building information dissatisfaction” – express disbelief that people are settling for only what they can find on Google News. Most people won’t actually know there’s more out there – we need to let them know. She also came up with a suggestion that I absolutely loved: challenge your client to a “search-off”! If someone thinks they can get everything from Google etc, tell them to call you next time they need info, and see how much each of you can find. This is a win-win situation – even if you can’t find more than they can, they were already anti your service, so you’re not going to lose a customer!
Overall, I really enjoyed the webinar. It’s always great to hear Mary Ellen speak – she’s fantastic at what she does, and is able to share her ideas with real enthusiasm. I didn’t learn too much that I wasn’t already vaguely aware of (although I hadn’t realised the extend of Google’s filtering of Google News), but I came away feeling like I had a few more facts and arguments in my toolkit for defending the need for paid news sources.
Speaking of toolkits, during the presentation the link to Dow Jones’ Knowledge Professionals Toolkit. This looks like it’s got some really useful resources on things like measuring ROI and communicating value, so I shall be working my way through this next week.