Digital cover of the Winter 2018-19 Virginia Tech Engineer magazine.

Behind the Winter 2018/19 edition of Virginia Tech Engineer

Erica Corder On Photography, On Videography, On Work, On Writing

Following the launch of the award-winning digital Virginia Tech Engineer back in winter of 2017, our team began thinking about what was next. We knew we wanted to utilize the digital space more, but that we also wanted to produce a print magazine.

When you have three full-time staff in the College (myself, our director of communications, and our web/digital marketing manager), that’s a massive undertaking. But in order to reach an important segment of our alumni population that is more likely to read print than online, we knew that was the direction we needed to move in.

So we got to work.

We are currently in the final rounds of edits on the print version, and have been releasing the digital magazine along the way, starting back in November.

As we await publication of our print publication, I’ve been reflecting on our digital magazine and wanted to share some preliminary analytics.

How our digital magazine stacks up

Our first stories were released on November 7, 2018. These are a few analytics of note as of publication of this post:

  • We’ve had nearly 9,000 pageviews across the magazine.
  • Pages throughout the magazine have been shared a total of 2,649 times.
  • That’s an approximate share rate of 30 percent — an important engagement metric for us considering our goal with the magazine is to reach new audiences (particularly alumni) with an impactful touchpoint.

I pulled out a few stats on my contribution to the magazine to better understand what about my stories works and what doesn’t for our audience. Here are some highlights:

  • Of the 8.987 page views across the magazine, my stories have brought in 3,771 views. That means my stories have contributed to approximately 42 percent of our digital magazine’s web traffic. I wrote five of the sixteen stories currently published.
  • My five stories have been shared 1,032 times total. That’s approximately 39 percent of our total shares across the 16 stories and the magazine’s index page. This is a 34 percent increase in my stories’ shares from the Winter 2017 edition.
  • My feature story and the print magazine cover story, “The future of farming,” is overall the 20th most-viewed page on our entire College of Engineering website since its publication. It’s the most viewed page overall for the magazine, including the index page and the fifteen other stories.
  • The average time spent on the page across all magazine stories is 2:40 minutes (up from Winter 2017’s 2:27 minutes). Two of my stories, “The future of farming” and “The transformers,” respectively clocked in at an average view time of 5:13 and 5:14.
  • Approximately 56 percent of the views on my story, “The transformers,” led to shares on the story.

Reasons for success

An overall considerably high engagement rate with the magazine is particularly exciting for our team, since it’s a metric that indicates the content resonates with our audience and means our reach is multiplied by our audience sharing it out.

In reflecting on why this season’s digital magazine had more page views, substantially more shares, and a longer average time on the page, I think it boils down to a few key tactics we used for this magazine — and in particular, the following two:

  • Incorporation of looping video. We wanted to better utilize the digital space and some of the functionalities we didn’t have a chance to test out in the previous digital magazine, and looping background video was one of them. This helps keep readers interested in the story by breaking up the text, in addition to providing a visual that encourages viewers to continue watching (and stay on the page longer) as the loop plays out.
  • Journalistic style reporting. We never want our content to feel promotional — especially when digital natives are constantly being fed marketing and advertising every time they login to their social media accounts. Instead, we want the genuinely incredible work of our faculty and students to simply speak for itself. Our most viewed story (my “The future of farming” story) quoted an expert outside the university to validate our engineers in a way we can’t do ourselves. Plus, I conducted extensive research, interviewing at least 14 people, doing research in the university’s historic archives, and pulling data from the USDA. This story was thorough and authentic and validated in a way that can be difficult in a PR sense, but the payoff is that this story was our most viewed and left a real, lasting impression about the work our researchers are doing — which is crucial for the future of the university.

What’s next

We are still holding one additional digital story for which I am producing a mini-documentary. In the meantime, we’re also finalizing the print version of the magazine. I know I’m beyond excited to track the results of our print publication, especially if the digital magazine is a sign of things to come.

I’m proud of our team and thankful to work alongside the talented writers, photographers, videographers, and designers who put together the Winter 2018/19 edition of Virginia Tech Engineer. Though in the College there were only three full-timers working on this magazine, others in units throughout the university volunteered their time and talent to make this happen, and we couldn’t have done it without them.

Have any questions or feedback? Feel free to tweet at meemail me, or leave a comment below.