Can Online Experiences Impact Jewish Outcomes? New Data Says Yes
July 15th, 2021
Online Jewish content has the potential to meet a wide range of needs
By Ami Eden
The pandemic may be receding, but the continuing expansion of Jewish life online — from classes to family activities to prayer services — will continue. As a result, it has never been more important to understand the nature and depth of the impact that digital experiences can have on people’s Jewish lives, identities and practices.
At 70 Faces Media, the largest Jewish digital publisher in the U.S., we’ve been fielding questions about digital impact for years, especially in talks with funders. Are online Jewish experiences “real”? Is there really any lasting value in visiting a website, opening an email or interacting on social media? How can online activity influence Jewish choices?
Luckily, to paraphrase a great (or, at least, a “big”) sage: New data has come to light. And the underlying message is a powerful one — not only does digital media have the ability to reach unprecedented levels of people in a highly cost effective manner (in our case: 3 million+ monthly web visitors, 1 million+ social followers and 300,000 email subscribers), but online Jewish content has the potential to meet a wide range of needs and impact people in many different ways.
The new data comes courtesy of a report (that we, 70 Faces Media, commissioned from Rosov Consulting) evaluating the Jewish impact of our national brands: the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, My Jewish Learning, Kveller, Alma and The Nosher.
When the pandemic hit in the first months of 2020, 70 Faces Media was already in the middle of a strategic shift toward a focus on deepening our engagement with and impact on our users (in addition to driving overall traffic growth).
With an increased focus on the depth and quality of our digital engagement, those old questions about impact became more relevant than ever.
The first problem in addressing those questions was that it was unclear what to measure — there is no gold standard (or even a bronze one) for measuring online Jewish impact. And even if we knew what to measure, there was still the second problem of how to measure it — our various analytics tools can tell us plenty about usage and general demographics, but nothing about the Jewish identity, knowledge and behaviors of our users.
To answer these questions — with the support of the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and the William Davidson Foundation — we turned to Rosov Consulting.
The process began with Rosov Consulting helping us articulate the Theory of Change that underlies the work of 70 Faces Media — in other words, clarifying the Jewish impact that we aim to have on the lives of our users. This Theory of Change process entailed in-depth interviews with 15 key stakeholders, including funders, board members, and professional staff, and culminated with a commitment to the following goals:
The next step, and the core component of the study, was an online survey of 2,532 users across all five brands conducted in August 2020 focused on if and how we were meeting these mission goals. (The acquisition of our sixth major brand, the New York Jewish Week, would not come until several months later.)
The survey explored users’ pattern of engagement with the five existing 70 Faces Media brands and the impact of engagement with the brands on their Jewish lives. Finally, the study included 10 focus groups with a total of 52 users of the five brands in order to further explore the picture that emerged from the survey findings.
What does 70 Faces Media’s Jewish impact look like?
Rosov Consulting identified four clear areas of impact aligning with the mission goals in our Theory of Change:
Are specific brands or channels more potent than others in driving Jewish impact?
It turns out that we are delivering impact across all five brands. “While some brands are more impactful in some domains, all brands have some impact in all domains,” Rosov Consulting concluded.
Who are we having the most impact with?
The research found that we generate the greatest Jewish outcomes for users who grew up doing few “Jewish things” and had little Jewish education, and/or users who are highly interested and engaged in Jewish life today (but users who are less engaged in Jewish life are impacted as well).
Is there a discernible engagement tipping point where our Jewish impact increases?
Our impact intensifies with users who: access the brands frequently (at least several times a month) and/or access the brands through multiple entryways, including web, email, and social media (there is, nevertheless, impact on users who access brands less frequently or through a single entryway.)
For those of us at 70 Faces Media, the most surprising of these findings was the determination that all of our brands are impacting users in all four ways and at similar levels in all four ways.
Because our brands are so different and engage different types of audiences, this was a big insight for us — especially when combined with the finding that the more ways a person connects (web, email, social media, etc.), the stronger the impact.
This is an exciting and important revelation: It tells us that all the offerings we create and distribute, day-in and day-out, can and do impact our users — some people might be more attracted to one thing, some to another, but the majority of them are best served by the entirety of what we are offering them via any one brand.
In terms of our next strategic stage — with the goal of dramatically expanding our base of highly engaged and impacted users — these findings speak to the need to invest in our wider capabilities and a range of initiatives rather than focus our attention on any one “silver bullet” project.
We are committed to ensuring that this research does not turn into a one-time snapshot.
Toward that end, we will be using the report to develop a new multi-year plan to expand our base of highly impacted users and more generally to galvanize our organization at all levels behind our strategic focus on deeper engagement.
In the meantime, we are already incorporating the study’s impact questions into our ongoing user surveys, so we have a common language for understanding and measuring the impact of new products, brands and services like the New York Jewish Week and The Hub, our central portal for live online events featuring listings from more than 200 partners, in addition to our own significantly expanded roster of classes, courses and other events. (We are already gleaning important actionable insights from these post-research surveys, but that’s for another column.)
While this research was focused exclusively on our own brands and channels, 70 Faces Media and Rosov Consulting believe the results — and our overall process — provide lessons for the wider field of online Jewish education and engagement. Among the most important are:
These lessons point to an important general principle for our fellow content producers and program providers: From time to time, put your assumptions to the test and be open to surprises. But, also, the specific twist we encountered provides an important general lesson for the wider field: Don’t sell yourself short — embrace digital’s potential to meet a wide range of needs. This is not a call to be all things to all people, but rather to recognize that digital allows you to achieve several important things at one time for many more people… simply by doing your main thing a little bit better, smarter and with a greater awareness of all the needs that you could potentially be meeting.
Ami Eden is the CEO and Executive Editor of 70 Faces Media. Those looking for more information about the study and opportunities to enhance your organization’s digital reach and capabilities should send an email to [email protected]
originally published in eJewish Philanthropy