Let us think about traditional reporting for a moment: most companies still print their reports to this day. Maybe a few hundred, sometimes even a few thousand copies. Usually there will be a mailing list with stakeholders, who will receive these copies, and many are shared during the AGM.
But what do you know about the actual use of these printed copies? How can this be properly monitored and quantified? Do you know which chapters or sections are of most interest? Do you actually know how many people had a look at the Income Statement? The answer is quite obviously: No. You know nothing, Jon Snow!
There is no chance you can analyse this. And to be honest, it is even worse than that. There are even more things you don’t know: for instance, how many journalists received a nice package with your report and ended up throwing it away. Or how many people may end up reading only the CEO letter.
Even with PDFs the possibilities of user analytics are not too promising. Sure, you can track the number of downloads, but the bottom line is you cannot keep track of the actual use (there’s no way you can tell which chapters or pages have been used).
Statistics of online annual reports
If you publish an HTML report however, you are – in comparison – in a much better position: by means of statistics you can exactly track how often your online report was visited (number of visits), how many pages were visited (page views) as well as which chapters and which pages were visited.
Example: Online Annual Reports – Overview of key statistics
Source: Online Annual Reports – Overview of key statistics (Average usage data from 20 online reports)
You can also take a look at which search terms were entered in the search function. Why does this information matter anyway? Because it tells you more about your audience and the interests of your stakeholders. Reporting is not only about regulatory information. It’s so much more than that. Reports are also a communication instrument. It’s also about serving the information needs of your audience. If you know for a fact that many people are interested in your strategy, then you might want to focus more on this issue in your next report – maybe you can try and visualise your strategy in an infographic? Or make improvements in the description of your strategy? To get more information about these interests, you can, for example, cluster the search requests in your report. By clustering into categories, we can get information about the most important topics users search for.
In theory, there is a lot more to discover by use of statistics. There are almost endless possibilities actually. You can even get indicators that tell us more about the profession of your visitors, about their interests, their mother tongues, about the browser they use, about their computer (are they Apple fans or Windows users?) and so on.
Impacts of the GDPR
Needless to say, user data is, on the one hand, a big chance for companies and communication professionals, but on the other hand it also comes with a huge responsibility around how the data is obtained and ultimately how we use this data. So, there are indeed good reasons why lawmakers have come up with the GDPR. But like any new law that has been passed, the GDPR has its weaknesses. However: the main idea behind the GDPR is a positive and important one.
One consequence of the GDPR can be seen in almost all new online reports: the cookie layer. Depending on the information that is gathered through tracking of the report, companies now have to at least inform the user that cookies are used and in some cases companies will actively ask their users’ permission to do so (opt-in tracking).
While doing a case study during our Round Table 2018, we discovered the impact of opt-in tracking on the statistics of online annual reports. We compared the data from opt-in tracking with data from previous statistics. The results show a huge impact of the opt-in tracking on the overall data: the number of visits and page views were just 1/5 of the previous data. This means that just about 20 percent of the users have agreed to the tracking.
The interesting thing about our case: the relation stayed the same throughout. Relative, behavioural data like the page views per visit and the visit duration were almost the same and therefore still meaningful. We found the same result for the top-10 pages within the report – in exactly the same order. Also the number of downloads, mobile users etc. follow the same co-relation as the users in general (about 1/5 of the actual use).
While opt-in tracking does lead to less data, companies should not be afraid of this. Our case has shown that your tracking data is still meaningful. The tendencies and relations are in most cases similar.
Research on user statistics
In the past, nexxar has often analysed user statistics Online Annual Reports of leading global companies. You will find the results of our research in our lab: