The importance of listening to your social media channels

One of the traps we fell into when dipping our social media toes was to think purely about publishing.

It’s what Archant has done for generations and, to be fair, we’re pretty good at it.

So when Facebook brand pages came along (I’m not even going to go near those initial practises of setting up a brand as a ‘person’) we thought what a great way to publish more links to our web content.

Then came the magical idea of creating RSS feeds to populate those pages. Fantastic, job done. We could just sit back and watch the referral traffic to our websites rise.

Not only that, but Facebook users love to like, share and comment on posts. Great! They’ll start doing it on our automated posts as well. This just keeps getting better.

Obviously, the startling leap in web traffic and awesome comments didn’t materialise. We started to get wiser; to get our heads around what these new-fangled platforms were.

And what are they? They’re places for people to connect and interact.

This week, I’ve read pieces describing Facebook as a party and social media as a cocktail party or town square. And you wouldn’t turn up to a party and begin to shout in the hope that someone might eventually choose to listen to you. (You might do that in the town square but you’d probably end up being driven away in the back of a police car)

So, how does this apply to activity within Archant? Well, here are a couple of examples of how we’re listening and then even using it to generate extra content.

The first example took place last Friday evening via the @EDP24 Twitter account.

We’d been asked to look out how we could generate some extra print sales via our social media accounts.

We agreed on a strategy and began to implement it but it soon became apparent that our tweets were failing to hit the right chord.

I could embed a whole conversation between a few @EDP24 followers (if the embed server was working) and the account itself but it would go on for too long. The gist was that the promotional style posts were not appreciated.

“You have to earn your place in a timeline” said the excellent @Brays_Cottage, who is absolutely spot on.

Responding through the @EDP24 account, I thanked the followers for their feedback and my line manager and I had a conversation about the posts on Monday.

I don’t think the promotional message was the problem – it was the fact that they were written in a ‘Super Soaraway Sun’ style which isn’t a genuine method of interacting.

Hopefully, we’ve learned our lesson and it proves just how important it is for brand accounts to listen as it is to publish. You don’t simply push, push, push through your individual account so why should your brand account be any different? It’s still taking up the same space in a newsfeed or a timeline so it most definitely does have to work at earning that space.

The second example is of how we’ve used audience comments to generate extra content. A particularly engaging Facebook post will be cause for a decent debate so why not share that debate on our own websites?

The recent planning application by supermarket chain Morrisons in north Norwich generated some good comments so we did this with them. Well worth it, even if it did receive the perfectly-crafted response from ‘biglingers’, one of our lovely, lovely website commenters 😉

Joey Barton taking the pass on Twitter

Not many sports journalists (I used to be one) have written the short sentence: Fair play to Joseph Barton.

But I had to smile today when Barton took to Twitter to poke fun at himself.

Yesterday, football journalists and fans were giggling at his ridiculous ‘Allo ‘Allo post-match press conference video. You were just waiting for him to use the words ‘shot’ and ‘pass’.

But today he showed he can have a laugh at his own expense. This was his first tweet of the day:

I am still not a fan but this is further proof of just how influential social media can be when it comes to perceptions.

Barton will have gone up in a lot of people’s estimations with his tweet. Just two simple, powerful words.

Media organisations should always challenge the ‘old ways’

One man made his mark like no other in the US election race and in the process made many people look a little foolish.

Nate Silver wasn’t a name I’d heard until the afternoon (UK time) of the day of voting but his data analysis could – and should – change how all major broadcasters approach future elections.

For the days leading up to polling day, I – along with millions of others across the world – was being told by broadcasters and major news organisations that the Obama/Romney race was going to be one of the closest we’d seen. Romney’s charge in the last couple of months meant it was simply “too close to call”, said the national polls.

Then I read this piece from The Guardian, tweeted by @newsmary, and my interest in the result was taken to a new level.

I was now being told, thanks to the full analysis of a number of polls – not simply the apparently unreliable national polls – that it was Obama’s for the taking. Romney was going to come up well short.

Yet when I returned home to watch TV news specials I was still being told that it was “too close to call”. Facebook friends were concerned that Romney might reach the White House because they were being told it was “too close to call”.

Pundits on Channel 4, on BBC, on CNN and on Radio Five Live had told us the same thing yet none of them (not on the broadcasts I watched or listened to anyway) opted to quote Silver’s stats. And this is someone who correctly predicted 49 from 50 results in the 2008 election.

When I woke the next day, I wasn’t surprised to see that it had not been “too close to call” yet pundits on BBC were still telling me it had been.

Mashable has called Silver’s unerring accuracy – he correctly predicted all 50 state results – the ‘Triumph of the Nerds‘ while Paul Bradshaw tears into “data illiterate journalists” and calls the reporting an “embarrassment”.

I hope that this will signal the end of the ‘gut-feeling’ type of analysis that audiences are often limited to and it should be a wake-up call for broadcasters that the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ argument should be consigned to the cutting-room floors.

If they don’t, perhaps an IPTV station will do a better job for its audience in the 2016 election.

Why Toronto Star columnist got it wrong

To make them pay or not to pay, that is the question digital publishers across the globe are asking of their audiences right now.

Is it nobler for publishers to provide content through their websites for free or should readers suffer the outrageous fortune of being made to pay for content?

There are arguments – and good ones at that – on both sides but one which angers me reared its ugly head again this week.

A Toronto Star columnist took to her title’s website to argue the case for paywalls, her main thrust being that because content costs money to produce then readers should pay money to read it.

This argument floats in a sea of trouble.

I have been in journalism for nearly 20 years and editors – well, the good ones anyway – have always drummed one thing into me: never, ever, forget the readers.

The readers, rightly so, will decide what they like. They’re the editorial customer and the publishing industry would do well to never forget that.

So think of that when Rosie DiManno argues: “But it costs big bucks to put out a decent paper,” and “…the fact remains that salaries have to be paid, bills paid, travel expenses paid”.

Readers couldn’t care less about a journalist’s travel expenses. Readers couldn’t care less how much it costs to print a newspaper.

What they do care about is being delivered meaningful content; editorial that gets them hooked – rich, powerful, analytical, entertaining, important to their lives, exclusive even.

I’m not a regular reader of the Toronto Star but it’s the biggest-seller in Canada so it may well tick all of those boxes. If it does then a paywall could work and good luck with it.

However, one assertion – just four simple words – in the editorial piece did genuinely anger me and, I believe, it is one that the industry still hasn’t really got its head around yet.

“I write, you read”.

In my opinion, so wrong on so many levels. What happens if what has been written is incorrect? Should the reader have to be content with a response of ‘sorry but that’s life’.

An opinionated columnist should be held to account, made to respond to readers who disagree. We ask for accountability from our public officials so we should practice what we preach.

And working with readers can make our journalism so much better. When that story idea is a mere seed, readers can help make it grow into something much tastier.

We don’t have to write a story and, once it’s been seen, think about possible follow-up angles. We can create a piece of content in the first instance that covers all bases. We can provide that full analytical, rich, powerful package.

It’s what I believe enhanced social media activity can lead to and a good amount of comments we now get through our Facebook and Twitter accounts are of a much more meaningful quality than what Rosie describes on her Toronto Star website.

“I write, you read” is a phrase that doesn’t belong on any web page. And it  doesn’t belong in any newspaper organisation.

Learning some #hashtag lessons

We tried something last week and it kinda worked; it kinda didn’t.

In the lead-up to the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, we had a bit of a brainstorm and came up with the idea of building a new storyline through Twitter.

After a bit of thought I put together a plan for the #bondstory to run over the course of a few days. Search for the hashtag and you’ll see that the level of engagement was pretty high and I was happy with the final result.

We began by asking for a title and followed it up with requests for names for Bond girls and the main villain. We then had a break for the weekend which, looking back, probably did not help phase two of the plan which was to try to build a plot.

We then asked for locations and for users to complete a sentence relating to why the villain wanted to take over Norfolk. This was followed by requests for gadgets and finally a theme tune.

I documented all responses into a Storify.

Obviously, it was intended to be a bit of fun and we had only positive responses albeit from a small sector of the @EDP24 audience.

We learned lessons from the small project which will be useful to us in the future.

Good things: We picked a hashtag that did not have material allocated to it and the majority of users included it in their tweets.

The audience saw it as a fun element alongside the daily news headlines from the @EDP24 account.

The first two days saw particularly good engagement and we had some very creative suggestions from our followers.

Bad things: After those first two days we took a break for the weekend and it was difficult to re-energise followers.

Some of the questions in phase two were also too open. We asked for new Bond gadgets but that takes a quite considerable amount of thought. Twitter thrives on quick conversations so build that into your planning process.

How about you? Have you tried new projects on Twitter and, if so, how did they fare?

Facebook posts – what’s worked and what hasn’t

Part of my presentation to offices regarding the use of Facebook has meant using examples which have driven good engagement.

I mentioned in my last post that very few offices had actually taken control of their branded pages. One exception was the Great Yarmouth Mercury which not only wanted to manage its own page but also saw the benefits of doing so.

Led by Anne Edwards, the Mercury created a Facebook page on February 7, 2011, and got to work. It took a lot of hard work and long hours from Anne in the beginning but it paid off and the Mercury is still the leading light in the Archant Anglia Facebook world.

A snapshot of the Great Yarmouth Mercury Facebook page. Engagement is consistently high.

Examples I have shared with other offices include the story of a 12-year-old lad who went missing and was, thankfully, later discovered.

The Mercury Facebook community shared the story 60 times, proving exactly what an engaged audience can do. A lot of talk in today’s marketing sphere centres around advocates and influencers – working with fans and followers so they share your good work – and the missing lad story is a great example of how the Mercury’s community shares the brand’s content.

The Mercury’s Facebook community really want to help.

As of October 29, 2012, the Mercury Facebook page has reached 2,708 likes and, more importantly, Anne works hard to make sure her audience feels engaged and a part of her community.

We have seen some other ‘easy-wins’. Uploading an album of photos and asking fans to choose their favourite for the page’s cover photo is a great way of getting the audience involved and feeling part of the community.

We asked fans to choose their favourite photo of Norwich for the Evening News cover pic. The successful engagement – about 100 actions – helped the content get in front of more people.

The Lowestoft Journal recently played on the fact that it was nearing 1,000 likes and the community actively got involved to hit the four-figure total. It was an excellent little piece of engagement.

But it hasn’t all worked.

The pages for both our county dailies – the EDP and the East Anglian Daily Times – struggle to gain momentum; not something our weekly titles in smaller areas struggle with.

It makes me wonder if Facebook users feel an affinity to their local towns rather than their counties.

And we still see posts and certain types of content receive little or no engagement.

Not one action with a story you would expect to be popular – the tale of a footballer whose team-mates were asked by emergency services to take him to hospital.

We’re still learning but the most important point is that we are now connecting to our Facebook communities – and that can only be positive.

Taking control of Facebook

Picture the digital scene: You’re checking out your friend’s new offspring on Facebook, have just posted a witty comment and you’ve still got a couple of minutes to spare.

You spot that a friend has liked a brand you know and you trust so you think ‘I’ll do the same’.

You take a look at the page, see the brand name and hit ‘like’ without really thinking. But you then take a closer look and you’re not very keen on what you see. Fear not, it’s not going to interfere with my newsfeed…or so you think.

You see, the brand regularly provides new content. And a feed has been created to populate the brand’s Facebook page. And those updates are beginning to dominate your newsfeed.

The first part of the above is probably very easy to imagine; the second part probably not so because it’s not what brands tend to do on Facebook.

Our Facebook pages were drab. We’ve added cover photos – some chosen by our Facebook audience – to prove that we’re taking them seriously.

However, it is actually what our brands within Archant Anglia (except for the odd exceptions) were doing.

No manual posts, no engagement with a considerable audience – well, I would count 20,000+ across our Anglia titles as a considerable audience – and, worst of all, not even any checking or managing of the pages.

It wasn’t good enough so we set about making changes.

I have now taken a number of our offices through a Facebook presentation which details stats on usage of the platform – things like 1 in 6 page views in the UK being on Facebook, a time spent on site per day of 22 minutes (as of end of 2011) and it being the second biggest referrer of traffic behind only Google.

Across our Anglia platforms, Facebook – with very little activity on our part – accounts for about two-thirds of our social media referrals. This surprised a number of staff.

Because Twitter fits into a journalist’s workflow much easier, more of our activity – a huge amount more in fact – has taken place on Twitter so a lot of staff made the assumption that it would drive a lot more traffic to our sites. Not so.

With a bit of Edgerank explanation – and the excellent Steve Buttry does a much better job than I ever could of explaining the importance of getting that right – and a few examples of good practice, I then set the teams off on their merry way.

All staff have genuinely been enthusiastic and willing to learn a lot more about what they can do for their Facebook audiences.

This is one of a series of photos taken of a van on fire. It’s just one example of how we’re trying to increase engagement with our audience.

As I see it, there are four main reasons for not only running Facebook pages alongside our websites and newspapers, but managing them and using them wisely:

1. Driving engagement. This is the most important one for me. We want our audience to play a major role in what we do and that doesn’t mean just giving them the opportunity to comment on a web story. It means valuing responses, genuinely wanting to listen and facilitating conversations around our content. Our audience can – and should – make our journalism better.

2. Increasing referral traffic. Pretty straightforward but we are looking to increase our traffic and our Facebook pages can support that strategy.

3. Brand presence. We want to have a place in the world’s biggest social arena.

4. Customer service. Providing access to us via Facebook pages allows our audience to ask us questions, interact with our content and tell us when something isn’t right. All hugely important to us.

The result is that our approach to our Facebook pages has changed. We’re seeking engagement and interaction, we’re listening, we’re providing customer support and, hopefully, we’re steadily building communities that can talk to each other.

Next time: How we’re connecting with our audiences via our Facebook pages.

Do you agree with the above? Have you got other techniques that work? Please feel free to leave your comment below.