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.