Open season on audience stalking

Stalking the venison
Photo by Trojan_Llama

The quote below is taken from an interesting post on It’s All Journalism today, that raised the question of why news media push content to social sites and engage users there, rather than on their own sites. 

“I think that we have to start driving our audience back to our freaking websites because we have managed to put ourselves in an awkward position in terms of Facebook, where we’re paying to play with people who were our consumers in the first place. We kind of give them to them,””

It made me think of the Guardian’s social reader on Facebook, an experiment that the brand launched in September 2011 and pulled back from last month, but which – at the time of it’s launch – was seen as a bold and engaging step. 

 I am of a ‘go where the audience is’ persuasion – you can’t set up shop and demand people come to you or stalk them like a sheepdog and herd them where you want.
However, I also think Kate Gardener makes a valid point in exhorting journalists to take back their audiences. 
But it strikes me that the attraction for most FB users is either a) sharing information with a selected group of friends (via personal profile sharing) or b) sharing with people who are like-minded (in the case of FB sharing). 
Google+ is similar in that, and it gives us (incorrectly, I know, but nevertheless…) a sense of ownership of that space. 

Newspaper websites aren’t social media and no matter how much we want to build our own communities via forums, blogs and comment threads, with all the moderation in the world they aren’t ‘safe’ spaces. 
Post something on your Facebook page and your friends will like, and give positive responses. Post something on a news website, and anyone can disagree – harshly or unfairly perhaps – or troll for the lulz, and there isn’t much you can do about it. 

As a user of a newspaper website, you can report someone for snarling at you, but just because they’ve hurt your feelings, it doesn’t mean they’ve contravened the rules of that  website.
You can’t unfriend them, block them, throw them out of circles or lock down your privacy so they can no longer see your content. 
The only thing you can do is take yourself out of that space, and -*puft* – there goes a member of the site’s audience, possibly sharing accounts of their bad experience with others, as the depart.

If Facebook didn’t exist, would newspapers have invented it? Not back in 2004 when FB launched; maybe now we would know what was required, but only because we have a model to copy. 
So the solution can’t be to withdraw from social media, but to learn from social media to the extent that we employ its best characteristics in our own news sites.

Then people have a choice. That’s key, as far as I can see. 

Photo credit: The pic used to illustate this was taken by Trojan_Llama. It’s part of a wonderful monochrome set of husky photos, and I’d seriously recommend having a look at his work – it’s great.

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3 thoughts on “Open season on audience stalking

  1. Back in 2005, when I writing a blogging strategy for the BBC after blogging the US elections, I made a few observations about how social spaces might pan out for news organisations. Most social spaces start with a core group of people who choose to be there, whereas with news organisations, you start with a large audience to begin with. You run into social scaling issues almost immediately. Whether you're the BBC or the local newspapers, people have views about you, and often, they aren't responding to a particular piece but to your organisation.

    Having said that, despite still being a passionate advocate of social media and journalism, I'm much more realistic about the power of interaction for good on a news site. I'm not sure that having a completely open space for interaction is desirable or manageable for most news organisations. Social spaces can often create as many costs, in the widest sense of the word, as they can benefits. This isn't to say that I've completely given up on commenting and interaction on news sites, but I'm not convinced that completely open spaces are desirable. I'm still rolling this over in my head, but I am pretty sure that there has to be a way to improve interaction on news websites. Right now, it's generally pretty appalling.
    Now, I think that engaging readers to add to stories directly and concretely is good, but the number of times that open comments really add to a story is pretty infrequent apart from a handful of sites. And most of those sites aren't general news sites.


  2. Kevin, it's always a treat to get your insights – thanks for stopping by.
    I think the mainstream scramble for on-site engagement can be linked to – for some, at least – a Late To The Party mentality. They saw Facebook, they look at Reddit, they want some of that deeply involved sharing/commenting action.
    I agree with the idea that news sites aren't ready or able to offer safe spaces – the best you could probably hope for is 'rigorously controlled' spaces; these would be as hygienic and safe and as a newly-cleaned hospital corridor – and who wants to hang around those?
    Tbh, I'm not sure I know what I want… but I think I'm moving towards the idea that interaction/engagement is not necessarily the same as comment/conversation.
    When you've finished rolling those thoughts around your head, I'll be waiting in line to read the blog post that emerges.


  3. On comments:

    I'm surprised news sites haven't adopted the Metafilter approach and begun charging a nominal fee for making comments/having an account. There's is $5 on sign-up forever. That tends to keep things on a relatively even keal, causes someone to think twice before they comment for the first time and although there are sock puppets and the usual things, it tends to mean people think before they comment because they've invested something into the website. Plus it's also a way of getting some revenue from users who don't otherwise pay for content.


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