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Things I worry about:
- Why the airport tax charged by cabs from Belfast City Airport fluctuates by £1 for no apparent reason
- Is Rick from The Walking Dead aware of how awful his beard is?
- In the rise of Junk Food News, how do I avoid being a part of the problem?
I like a good internet meme, and have enjoyed the odd diverting scroll through tweets in a Twitter row between mildly famous-in-certain-spheres people to see mud hurled in 140 characters or less.
But The Dress depressed the hell out of me and it was only the latest in a round of mildly-diverting-but-ultimately-non-stories that are sucking up readers attention at the cost of… what?
At the point of Peak Dress, 99% of my Facebook feed was related to it – either news brands posting their own content about it, or friends complaining about it being everywhere, or friends discovering it for the first time. I hide posts to start with, and then I just gave up on Facebook for several hours.
My social feeds were boring, stuffed full of the same topic. It briefly started again tis week with that photo of cheese and biscuits (which is, I believe, 5 years old) cropping up everywhere.
Woman orders cheese & biscuits at Scottish hotel & got this..(see pic!) – What odd courses have you been served? pic.twitter.com/DB5u0aiivi
— BBC Newcastle (@bbcnewcastle) March 3, 2015
If everyone is talking about something does that make it interesting? And does that interest make it news? Logic suggests the two go hand in hand, so at what point does a topic swing in the audience’s mind from diverting to dull ?
News should not be boring – news about a dress that can apparently be one colour while being another one entirely should certainly never be boring. But the sheer proliferation of stories, quizzes, explainers, polls and memes made it boring.
The quest for hits killed the golden-or-blue dress.
When it comes to weird news, what’s seldom is wonderful. Otherwise it ceases to be weird, and is merely tiresome.
If you put up a post about The Dress on Facebook, you might wind up within as many as 500 comments in a few hours. You can put up a gallery or a poll, and get a lift in page views and uniques off said same garment.
This works for national news brands because the pool they fish in is both deep and wide. But the regional press has, in my opinion, to walk a fine line between audience expectation and audience interest.
If a brand’s unique selling point is its locality and ties with the area it covers, that should be protected as it has lasting value and impact.
When it comes to quick hits, social traction isn’t really being boosted in the long term, just as those comments aren’t engagement in the useful sense of the word. Often they aren’t even comments – they’re picture memes (“lookit mah unfunny and ctrl alt v-ed picture of Jean Luc Picard face palming”) or ’slow news day’ complaints.
I was part of a team launching a new website last week and for the first few days we had no analytics to go by except social growth. And it felt odd to be making decisions blind – moving stories up or around the homepage, and creating more of some content because we thought it would do well.
It made me understand how valuable analytics are to me when I come to make content decisions.
However, if you are only led by analytics, a stretched local angle on a clickbaity story will seem the answer, because the figures will back you up – in the short term.
Analytics show us volume and interest, but they can’t measure sentiment (ok, some social ones can in a fairly basic way). They can’t measure the long-term damage done to a brand by some careless clickbait fishing.
So last week drove home just how important analytics have become to me not only when I come to make decisions, but also when I take a flier, and learn from it.
But if online readers are attention and time-poor (and they tend to be) … if shortform or snacky pieces of information are more highly prized,… if visual socially-shareable content drives hits… if analytics shape our decisions, then how does the local council budget report compete for and hold attention?
It’s a tough sell, even if you think you know which of the day-parted audience spike you should be targeting, but I think it’s a sell that we have to keep on our toes about.