Audience engagement and newsroom attitudes

Several years ago, when the words ‘content is king’ was everywhere, I remember Joanna Geary observing  ‘collaboration is queen’. I loved that.
I’ve been thinking about Jo’s twist on King Content because the phrase ‘audience engagement’ is so prevalent right now, and I think that if collaboration is queen bee then being part of the conversation swarm is a vital part of it.
‘Content is king’ became a cliche thanks to a combination of overuse, misuse, and buzzword bingo; essentially, it holds truths, but it’s hard not to groan when you hear it.
Today we’re all about ‘audience engagement’; everyone (mainstream media, brands, marketers or social media players) is looking to, y’know, #engage the #audience with #content that is #shareable and possible even #viral. It’s in danger of becoming disengaging; a phrase on the precipice of becoming a placeholder in strategy documents for the future of journalism.

I think about audience engagement a lot because it’s the cornerstone of my employer’s strategy – Trinity Mirror doesn’t do paywalls, it does audiences – in a nutshell we want to increase audiences, keep them coming back, and know them well enough so that advertisers find the right customers. This isn’t a blog post about TM, it’s about my personal view of how audience engagement should be considered in (many) newsrooms and  what the phrase means to me.  It means this: Creating a newsroom where the process, culture, planning, and output takes the reader/audience/customer/end user – whatever you want to call it – into consideration, and produces stories that begin a second phase of development post-publishing.

I heard Alan Rusbridger speak last week (funnily enough, I had already written most of this post, and so I’m not plagiarising him, I promise) and he spoke of his admiration for Glen Greenwald. Greenwald, he said, was a journalist who thought the real and exciting part of his job started after he’d published his story, and people started talking to him about it on social media. How brilliant (and fearless) is that?

When we hold our news conferences, we’re deciding what the parameters of what is a good story, how it is presented, what platforms we are going to market it on and how, and what time people can read it.
Once a story is in the world, and going great guns on social or on the live analytics board, the most important thing to ask is not “what else are we doing on this?” but “what are people saying about this?”
How are they reacting? Do they see the story as we do, or have a different view point? What aspects chime with them? When they share it, what editorialising of their own are they doing?
If they’re not saying anything, are we
* looking for any conversations in the right places
* inviting people to talk about it
* listening and making ourselves available to discuss further

Getting audience engagement right isn’t a complicated equation (it doesn’t take a vast cognitive leap to know a news story about heavy overnight snow will leave the morning audience wanting to know if the roads and schools are open).
It doesn’t begin and end with the idea of simply making content people want to view/interact/share either – it’s far more sophisticated, and it is also understanding your audience well enough to know how to tell the stories that probably don’t trigger an automatic urge to click.

I was in a news conference recently where a mildly-important-but-dull story about business rates came up. As regional and local reporters, it’s not enough to cover the story that and then expect people to work hard to get the sense of it – if you think it’s boring, ask yourself why would readers care, unless they were directly impacted (and even then, why would they chose your content over a rival publisher’s? Or a social media update from a councillor? Or – more likely- a business owner directly impacted by the change? Competition for attention is brutal and the audience is a promiscuous beast. Similarly, if/when Twitter adds the option to bust 140 characters, user options for storytelling become far more open. So the business owner can write a considered 200-word piece on how rates affect them instead of a short view, or a jumbled rant over several posts. The context available to Twitter audiences will grow – and that is an area where, for the moment, news media have been able to claim an advantage simply by being able to link to a story on a website.

Audience engagement is a newsroom where the reader is considered at the start of the story process. It’s thinking about the people we’re telling stories to, beyond the timings of audience spikes and social uploads. I think it’s about bringing a blogger mindset to our journalism – that live construction of a story that happens, and is refined with reader input to show how it’s developed. People might leave a comment on this post, for example, about what audience engagement means to them, or they might tell me on Twitter (and I could embed a collection of tweets if there were enough).
They might write their own blog post and link to this, so my post will track back to theirs and anyone reading this can find it.

For newsrooms it’s about starting the day looking for and asking what people are talking about, what they want to know more about, what stories they’re reading, sharing and responding to – and what they are ignoring, and why.
It’s about holding regular open sessions with readers (and this can be an exposing and difficult thing to do) such as an editor committing to hold regular, scheduled hangouts to discuss ideas or decisions with readers, reporters doing live debates on Periscope or in Facebook Q&As on their work, news conferences being held in public (and if you think that’s impractical, the Liverpool Echo once held theirs on on a bed in an art gallery).
And it’s about sustaining the practices you put in place not because they are the flavour of the month, but because they bring you as a journalist, or your newsroom as an exec, closer to readers.

That’s the other thing about audience engagement, you can’t be half-hearted or engage a little bit; all you do that way is confuse people (including your newsroom, if you are an editor who blows hot and cold on the subject), or end up sticking with safe trivia that allows a bit of easy bantz but isn’t meaningful.  It’s a commitment but the outcome more than repays the investment made.

 

 

These are my social bookmarking tools – what are yours?

Ever since del.icio.us and/or Delicious became a sucking vacuum for community link sharing several years ago, I have been looking for an alternative that does the job.  I still use Delicious but it went, almost overnight, from being a vital, connected network I found hugely beneficial to a bolt on. You know what? I don’t even post there any more – I just have ifttt crosspost my links from Diigo – that’s how little I cherish it. (If you want to know more about the Delicious debacle – or if you missed out on the sturm und drang that accompanied its changing fortunes in 2010/11 there is a really good Quora read here)

TL;DR on this post – I failed to find a single Delicious replacement; none of the ones I tried gelled with me in the same way so I became a promiscuous bookmarker of the social and private variety. I use multiple tools that do different jobs – some for social bookmarking, some for squirrelling away things I think I should keep, others for, well, I’m not sure (Looking at you, Pinterest and Evernote).  They all have pros and cons and I am still not sure there isn’t a better way.

So, these are my tools, tell me yours? I’d really like to simplify my life, at least a bit, and I live in hope that there is a Nirvana of social bookmarking out there… somewhere.

Diigo

Diigo (Find me here, btw)  was the social bookmarking site I jumped ship to post-Delicious, but it never had the same network feeling even though you can join various groups to – ostensibly – see links shared by like-minded individuals (these groups are actually only used by product placement types and crappy marketeers, I’ve come to suspect). And now it has managed to piss me off to the nth degree: The ‘let us bundle your links up on a weekly basis and post them to your blog’ tool was incredibly useful; you’ve only got to look at the ‘Interesting Reads’ tag on my blog to see how much I used it. However, recently I noticed it had stopped working and went to Diigo’s admin tools to fix this. It’s unfixable – Diigo has made this a premium feature only. I understand things change, and payment must come from somewhere (I work in the money pit that is mainstream journalism, after all) but I’ve read back through the Diigo blog and the many, many emails Diigo sends me and there is information on this change, like, nowhere. It looks like no one at Diigo announced a free tool was going to shift into the paid-for offerings, which is unfair on users. On the plus side, I like the annotate options, and the Chrome extension is very useful for quick-grabbling links. On the negative side, the mobile app is search only, not save; there is a Safari workaround to save links but it’s complex beyond your average user’s ability to care.

Pocket

I like Pocket – it looks good and is a fast, effective way to save and organise by links. But I have fallen into the habit of using it only as a waystation – a stopping off point for links that are to be read and discarded, or read and acted on/saved elsewhere. The Chrome extension, and the Twitter and iOS integrations are all extremely good so it’s handy for saving either Tweets or links I find interesting and want to look at in more detail later. However, unless your tag game is very strong, there’s a likelihood of never finding things again if you save a lot of links, and I do save a lot of links. Although there is the ability to share content from the site it feels more broadcast than conversation. Anyway, Pocket is very useful as a free tool – I probably wouldn’t get enough out of the premium option ($50 a year if you’re tempted).

Ifttt

It’s  not a bookmarking site, and it’s not a social site, but I do use it to save links and ping them on to wherever I would like to save them, and those recipes are public so others can use them if they like. Currently ifttt cross-posts Diigo links to my professional Facebook page, because I am still working out the best way to use said page (I think a blog post on that is somewhere in the future) and also to Delicious for me, because I like to have links saved in more than one place because bitter experience has taught me nothing lasts forever. (Hello, all my lost data on Ask500people and Listiki!)

IF Recipes IFTTT

Pinterest

I use Pinterest a lot, but not so much for work these days. It’s nearly six years since we set up the first WalesOnline Pinterest boards (we kicked off with cute animal stories, recipes and fashion – it’s grown to become much, much more since then). My research methodologies board (set up years ago for my MA work) is still unfathomably popular with other pinners, and my drone journalism board was set up in a fit of enthusiasm but, to be honest, there are only so many drone films you can save without it becoming repetitive. With Pinterest, I don’t need the option of a visual save for most of the journalism-related links that interest me (in fact, most work links have – at best – library photos). However, Pinterest is definitely a social bookmarking site with a defined list of communities; it’s just that my most active and involved network on there happens centered around bookmarked content around things I need/want/can never afford but covet for my never-ending house renovation.

And a few others I have used… occasionally  

Facebook: Have you used the Save Link option on Facebook? If you use the FB app more than the browser/desktop it’s pretty useful for saving something to read later when you’re wifi-free and want to save your mobile data. Pro tip – read that saved link and clear it or it will haunt you forever, showing up at the top of your feed more often than a Buzzfeed quiz, or one of those hilarious e-cards about women and wine.

Evernote: I know people who cannot run their lives without Evernote; I am not one of them. I’ve tried, and I do still persevere at times but I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. Basically, it’s where stuff I never care about seeing again but feel I should keep somewhere goes to languish.

Pearltrees: I have used Pearltrees as a curation tool to display linked content for a story, and I could see the opportunities for that, but as a social bookmarking site, it doesn’t do it for me. I mean, I want social bookmarking but that doesn’t mean I’ll let anyone add content to my saves.

Digg: The last time I logged into Digg was in 2013. It’s had such a radical shift since then that while I do have links on there it’s not what the site is for any more.

So those are my most commonly used sites, and the three options I use occasionally. I suspect I am missing a trick somewhere though (although I have no desire to pay for a Pinboard account, even though I know people who swear by it, as I just don’t see what question it answers that Pocket doesn’t do better). So – what are your favourite social bookmarking sites? All suggestions gratefully accepted.