#ONALondon session: Reaching Unexpected Audiences With New Platforms

 

Erica Berger, who is founder of Catchpool and Co-Founder of Mileage Media, kicked off her session with some impressive facts:

  • 30 mins a day spent per day for average users of Snapchat
  • Instagram has 77% of audience outside the USA
  • Soundcloud has 350m users a month
  • WhatsApp has 990m users – 70% use it daily; it has 1m new users a day, 30bn messages spend a day
  • The average WhatsApp user spends 195 mins a week using it

Case studies 

Soundcloud: When Erica was working at The Economist she proposed using Soundcloud as a podcast hosting service, not least because it was free to use, and pushed it through to iTunes a s well – they garnered 827k followers within a few months and now the average 100k listens per track.

She started a similar initiative at The Week, which did modcasts – mini podcasts – and that now has 233k followers.

Catchpool: While at NewsCorp Erica realised the weekend editions were doing better performance than weekday ones. She looked at how newsletters curating quality links for leisurely weekend reads worked and from that success Catchpool was built.

NPR: How to attract younger users who would support with membership as well. The idea tested was how to get young people to listen together rather than in isolation, and discuss how the podcasts and shows made them feel. NPR went on a roadshow but instead of going to the north of America, they went south and found a really large audience. The Generation Listen initiative spawned an ongoing campaign that has led to new donations, and new supporters.

Her point? When you build tools for the people who are with you, you forget about supporting the people who want to be with you. Look for the unexpected audience.

The importance of measurement: 

1.Day 0:  Set goals

2. Day 15: Draw up a report

3. Day 30: Evaluate and assess if more time is needed

New platforms to factor into consideration: Blendle, Catchpool, Spotify, Soundcloud, Ryot, Outbrain’s chatbot

Erica ended her presentation with a short film discussing audience involvement and narrative shaping – watch it here – and a thought: Find the platform that is helping you get to those other places; Soundcloud can push your podcast to iTues, chatbots will work across several chat apps for you. You don’t have to do everything.

#ONALondon Session: Crowdsourcing as the ultimate strategic engagement

Panel: Mimi Onuoha, Research Fellow, Data & Society, Tow Society for Digital Journalism, Katerina Stravroula, freelance journalist and radio producer based in Athen and Tobias Dorfer

MO: Co-author of Tow report on the subject and before you read any further, you probably need to open this http://towcenter.org/research/guide-to-crowdsourcing/

Broadly defined by the Tow report as ‘The act of specifically inviting a group of people to participate in a reporting task’

People engaged in crow sourcing need to feel they have agency in contributing to a new story – we are not talking about scraping; people must not feel they are doing work for you. Everyone is getting something out of it.

The Two report says there are six types of crowdsourcing:

1. Voting – prioritising what reporters should tackle

2. Witnessing – sharing what you saw during a news event

3. Sharing personal experiences – tell us what you know

4. Tapping specialised expertise – contributing data or unique knowledge

5. Completing a task – volunteering time or skill to help create a news story

6. Engaging audiences – joining in call-outs (either informative or playful)

Crowdsourcing is about opportunities for communication via web technologies. As in the first session of the day it is about leveraging the collective intelligence of communities. People have something to gain, and it is it is crucial to the entire element of the entire story. It is just another part of the journalism process.

It is high touch, resource intensive and iterative. It allows journalists to tell stories that could not otherwise have been told, and it asserts the audience as an active participator in the story – the journalism is a relationship rather than a commodity.

TD: Engagement Editor at German news organisation Zeit Online which has about 10m unique users a month. User debates are at the heart of what it does and it has 67% of its audience aged under 49.

“Crowdsourcing is a really important part of our audience engagement strategy. It is not just about getting information that we might not be able to get otherwise, but it is about credibility. Crowdsourcing is the possibility of giving our readers the chance to be a part of project rather than consuming a product and it allows us to gain trust”.

Case study: Zeit Online investigated overdraft rates and asked the audience to send in their postcodes, BIC and overdraft rates. The project got 10k participants, information about 691 banks, and from that created a map of the two highest overdraft interest rats for every state, alongside several articles.

Case study: Bakeries that bake bread on the premises 

Crowdsourced for readers to share the bakeries they knew of that sold handmade-on-site bread and rolls, and what baked goods they recommended. 15K participants, with more than 2,500 such bakeries identified. A map was created and included readers’ favourite products from those bakeries.

With these two case studies, Zeit Online used Google Forms and ran the campaign call outs for around two weeks.

KS is a member of the radiobubble.gr community, contributing to the rbnews and rbdata teams. Radiobubble comprises journalists and activist in Greece.

She was part of the team behind Generation E, a data driven investigation into migration; with a small team she crowdsourced for people to tell their experiences and stories. (The E stands for Europe, Emigration, Erasmus, Economy, Exodus, Escape.)

The team wanted official data, but also the stories of those impacted by it. We used a form online – we first invited people to participate, and tell their stories alongside sharing their data.

They received 2,400 stories and their top level findings included the driving factors for emigration, the registration of non-European migrants, and the inclination emigrants had to return to their home countries.

Tools: Open Refine, Datawrapper, Trello, GoogleDrive and Forms. Doodle, Twitter, Facebook, and also the team worked with media partners.

Takeaways from the panel

You need to plan but be prepared for what comes back to be different to what you expected

If you have a data journalism project, as a freelancer, you cannot continue indefinitely without funding

 

*

So, a few thoughts from me as a result of sitting through this very rewarding session…

Personally I think the big point journalists can take away from this was just how much information and time people are prepared to share – IF you can hit a topic they care about.

A few years ago, when I was editing the Daily Post, we ran a survey on a notorious road, the A55, but – crucially, I think – as well as asking people if it should be given a 3rd lane (no brainer answer: Yes) we asked them to share their views on what the biggest problems were, what they thought should be done, and any experiences they wanted to share.

It was incredibly successful in terms of response and richness of detail and made for several days with of content.

Crowdsourcing, I think, means you cede control of your questions and your line of investigation – what people want to tell you about may be only indirectly linked to the question you ask initially, but if you follow that line of inquiry, you may find the rewards, engagement and validity of the journalism is far, far greater than you imagined at the start.

Crowdsourcing is not “send us pictures of your children in Easter bonnets”; that’s a UGC shoutout. It is the collaborative act of putting inquiries into the world, and seeing what develops – of making stories with people who are outside of your newsroom and your bubble of perception.

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.

 

 

Instant Articles for regional news

Here’s something that put a smile on my face today (no, not the drink drive mum) – it’s a Manchester Evening News Instant Article on Facebook.
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The MEN and WalesOnline are the two Trinity Mirror regional sites signed up for the UK Instant Articles roll out (announced today) – The Mirror is also participating. The only other UK regional involved right now is the Evening Standard, and it’s a really positive step that Facebook looked beyond the national/international brands for involvement in this.
Instant Articles, of course, is Facebook’s answer to the horrible problem of mobile load hang time for publishers.
Content loads seamlessly, and from a user experience it’s brilliant. Personally, I’m also more likely to read other sections of publisher’s ‘related content’ if they are published as IA too, as there are few things that make me boil like watching a page l-o-o-o-o-a-a-a-d on mobile.

It is, I guess, odd that we rely on a third party to solve a problem we created ourselves with our heavy loading pages but I’m employing my maxim of ‘better to light a candle than curse the darkness’ here. After all, the issue of heavy loads isn’t something newsrooms can solve; getting content out and in front of readers is something they are good at, and if the tool exists, use it, I’d say.

At the International Journalism Festival, last April, I watched a Facebook exec explain the concept of Instant Articles to a room full of journalists, and the reaction was Not Good. There was a loud and sustained outcry against the idea of FB hosting content publishers created, without sending them back to the originator’s website, and it was interesting to witness. (Incidentally, there is a commercial model for publishers built into Instant Articles).

Since then, the roar of disapproval has subsided to more of a mumble, but there are still questions being asked about why publishers are willing to cede their – what would you call it?- control? to a social media platform.
For what it’s worth, this is why I’d say it is worth trying: Facebook is HUGE and as an editor I’d want people to read my content and give commercial colleagues the chance to sell into that if they want to.
If someone is scrolling through content on Facebook and see something interesting the chances are they want to read it there and then (I doubt your average reader is using that Save Link option too often) and if it takes longer than a couple of seconds to load, your fickle reader is off to the next thing.
If we can deliver a fast, decent user experience – and a great piece of content – it gives my brand a big tick, with the reader and with FB.
So congratulations to MEN editor Rob Irvine, social media editor Beth Ashton and regionals head of social media Gayle Tomlinson (along with other TM colleagues) for doing a bit of ground-breaking work for regional journalism, and trying something new.
It’s always a good feeling to be at the forefront of trying new things.

Dealing with witnesses: Why the Eyewitness Media Hub’s guidelines are so important for journalism

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A while ago I was asked to join a group of journalists assembled with the aim of providing some input into Eyewitness Media Hub’s principles for journalists working with UGC* – user generated content (or ‘other people’s words and images’, as non-journalists might say).

It was a privilege to be involved in the discussions and workshop around such important issues, and as a mainstream journalist it’s really important to me that my world view of our working practices gets stretched and challenged regularly.

Anyway, EMH took on an enormous piece of work and, from a bazillion clauses, sub-clauses and “yes, but…” moments, has distilled the best practice down into 6 simple steps.

Go and look at them with full context on the EMH website, and do please read the version on Medium with lovely sharable graphics because they explain things beautifully, and succinctly.

However, as I’ve got your eyeballs for a moment, here’s a pared-down version, with my input in (these):

  1. Consider the physical and emotional welfare of the eyewitnesses you speak to during breaking news events (I have spoken to people who were so shaken by what they’d just been involved in, they didn’t even know I was media, despite me telling them. I imagine a stranger saying “hello, this is my name and title” is classed by the brain as extraneous information compared to the WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING information it’s trying to process. Try to publish footage already captured (Again, it’s often amazing how obliging your average member of the public can be. They will unthinkingly and unwittingly put themselves in, or back in, harm’s way just to be co-operative, helpful and show the story. Others do it because they want that brush with fame – both are equally damaging, potentially). Appreciate the eyewitness may be completely overwhelmed. (This is an opportunity to be a human being, and not take advantage of them. I think probably Vivien Ayling, who witnessed the Shoreham tragedy and then drove on, obviously in deep shock, to her workplace. I caught a radio interview with her a few days later, and a) she was getting a huge amount of social media abuse for driving on to work – instead of what? Staying and getting caught in the fire? Being in the way of the rescue services? – and b) reporters were allegedly waiting for her at home, have steamrollered her son to get into the house. She didn’t even think of asking them to leave, poor woman).
  2. When you’re asking people if you can use their content, do explain how it will be used, and where and what you’re planning to do with it. Also, tell them about syndication, including the who and where. (I’ve explained the syndication opportunity to Liverpool people who have, for example, given us videos, and the stipulation comes back that they’re fine for it be bought by other organisations but it cannot go to The Sun. Also, historically, people have had no idea what syndication of their content means: I think that will change, especially as more organisations like Storyful appear; but in the meantime, if they don’t ask, we should make sure they’re told).
  3. If you’re embedding content, without speaking to the creator, think about reasonable expectation of where it might appear. (But, tbh, get explicit permission every time, if you can. It just saves a heap of problems later and, frankly, if someone doesn’t want you to use their stuff, and finds out you have, you could find the ensuing Tweetstorm and drain on your time trying to right a wrong outweighs the click value. Also, TinEye and Google Reverse Image Search are commonly used nowadays; it can also cost you more financially, once you’ve annoyed someone through non-communication).
  4. When it comes to images, think about the impact of what you’re publishing might have on people pictured/broadcast, or their family. (Blur isn’t a cop-out; it’s a mature way of telling a story while acknowledging the impact of what you’re publishing can have. We can be so terrified of bottling it, or not using the same photo in the same way as another publication, sometimes. Competition is a good thing, and being bold and brave as journalists is generally the right way to go. All I’m saying is: It’s rare you can cause harm by shielding people)
  5. Ask how someone who has created the content you’re publishing wants to be credited. This may mean you need to explain the potential pros and cons (like, you’ll get a lot of social media kudos and follows – you’ll also get deluged by other media wanting to use it, and they will contact you directly instead of going through our syndication department (see #2). And, no, Photo: Twitter, or Video: YouTube is not a byline.  Sometimes people will choose pseudonyms, or request anonymity, often they won’t. What they do need is a choice.
  6. Treat people fairly; ask them if they would like recompense if their content is being used to make money for the publisher. And here we are at the delicate business of finance, at which point most newsrooms will twitch their skirts around their ankles and dither because UGC IS FREE, ISN’T IT? Not always, and not if you want a relationship with your audience, and a reputation for fair dealing. Often people don’t want money but it’s a conversation that should be had.

*I think Other People’s Content is probably the honest way of putting things, because it doesn’t set the Wo/Man In The Street on a different footing to a freelance photographer. If you want what they’ve made, you need to treat them both well and fairly, whether payment is requested or expected or not. Because, well, ethics. And not being a dick.

#formatDEN: Audiences, realities and goats in hats

 

Goat. In. A. Hat.

Recurring themes in journalism conferences I’ve been following (and sometimes attended) this year are:

  • Try innovating, not imitating (aka don’t be Buzzfeed-lite)
  • Everyone is a reporter, so be a curator and editor
  • Don’t be scared of failing
  • Get developers coding in the newsroom

At FormatDEN this week, these were raised but so were some others…

TELL IT LIKE IT IS
This was a takeaway from Trushar Barot, Mobile Editor (editorial/product/partnerships) with the BBC. I really enjoy listening to Trushar, he’s incredibly smart, very business-minded and asks tough questions (I sat on an innovation judging panel with him once and he cut straight to the woolly bits of the business case)
His talk on messenger apps and BBC approaches was excellent and I especially liked his thoughts around the real practicalities of using WhatsApp for UGC sourcing.

His view on culture change is to find people who are passionate and excited by change, and put them in charge of digital projects, rather than having the digital experts leading on them.
His view was that showing someone a shiny that would make their job easier, wider adoption of would follow.
But he is also an exponent of treating people as adults, telling them realities and drawing their attention to what is happening in the wider world – to the successes of other competitors, to the successes of their counterparts with said competitor, and by pointing out how skills are changing, and to be relevant and required in a business, individuals have to change too. “And that works as well,” he finished.

Trushar shared a Google Doc of relevant BBC links too. They’re here.

Two other takeaways from this talk, for me:
Working on messaging apps is a way of grasping what content could work on these platforms. It also is an indicator how we engage an audience in what will be, I think, the next disruptive stage in the news industry. We’re going to have to shift from ‘open social’ distribution method to a ‘one-to-many’ distribution approach. We will be less visible, but perhaps the content will have greater value, and impact.
The other thought I had: Is it a good investment of time to work lots on apps if people are – within a few years – going to have moved beyond them and into opt-in receivers rather than seekers of information? The answer is yes, I guess; what else are we going to do?

WHAT ARE YOUR VALUE METRICS?

Juan Senor, a journalism consultant, visiting Oxford Fellow and academic, said page views weren’t the metric to trust (side point: Our metrics-that-matter at Trinity Mirror shifted to dwell time. pages per user and completion rates a while ago) but also had a suck-the-air-out-of-the-room moment when he said social metrics didn’t count either.
“Good journalism will always be shareable” he said, saying there was a need to move from the “anarchy of the mob and the idiocy of the mob”.
“If what we are selling is good journalism we need to think about what we do when we dumb down the content. We should look at the Huffington Post (he was alluding to the fact that the HuffPo has had some bad press recently) and unless Mashable and Buzzfeed look to that example they will go the same way.
“The money is coming in but the metrics they want are time spent, and video completion – not Likes, and RTs. Advertising departments want people to spend quality time with their client’s messages – not shares and page views”.

I should say that a lot of DEN is Chatham House rules, but given that Juan was probably the presenter who had the most soundbites tweeted while I was there, and is a consultant whose views are widely aired, I don’t think he will mind me quoting him directly.

MILLENNIALS AND THOSE WHO THINK LIKE THEM

Blathnaid Healy, the UK Editor of Mashable, said the company was obsessed with audiences and used its early adopter chops to try new platforms, because that’s what the audience expected, and where it would follow (or lead, I suppose. So the more early Mashable is, the more audience comes with them).
Something I really liked about her talk – and there were many highlights – was the phrase ‘Millennials and Those Who Think Like Them’ – I get a bit tired of hearing about Millennials doing this, that and the other. I know people who patently aren’t millennials by their birth certificates, but who romp across the digital media landscape like toddlers, grasping bits of it and cooing with delight.
They live and breathe media in its current form, and there are plenty of them.
My other takeaways from Blathnaid were that explainer video can be nearly five minutes long, and users will stick with it, if it’s good it and informs them of things in entertaining ways.
She also got me thinking about longform formats and how we can experiment by using people’s own stories in their own words. And she had the quote of the day:

“Journalism can be shareable as much as a goat in a hat can be shareable”.

Words to live by.
Unfortunately I had to leave DEN before the end, but it’s worth looking back over the hashtag for comments and links. One of the other big impacts on me was Ed Miller’s immersive news documentary on Hong Kong unrest (shot on Go-Pros, highlighted in his talk on VR for journalism) because it’s an area we’ve done some work in and the results – i.e. the audience engagement – are really telling.

People love interactive multimedia, especially photos they can explore, and we need to make it more of a part of our portfolio, rather than a special event.

So, thanks to the Wall Street Journal, John Crowley, Francois Nel and Nick Turner for a great event.

The beige world of clickbait journalism

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Things I worry about:

  1. Why the airport tax charged by cabs from Belfast City Airport fluctuates by £1 for no apparent reason
  2. Is Rick from The Walking Dead aware of how awful his beard is?
  3. 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.
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.
'Divided a planet'? oh Washington Post,
‘Divided a planet’? oh Washington Post,
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.
 Related articles

A short guide to longform


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It sounds like one of the speakers to hear this year was Aron Philhofer at #hhldn this week, when he levelled some zingers at mainstream media for complacency about their future.

I wasn’t there, but Richard Kendall very thoughtfully grabbed a lot of the tweets around his talk into a Storify and it makes a fascinating read (which will probably have a lot of digital journalists punching the air in agreement).

One of the interesting things to me was the subsequent discussion around immersive longform, an we at Trinity Mirror have ventured into recently, courtesy of working with Shorthand on some projects.

I love immersive storytelling; it’s important to me that a good tale gets a good telling, but the reading experience has to be a rewarding thing if an audience is going to stick with it.

One of the points Aron Pilhofer made was that the New York Times‘ Snowfall immersive story measured page views, but missed the more important metrics. He’s right: PVs and UUs don’t show the true impact. I wouldn’t say discount them entirely –   collating all the metrics to get a rounded picture is important – but they are only a small element.

Talking on Twitter with Andy Dickinson the next day:

Sparking:

Some of the metrics that matter (imo, anyway) – the completion rate, active reading time, the device used, the recirculation rate, how the story is retaining users…  And then there’s the social side of things: How someone interacts with the content; shares it on Twitter without @-ing the brand or author (ie. tweeting the link with a comment rather than retweeting);  likes, comments or shares it on Facebook, pins on Pinterest or on other social book marking sites. The number of unique users for a piece of storytelling that took several days to complete might be low in comparison to those piling on to read a breaking football transfer story. If you went by PVs you might conclude it the game wasn’t worth the candle.

But PVs and UUs miss the point. It’s abut how invested people are in the piece – the time they spend reading it, the multimedia they engage with, the emotions exhibited the words they use when sharing it, and how often they return to it. This is valuable information to help inform future decisions (and commercial opportunities).

I’ve learned plenty from working with Shorthand; it has driven home  the benefits of collaborating outside the mainstream media. It made me put the needs of the mobile reader above everyone else, and it also helped me think about story structures in a new way.

Every time we make an immersive story now I think we improve on previous efforts, mainly because we endeavour to learn from things that tripped us up along the way. Getting text, multimedia and various 3rd party content tools to play nicely together isn’t always easy, whether you’re thinking of doing it in your own CMS or via another platform.

Shorthand’s Rachel Bartlett spoke to Maria Breslin (Liverpool Echo), Paul Gallagher (MEN) and myself recently about our experiences and I’ll link to her piece once it’s live. My longform learnings are pretty simple:

Storyboard it

When I edited newspapers, in common with quite a few other editors I think, I often sketched out the front page I wanted, complete with blurbs, ads and smiley or frowny stick people (depending on whether the subjects of the p1 photograph were calamity-struck or not) on A3 paper.  It helped me visualise if and how the elements of the front fitted together; the fit of the overall package.

Storyboarding an immersive read is a great way of seeing if you have a flow to the narrative, or whether you’re stacking multimedia unnecessarily, overloading some sections with content, and whether it has a strong ending. The final section needs to be as rewarding a read as the opening one.

Device-check it

Build a draft, see how it looks on mobile, desktop and tablet. Refine the draft, check it across devices again. When we built the LFC ‘We Go Again’ story it had beautiful graphics for each player, created by the TMR Data Unit. On desktop these looked really great; on mobile they were a) too small to read and b) required the reader to scroll until March 2015 to get to the end of the graphics. In the end, graphics for key players were redone and these featured in mobile-friendly format. It’s missing a ‘Suarez’s Biting Stats’ graphic, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Browser-check it

During the build of NC&J Media’s Great North Run ‘One Million Stories’ tribute, oddness was discovered. The story displayed beautifully everywhere except IE10, although every other iteration of IE was acceptable. Some checking showed that IE10 is the tenth most popular browser for their users (Chrome and mobile Safari came top.) Tenth wasn’t enough to be a deal breaker but incorporating some helpful advice about using Chrome or a similar modern browser in the promotional marketing was a smart idea.

Have an analytics plan

Twice the analytics caused problems, once due to a glitch and once simply because we didn’t know what we wanted to track; now it’s fairly obvious what the important statistics are. Social, real-time, engagement and user-data-over-time all need to be considered.

Think like a user

Shorthand advises around 20 sections is optimum for UX; the first draft of the MEN’s Blue Moon Rising was about double this. Then you try to read it as the audience would, and realise you’ve stopped reading and are just scrolling.  Just think how you’d react if you were reading the piece, and then you’ll probably slash it in half. I can’t even be bothered to click through to the second page of a Storify half the time, and I suspect my attention span is pretty typical of most people’s so I try to bear that in mind when thinking about longer reads. As with many things in life, just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.

 

 

I need to think less about Audience, more about People

Image

I managed to make it to the Digital Editors Network meet-up on Thursday – #visualDEN if you search for it on Twitter – and came away with head and notebook stuffed full of ideas.

The theme, as the hashtag suggests, was around the visualisation of stories, and talks touched covered the presentation of information through graphs, graphics and multimedia, among other things.

But the talk that metaphorically smacked me right between the eyes came from Amy Webb, because she made me realise I have to stop thinking about The Audience. 

I say it a lot – one of my hobby horses is the need to be ‘audience first’ – and we know a lot about The Audience because our analytics keep us informed.

I know what time they start waking up and reaching for their phones or tablets to scan the morning’s news agenda; I know when they get that pre-lunch attention dip and start surreptitiously  pointing the browser on their work desktop at interestingness on the internet; I know when they have their lunchbreak and head out armed with their mobile phone, and I know when they want to find out about their commute home. 

Most of all, I know The Audience likes to slob out at home, tablet or phone in hand, and watch TV while taking part in a running commentary with millions of others online. 

I know this because we monitor The Audience and try to meet its baby bird demands, as it gapes expectantly for content and entertainment. 

However, yesterday’s DEN made me realise, to paraphrase Ygritte: “You know nothing, Alison Gow”.

I have to stop thinking about The Audience and start thinking about The Person. There’s a tendency to adopt a hive-mind approach to your users when you use analytics to learn about them – we make assumptions because we can see the bigger picture, and this approach is fine and correct because the data backs our assumptions up, but the smaller picture offers a rewarding and rich canvas of information too. 

So I know that between, say 6am and 9am, The Audience is waking up and reaching for a device, but I really need to imagine what The Person is doing at that time. 

They might be using that tablet or phone in bed, or while blearily boiling the kettle, or using the bathroom. 

After 8am they might be on their commute – either in a car, so that’s the end of our involvement at that time, or on public transport, in which case they are still with us. 

What The Person probably wants at that time of the morning are snippets that fit around their busy routine; pieces of content that are quick and simple to consume and which deliver their information without requiring participation. Passive consumption of information: It’s probably why the Prozac lull of BBC Breakfast is so attractive compared to the technicolour of ITV.  

Does that mean a breaking news blog is ultimately, a frustrating use for The Person, as it involves a level of commitment to scrolling and finding things out? 

Putting myself in The Person’s shoes, I guess the answer has to be: Yes, sometimes; even with pinned summaries, it makes me work harder than I want, to find things out. 

However, breaking news live blogs are among the most popular things we do – so is the theory sound but the platform and delivery improvable? Or does it depend on the type of rolling news event being covered?

The answer may well be to ask users on one of our live blogs if it works for them but it’s never occurred to me to do so,because The Audience data tells me breaking news live blogs are a hit and, well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But what if, by tinkering, you could take something that wasn’t broken, and make it amazing? 

It’s the same with the lunchtime traffic spike – factor in what people have to do in their lunch hours (or 30 minutes), from heading out to find food/a cashpoint/a service suppliers etc etc to doing actual exercise, and you realise this is a very time-poor Audience indeed. 

Amy Webb, presenting at DEN, warned against consumer-centric design because it did not take account of people’s lives as individuals, and said, according to my shorthand, anyway: “Modern journalism is incompatible with devices so it is important to design for people, not their devices”.

So the thing I’m musing on post-DEN is this: When you are Audience-guided is there a danger you can become Person-blinded? 

 Pic: BBC

 

 

 

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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