#ONALondon First session: ‘People you may know: Your audience’

I am at ONA London today, where the theme is audience engagement. Rather than live tweeting it, because there is SO MUCH to share, I thought I’d take notes and post them here.

First Keynote session: People you may know: Your audience 

Panel: Federicca Cherubini, Digital News Project team at @risj_oxford (among her many other hats) Mary Hamilton, executive editor, audience, with The Guardian, Renée Kaplan, FT, head of audience engagement 

The point of this is what do we know about our audience, how do we know it and what action do we take as a result of that knowledge.

What does it mean when we say we want to harness the power of the audience?

RC  it has become such a slick term that  it begins to mean nothing. For her it is the idea of a relationship and thinking of distribution as a relationship. We know the audience is there but there is now a notion that we also have to be there giving them something that they value. Putting a metric to each part of that relationship so people can see how they are performing against value/delight/quality of relationships.

MH working out what we want people to do in relation to what we produce; what is the target and then how we engage in a 2-day conversation. It is different for every news organisation. Understanding the ‘what do we want people to do in response to what we are doing?’ is fundamental.

We look at reach, optimisation, loyalty, engagement, habit, participation.

RC internal engagement is also a factor – the culture change and the different ways of thinking are important within this definition too. She also spoke about Lantern, the FT’s new tool which assists journalists in accessing data about content and interaction.

What is loyalty? MH says it varies per person – it might be a subscriber, a regular user or even a sentiment. As the Guardian moves more towards membership it is looking into what is the loyalty behaviour it would expect. RC says loyalty begins with the question of what do you want your audience to do? Loyalty for us means that eventually someone gets enough value from our content that they will subscribe. She also raised the very valid point of the newsroom needing to understanding the commercial importance of audience interaction.

MH says page views are still very important, not least because they are very easily understood across newsrooms (I am so glad she got that point across because they 100% are). But it is easy to talk about the big number and then ignore the 2nd step -do they come back, do they click on something else?

She also had my favourite phrase of the day “lumps of behaviour” – it made perfect sense but also inexplicable made me happy.

Reach is important but depth of reach is as important.

Comments: RK – comments are very important to us because the people who leave comments are our subscribers and are invested in us.

The people who comment on stories are often the people who care most, and that might be that they are very angry with you because you haven’t done what they would expect of you. You have to be present and listen to the comments and take those words into account.

However, comment moderation doesn’t scale in the same way – if you are going to do it well you need skilled, thoughtful moderators.

Update: You can also read Sarah Marshall’s notes here


So, my takeaway from listening to this (really excellent) session: Listening to these very smart speakers, it struck me that if we referred to audience engagement within our newsrooms as audience relationships it might be a concept that is more easily grasped as existing beyond metrics.

Relationship is a term that we farmed off to the marketing years ago (the CRM) and have only recently (in terms of digital journalism) clawed back.

For a vast chunk of my career my relationship was definitely internal (writing for my newspaper, my news editor, my peers, my sales department). How insular was that?

Audience engagement is a lot of work, when you think about it.

You have to scrutinise metrics and listen to the audience to see what they care about, respond with crowdsroucing and a piece of content, work out the best places to put that content so people see it and ideally share it, interact once that content is published, adapt it to reflect what the audience is saying about it – maybe also stand up for what you have created or change the view that you initially approached it with – and after all that, if you’re anything like me, no matter how many people say something is good you will brood on the one person who says you are disgrace to your profession.

It’s a real tough sell to people in the newsroom who are not really invested in the strategy/concept/demands of audience engagement or who are just not used to getting feedback beyond the praise of the person sat at the next desk.

More and more I think the best investment in training a news organisation can make is to help people wrap their heads around their audience strategy, and how individuals (both those working for titles and the audiences responding) have a role to play within that.

Oh, yeah – and there also needs to be utterly clear leadership from the top of the newsroom down around the importance of it. If the top bosses aren’t keen on getting to know and being involved with the audience, of course the wider team is going to take a cue from that.

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 (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.


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).


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


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.


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.
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.

Interesting reads (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • Just a brilliant read – highly recommended, and thought-provoking. FWIW, I could never do this – I like following people – but I started using lists far more aggressively several months ago, and it’s made an enormous difference to the content I see every day. Also my Tweetdeck columns are essential. “I decided to unfollow everyone. Yes, everyone. No exceptions. From one day to another. And instead of relying on a combination of Twitter Lists and my home timeline, which is what I have been doing for years already, I decided to be brave enough and see whether I could survive just with Twitter Lists and following zero people and witness, first hand, whether the conversations moved elsewhere. Or not. Eventually, I wanted to see how disruptive such bold move would be like on how we use Twitter today.”

    tags: twitter

  • How BuzzFeed, The Economist, The New York Times, Quartz, Vox, and Yahoo News slim down a day’s worth of news into manageable forms.

    tags: apps platforms distribution

  • Saw this, thought of Facebook’s Instant Articles.

    “Platforms can create revenue models where a CMS cannot…any such platform solves problems with the open, flat, flexible common standard by moving it into a richer, more powerful and sophisticated but also in some sense closed and proprietary place. “

    tags: platforms distribution audience

  • ICYMI, Trinity Mirror Regionals is about to introduce a new structure/culture for its newsrooms, including audience goals. This has generated a lot of heat from various people who have gone straight to Defcom One without understanding the details. This, by David Higgerson, endeavours to pierce the fog of suspicion and misinformation… “Journalism has changed. It can’t just be about shouting for attention. Readers expect to be listened to, and their views taken into account. The right use of audience data enables that to happen every day.”

    tags: audience Trinity Mirror Regionals data

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Interesting reads (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

“That time Bohemian Rhapsody crashed the comments on Facebook…”

This story, about Alan Barnes deciding to make a new life away from the city, was posted on the Newcastle Chronicle’s Facebook page an hour ago:

Newcastle Chronicle2


“I have had a calling from God to go to the Shetland Islands.”

Posted by Newcastle Chronicle on Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The first reader comment was this…

Newcastle Chronicle1

…and here is a typical selection of the ’40 replies’  alluded to below that comment…

Newcastle Chronicle

Yup, the lyrics of Bohemien Rhapsody were posted, line by line, by different commenters.  Never let it be said Facebook comments on news sites are all either “slow news day” moans about lazy journalism, or sinks of hatred and bile.

Interesting reads (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • “During this year’s general and local elections a collection of my Birmingham City University students used WhatsApp to publish regular updates throughout the two days of voting. Frankly… they nailed it. In the process they learned a lot, so I thought I’d share some of the things that came up throughout the process – as well as the experiences of the person responsible for the Mirror‘s political WhatsApp account in the week leading up to the election.

    tags: whatsapp

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.