Facebook and the blue pill of news

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe” *

I read a Roy Greenslade blog post today about Facebook, and it made me thoughtful about our attitudes towards the ownership of news and information in the way the phrase “Google’s tanks are on our lawns” used to in 2008.

His take (which was expanding on this article) is that “Facebook’s increasing dominance…[will cause] not only the destruction of old media… but the end of journalism as we know it” and adds “The Facebookisation of news has the potential to destabilise democracy by, first, controlling what we read and second, by destroying the outlets that provide that material”.

Big themes, and yet, if platforms skew information then for over two hundred years we’ve had the newspaperisation of news.
There hasn’t been, and never will be for as long as humans are involved, a time when information isn’t fitted to a structured narrative – often one which is created in response to a need. Whether breaking news or investigation, journalists are taught to look for a Who, What, Where, When, Why, How framework, and that doesn’t make the resulting story incomplete, or wrong or bad journalism.

Digital journalism and social media hasn’t changed this particularly, but it has made it easier for scrutiny, questioning and rebuttal. Algorithms aren’t the solution, and I know someone far more clever than I will have an idea of what degree of separation you need from human intervention before code can create a pure filter, but even then it might not be a filter you enjoy or want, because – ultimately – we chose our versions of truth and have Views about those who hold different truths to us.

The changes in platform are never going away, just as newspapers have opened and closed, websites come and gone, apps failed, or been bought up and integrated in others, only for their unique gifts to be lost.
The big difference brought by the internet is that while 1980s Britain might have overwhelmingly learned of its news from print tabloids and TV, the weltanschauung is literally now a world (wide web) view.
The gobbling up of revenue and audience that comes with Facebook’s dominance is a challenge but only the latest in a long line of them. The mainstream media may not meet that in its current iteration but we have no monopoly on the future of journalism. New media businesses emerge, and even msm is constantly changing, no matter how much it may not appear that way. I work in a different world to that of a 1990s newsroom.

Every readers will have a view of what is and isn’t journalism and you can see their often scathing opinions in any search on Twitter. Exhibit A:

Panic about deadly kittens, by all means, but don’t panic about them being the most read story on yesterday’s Telegraph website – why shouldn’t they be? The story is interesting, sharable and meets at least one dictionary definition of the term Journalism- gathering, assessing, presenting information.
Having said that, so does the act of retweeting a police appeal for a missing child. Is a report of local mini Olympics, complete photo of kids wearing flower medals, journalism? Or is relaying a couple’s airplane bust up via live tweets?
What I think of as journalism may differ even from another journalist’s view of journalism, let alone a broad sweep of opinion. Our narratives are distinct and based on how we see our own realities.

One person’s diverting read is another’s click bait; the  star ratings your local news outlet curated for local restaurants and that you read (probably via Facebook) may be useful and inform your decisions of where to eat, but there will be 20 other people posting in the comments “It’s nothing to do with hygiene; they get one star for not filling out the paperwork correctly”.
A handful voices expressing outrage at the lack of local grassroots sports coverage are drowned out by the deafening silence of (perhaps tens of) thousands of people  not caring about it at all.

What I ultimately believe is we can’t insist journalism has a right to survive just because it always has been a thing and we think people are more shady now than ever.
If the industry wants journalism to survive then we’ve got to be smarter about delivering quality and reaching and engaging audiences with content that matters to them. And I think when it comes to audiences, invested, niche ones – geographic or interest – are the future.
Social media platforms like Facebook are only going to become more sophisticated; we’ve got to be equally committed to bettering what we do, to be able to use their systems to deliver our content, and talk, and listen, to the audience more than ever.
Maybe we need to be more concerned and focused on what is happening, quietly, on messenger apps – away from analytics and data that tell us what our audience values and wants.

*The Matrix, 1999  

 

Facebook and cookies n milk journalism

cookies Here’s a paragraph from an article on Digiday earlier today:

On the PopSugar Moms Facebook page, PopSugar’s most popular page with nearly a million likes, most videos surpass 100,000 views. A few have cracked a million views.This video about milk-and-cookie shot glasses went viral, racking up more than 9.8 million views since its Feb. 25 post date.

You can read the full article here if you want but the essential takeaway is this: Cookies in the shape of shotglasses drove obscenely large amounts of traffic to a site that harnessed the power of Facebook native video.

That’s fair enough but, having listened to Andy Mitchell, director of news partnerships, Facebook, speak at the International Journalism Festival recently about how user choice and engagement would be one of the key drivers for ‘surfacing’ content on Facebook, I do wonder this: As most journalism – particularly regional news – has literally nothing to do with cutesy shotglass cookies and milk, are those stories going to sink without trace?

Mitchell spoke about Facebook’s future at the IJF (the video of his talk is at the end of this post) and it’s clear that video and native publishing is where he and Facebook see that future pointing (Buzzfeed and the New York Times are among those publishers who are in the first tranche of working with Facebook on this) and that Facebook’s algorithm was key to content flourishing in the Facebook ecosystem.

He’s obviously used to giving keynotes and was initially unruffled when the less-than-enthused audience questions started up. But he did start to get exasperated when various hacks started quizzing him about responsibility, integrity and censorship. George Brock has written a great post on his thoughts (and he was one of the questioners, too). My notes from the session at this point say “AM said a lot of words, none of which answered the question” – and I see George Brock came to the same conclusion in his post too.

So Facebook thinks it is a perfect platform, particularly with regards to mobile, for news brands but there are a few things that I wonder about:

1. If your audience growth strategy is tied to commercialising on your platforms, how quickly can a regional news publisher adapt (again) to make content commercially viable on Facebook? I believe in the idea of social media news, with its own commercial life support system untied to a platform, but I don’t see anyone pointing the way in how to crack that yet. And Facebook is not going to  trip over itself to help publishers find a solution when it is competing in that very same space.

2. PopSugar’s cookies-n-milk video numbers are phenomenal. Not sure a crime scene in Leicester is going to be the same kind of draw, even proportionally. Lifestyle content – and the Lad Bible, of course – can be numbers monsters; regional brands who try to emulate that have to constantly reinvent how they are packaged, pitched and presented or the inevitable “slow news day” comments pile in. They risk damaging the brand’s reputation. Even apparently popular regulars, like property porn articles, start drawing criticism from jaded Facebookers after a very short time.

3. Cookies-n-milk stories aren’t journalism but they are informative, fun, sharable and popular so, if getting on people’s news feed is the goal, is Facebook – that monster mainstream sites rely on so much – descending into a Reddit/VideoJug repository of trivia and how-to-decorate cupcakes or how-to hairstyle time-lapse videos, with an occasional cryptic status update from an old school friend? Is the only way to buck the algorithm is to play by Facebook’s rules and post native video or text? That’s not so much a strategy as a distress tactic.

4. Facebook says it wants to help publishers – specifically news brands with their “slow mobile experience” get their content front and centre on a massive publishing platform, that said brands happen not to have any commercial stake in or ownership of. And that might just be ok, but Facebook effectively washes its hands of what happens next. It says the new feed algorithm responds to reader interactions, and that users should use other sources, not just news feed, to get a holistic view of the news. Personally, I’d say before a Facebook exec makes a breezy public statement like that again, he or she should read some of the comments under an average news story; they’d quickly realise most readers don’t even click-through to the article – they read the social media headline, look at the photo, form an opinion and type ‘slow news day’ or possibly post that damn photo of Michael Jackson eating popcorn. Very few go off to find a wider source of information to add context, nuance and depth.

Some commentators say journalists and mainstream news brands have moved past the point of reporting news, and are now curators and editors of news, verifying and checking the social noise to sort the clear signal. That’s a fair idea, but where does the Facebook strategy (and algorithm) fit into this? Can you edit and curate if the platform where content is being published dictates, on the interactions of the shot glass cookies crowd, whether that work is seen? And on that note, how long can Facebook resist calling itself a publisher?

International Journalism Festival video:

Off with their heads! Crimes against cropping in tweets

Update: Some more cropping tools. This one, which is – I think – called Favicon Generatorwas suggested by @ourman and Twitshot by @xxnapoleonsolo. Thanks chaps.

When it comes to critiquing others’ work, I am very much of the ‘there but for the grace of God…’ school of thought. I’m fairly sure, for example, there are enough spelling and grammar issues over the course of this blog’s eight or so years to make the average sub editor’s heart sink.

But.. there is a new-ish thing that is quietly driving me nuts and, as more titles latch on to the idea of Tweet+image+link = More Engagement it’s spreading like a weed.

It’s the phenomenon of Headless Subject Matter. Here are some examples (and I’m sorry, titles below, to pick you out – another time search would have revealed several different offenders I’m sure)…

The Headless Royal (thankfully not in the wives of Henry VIII sense)

TweetDeck
I’m assuming the £1 beauty product she can’t live without is for her hands?

The Headless-But-Clothed-So-That’s-Something Pop Sensation

Miley's smile may or may not have reached her eyes
Miley’s smile may or may not have reached her eyes

The Headless Only People In The World To Have Married, Ever

The answer, apparently, is ‘get her entire head in a Vogue social media post’

The Headless My-Dress-Cost-Less-Than-A-Tonne-So -I’m-Spinning-With-Joy Model

Visible hair, invisible head
Visible hair, invisible head

And finally, two Cropping Crimes for tragic Jagger. Poisoned (allegedly) and now beheaded – what is this? The 13th century?

_32__Twitter

My dog's got no nose. etc etc
My dog’s got no nose. etc etc

The thing is, even when it looks normal in the tweet, the preview (these examples are from Twitter and Tweetdeck) often doesn’t. I learned bitter lessons last week, as I selected, cropped, uploaded, posted, checked… and then deleted photos on both Twitter and Facebook posts because I’d sized them wrongly.  Eventually Google (or Audience Review, to be accurate) provided me with a key: Use a 2:1 ratio, with the best upload size being 1024×512, as this scales down well to 440×220.

And when it comes to tools, I use Canva, PicMonkey and Spruce (all are excellent for overlaying text too, although I found I had to close and reopen Spruce each time I wanted to upload a new pic).

Links with photos in Facebook also have a nasty tendency to crop in unfortunate ways. I tend to get around this by uploading a specific image rather than going with whatever the link generates. I found this post very helpful in choosing sizes.

So, a minor gripe in the scheme of things but it’s something that takes just minutes to get right, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Six thoughts on emerging opportunities for journalism

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB0&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmagictorch.com%2F%3Fp%3D62&ei=xIxrVL7vC8e0sATyvoCACg&bvm=bv.79908130,d.cWc&psig=AFQjCNHbdgW8g1Er8Ob1oHVzTX879Q3oSw&ust=1416420924455214

Attending the Society of Editors* conference on November 10 and 11 meant a trip back to my old stamping ground of Southampton. I spent several years there in the ’90s with the Southern Daily Echo (editor Ian Murray completed his term as SoE president this month) and it was good to go back – not least to see how much the city has prospered since my last visit.

The conference had some excellent sessions  – I particularly enjoyed the Full Steam Ahead panel, the Continuous Development panel on training, and the New Threats to the Media debate, with a special nod to Matthias Spielkamp, of iRights.info for his insightful view of journalists’ needs to protect processes, not just sources. The links above go to the SoE summaries of each debate but the Daily Echo also undertook a commitment of covering the conference live. Respect.

I was invited to take part in a panel on Emerging Opportunities for Journalism with my fellow panellists being Kathryn Geels, of innovation charity Nesta, and Peter Jukes, whose account of crowdfunding to live tweet the hacking trial was fascinating. At the end of the session it did feel a little as though digital journalism was still viewed as the freeloading cousin of the more solvent print product by some, although I don’t think it’s hard to find value in engaging audiences, getting social media right, and concentrating on dwell times and user needs rather than page views.

I have a bit more room to explain my ideas on this blog and, obviously, I work in regional legacy media so my view is slanted towards that segment of the industry. However, everything I talked about at the SoE is already being done by other companies – some are recognisably in the content creation business, others perhaps not so much – and they are making money.  These are emerged opportunities but parts of the mainstream have’t cottoned on to that yet. So, these were the themes I chose to talk about:

1. Data and the roles of journalist/developer: Twenty years ago, I would go on a job with a photographer and between us we would tell the story using our own choice of media, which were blended to enhance reader experience. A posh way of saying, I did words, the toggie did pix, and the end result was a content package that was greater than the sum of its parts.  In Trinity Mirror we have the data unit, where facts, figures and whole paragraphs of exposition are enhanced by developer coding skills to create entirely new pieces of content. Like the WWI search widget, for example. A standalone story, with data and visuals, that through existing brought in new stories as readers explored the data, discovered new things, and shared them. Of course, you can be your own developer, just as you can be your own photographers. I just think that the dynamic will see developers and reporters working closely in mainstream newsrooms in the future, just as we have always done with photographers and sub editors.

2. Mobile/wearables: From my notifications column in Tweetdeck, the most tweeted point I made as a panelist was ‘if it doesn’t work on mobile you need to ask yourself  why you’re doing it at all’. The opportunities for mobile journalism are enormous – commercial developments aside (and there are so, so many) simply being able to deliver your new content into a platform that your target audience’s is already holding in their hand – (and tell them about it through some judicious notifications use) is a little mind-boggling when you stop and consider it. Apps aside, why would any media company have a news website that wasn’t responsive? It’s surprising how many do. In terms of wearables, we’ve only just reached the foothills; I’ve no time for dismissive ‘Glassholes’ chatter – if we aren’t looking at how the potential opportunities offered by these spaces now, when the audience shift happens (and, as with phones and tablets, it will be at a gallop when it does move) we won’t be there as a familiar brand to greet them. So ‘our’ audience will form new alliances with brands that did get there first. Under the innovations banner, we’ve got a Google Glass project running at the Manchester Evening News in conjunction with UCLan’s John Mills and we are already discovering wearables have advantages over handhelds for telling some stories (like the Manchester Live video linked to in point 5).

3. Socially shareable content: Just a glance at a news website’s real time anaytics shows how important the social audience is to driving traffic. The opportunities for mainstream media to create content – images, text, audio – that has a standalone life on social platforms are obvious and although I wouldn’t say this has been cracked  yet I think the native advertising content being created around games and lists is a pointer A bit of a digital air plant; socially shareable standalone content should have a built-in life-support system of editorial and commercial content, and in a social media ecosystem users would interact, consume, and move through on to other points of interest on a website served up through linking and curation.

4. Immersive storytelling: I’ve seen for and against discussions on whether there’s a really life for long form online (here’s a long Twitter debate that’s worth a read). If you ask will people read 400+ words on a mobile device I’d say, on the evidence I’ve observed, you have the wrong question. As ‘how’ people will take in the information and you’re on the right track. Personally I think if they are 400+ worthwhile words, with associated multimedia, engaging graphics, interactive content and clean, easy scrolling, on an engaging subject, then yes, people will. And then there’s the immersive opportunities of long form audio storytelling – as the statistics of TAL’s Serial podcast show, for example.

5. Live and collaborative journalism: This is my favourite point, because it involves drawing people into the journalism you propose, and quite often it becomes a better – and perhaps different – thing because of that. Live invariably means more transparent – the immediate need to convey information to a waiting audience takes out the editing filter, often, and what’s comes across are pure facts or descriptions. It’s exiting and often compelling – readers stay for longer, share more, involve themselves and – particularly in the cases of regional brand liveblogs – living stories become authoritative pieces of work. Collaborative is fun to do because the crowd you work with knows so much.  The Manchester Evening News ran Manchester Live for one day but the learnings it took away have been incorporated into the day-to-day fabric of the newsroom. A real case of seizing an emerging opportunity, seeing the value to an audience, and acting on the feedback.

6.  Audience analytics and reader trends: None of the above points work without knowing the audience, their behaviour and the user trends. If we don’t know what our audience’s habits are, what devices they use, where, when and what information they are going to want, it’s very hard to deliver the right content. And this is a competitive market – we compete for users’ attention against other media, against their preferred music, their work, their loved ones… getting a slice of their attention is hard, and our best hope is to insert ourselves into their day at the points when they’re likely to have time to want information and entertainment. Layer real time analytics with historic data and social information, and you have a matrix to work from. Personalisation and automation of some content/content delivery are more opportunities that spin out of knowing audiences.

So that was the tone of my contribution. I tried hard to avoid jargon but when you’re talking about ‘wearables’, ‘immersive storytelling’ and ‘analytics’ it is kinda hard not to sound buzzword-y. Hopefully the message didn’t get too mangled by it though.

* A bit of disclosure: I’m a (very new) member of the Board of Directors for the Society of Editors

Bonus content: Since taking part in the panel, I’ve managed to catch Amy Webb’s immense 10 Tech Trends for Journalists slideshow, which is essential viewing in my opinion.

Social media has wrecked my blog*

I am a lazy blogger but it’s not my fault. Twitter and Diigo are to blame for my indolence, and Blogger has a part to play in it too. 

You see, it’s so easy to just tweet a link, perhaps with a (very) short opinion, or save it to Diigo and get that site to sweep my curated links and comments onto this blog once a week, that I have gotten out of the habit of writing longer thoughts here. 
Classic example: 

 
This is in the Social Journalism group on Facebook – it’s not a secret group although you need to request to join, so I don’t thing screengrabbing the image is bad form. 
I read Ian’s post and thought he made a very relevant point re verification, cynicism and the requirement to check something out because it seems too incredible to be true, but I couldn’t link to it because FACEBOOK.  
That meant I couldn’t tweet or share it either,
So I was about to give up when I suddenly thought “I could put it on my blog” – and it was a true OMG moment; I really had forgotten that my blog was there for such things. 

In addition to the other social channels taking over, I actually don’t like Blogger much as a platform, but I continually fail to find the time or energy to relocate to another one. See? Again, a lazy blogger. Both these things really need to change.

So how to get out of the habit of tweeting and bookmarking, instead of blogging? Does it even matter, in the scheme of things? 
I started the blog six years ago to test social tools and ways of storytelling, and it gradually morphed into a ‘thoughts about changing journalism’ (I meant that in both senses btw) and now it’s a linkroll of things I find interesting to read, because I tend to forget about it for other things.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this – Nieman Labs says the blog is dead and cites 2014 as the year of its expiration. The Atlantic goes further, and says that the Stream of online organised information is now The Thing – fresh and now are what matters. 
That must mean the River of News is at an end, not so much dried up as diverted into a backwater. (Dave Winer’s reference to RSS, which I see crops up in the Altantic’s comments, incidentally).

But, although I’m a lazy blogger I enjoy being a blogger, and while I enjoy and celebrate the nowness of the Stream, the River is also important to me. 

I think there is room for both; in the same way we’re grappling with how to present longform journalism to readers in a way that is compelling and engaging (which, in English, means they stick with the story rather than going off to look at a list of 19 Things You Did When You Were a Teen That Will Make Your Teen Cringe!). 
At the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo, we’ve worked with Shorthand this month to create two immersive stories around football – here and here – which taught me a lot about the ways we should structure longform. More importantly, both articles were sharp reminders of the idea that if it doesn’t work on mobile, don’t bother doing it – swathes of work was cut from the MCFC story because they simply didn’t make for a good mobile experience. 

So, two things. I need to be less lazy about my blogging and I need to work on my relationship with Blogger, or find a new partner. New month, new attitude… new home?


* The title of this post is of course provocative and wrong – after all, blogging is social media as far as I’m concerned – but it was the best way to describe this post in a pithy headline.

 

Tweetdeck: A short user guide to getting the most out of it

tweetdeck
(Photo credit: estherbester)
I ran my first Webex training session this week; it was a 45 minute run-through of How To Be a Tweetdeck Ninja, which contained my tips for getting the most out of Facebook. 
Ahem.
I’ve used Tweetdeck for years and I like the Chrome extension very much – I personally find Tweetdeck the desktop tool for Twitter I wouldn’t be without (one other being Buffer). 
So when asked to give some colleagues an introduction to Tweetdeck, and others a bit of a power-user insight, it was a chance to sift through what is useful or not to me, and share it. 
Because Trinity Mirror uses Google Apps, I’ve slanted the presentation to the Google Chrome Store Tweetdeck extension – obviously that isn’t a prerequisite to using Tweetdeck. 
Having not used Webex before (other than a nice, safe ‘this is how it works’  session between me and the trainer) it was a little nerve-wracking but, used properly it is a great tool for engaged learning. (My main learning outcome was that background noise can hugely impact on the sound quality.)
Anyway, before the session started I did ask the Twitter hivemind for its thoughts on what was good and bad about Tweetdeck, and and then pulled a selection together into a custom timeline* of the responses: 

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+”://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

There was also a powerpoint sent around as an aide memoir, which I’ve uploaded to Scribd

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Shifting my social media life around

I bit the bullet today and made myself a Facebook page. 
I’d actually created it a few months ago, but I didn’t publish it because it seemed a bit, well, extravagant – I have a Facebook profile, I’m on all the usual social networks, plus I have various about.me type pages. What was the point of a Facebook page as well?
But my social media world is starting to become a bit too much of a mashup for me to do anything particularly effectively. 
If you’re interested in seeing the page, it’s here under the imaginatively titled vanity url alisongow.journalist. 


The need to put a bit more organisation into my social media life is something that’s been bothering me for a while. 
Take Twitter: I have used it for more than 6 years now and it’s a different beast to what it started out as (of course it is!) but the way I was using it hadn’t evolved quite as much. 
So, for example, I’ve got 5,000-odd followers, some of whom are actually Really Real People (there are also some Really Odd People, and I’d prefer them not to follow me, but that’s for another post). 

Some are journalists, some are from what I tend to call In My Liverpool Home, or from Wales, and follow me either because they know me or because we move in the same circles and geographic spaces, as well as the same digital spaces. 
But the intersection of those worlds isn’t of that much interest, I guess. 
I’ve had to change the way I think about Twitter; I genuinely used it as a micro-blog initially, then it became a crowdsourcing tool, then a replacement RSS feed, then a way to promote my news title’s journalism. And, of course, it’s always been a noise I couldn’t live without. 
But, that means I now think of what followers are looking for from me more than before and so the micro-blog part of things has gradually decreased, as as the amount I tweet. 

Often, I can’t tweet about work things, interesting as they might be, because it isn’t the right platform, or the right time. 
I can’t get involved in long tweet-debates any more because I don’t tend to be on Twitter as often – I might be in meetings, or driving. 
Also, I notice some people use Twitter in an incredibly focused way – just to talk about journalism, for example. That would drive me nuts – I enjoy posting pix from my days out-n-about, for example, and I’d struggle to be quite so single-focused and earnest.
However, things evolve all the time. 

Then it struck me that while I’m refining the way I use Twitter all the time, I’ve done little to change how I use Facebook. 
That is a place where a lot of my non-journo life spills out, from the problems of renovating an old property to the perpetual war waged against sheep breaking into the garden, to – yep, sorry – my cats. Look, I never said it was an interesting spill-out of my life.
But I felt that was limiting my potential to use Facebook; having said that, I don’t really think my old school friends give a rat’s ass about my Thoughts on Journalism. 

So I thought I’d experiment with a page, and it was born today. I suspect it will be very handy too, for mini-blogging, and I’ve also set up an ifttt recipe to auto-post my Diigo bookmarks to the page. 
My friend Dilyan is very good at cutting to the heart of things with his questions, and he did it again today; I’m not sure I have an answer… 


I’ll see how it goes. 

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Definitely NOT another ‘How Journalists Should Use Pinterest’ post.

I’ve read various articles recently about Why Companies Should Be Using Pinterest (I haven’t saved any of them, but Zemanta will no doubt provide the latest selection as I write this – it’s like trying to put down a hydra). 
However, any social media wrangler in a newsroom knows a site has to be proven earn its keep before more than tentative attention is invested. And how do you even start to overcome this chicken/egg scenario? It’s a Google+ sized problem for most of us. 
But this week I was asked to share some of my tips for using it, and as I started to set them down I realised that I wasn’t thinking about how to use it as a journalist and ‘drive audience’ I was writing out my learnings as a user. I’ve set up various accounts and boards on titles I’ve worked on but I also use it myself, for all sorts of things.  “My name is Alison, and I’m a Pinner”.
I found it very useful as a student, for example and these are the boards that consistently pick up followers because they’re really niche (that was my first learning outcome).

I like Pinterest for sharing and driving lifestyle and Buzzfeed-style traffic – it’s easy to create boards, followers – once secured – are loyal; every time they log in, your content is highly visible, as it displays automatically on their homepage. But although it’s a visual site, Pinterest is branching out, as it announced this week

Articles will now have more information – including the headline, author, story description and link – right on the pin. So when you find articles about things you’re passionate about… they’re easier to save and organise. 

And share, it should add. I like the idea; it takes away some of the issues around Pinterest’s laid-back (to say the least) attitude towards ownership and copyright; it does have a certain ‘if the user doesn’t care, why should we?’ attitude towards that. 
Thinking about how I use Pinterest (ie. without my work hat on) gave me some ideas about how you can use it with your work hat on. So here are some of my tips on getting the most out of Pinterest, written with my enthusiast’s hat on. This is definitely NOT another ‘How Journalists Should Use Pinterest’ set of tips: 
1. Spend some minutes through the day reviewing http://www.pinterest.com/popular/ – you can see at a glance what’s hot (bit like Twitter’s trending list. 
2. Linking your social media accounts to follow mutual users offers a quick if haphazard community base that you can build on and tweak as you go. These people are already engaged with you on other platforms and are so likely to be interested in the visuals you pin 
3. It is female oriented, but there are football clubs doing their thing with success. Pinning badges with slogans and inspirational quotes from club heroes, that link through to more visual content, is likely to be more shared.

4. Joining a group (also called a community) board (you need to be invited to do so) dramatically boosts your own followers and drives repins when you’re starting out. 

There is a basic directory of group boards http://www.pinterest.com/groupboards/ but there’s nothing as useful or discovery-linked as, say, Twello. 

You might need to do some speculative following and emailing of your appropriate pins to get invited to the board but once you do, repin numbers can shoot up. I was invited to join a popular ‘Home’ board courtesy of my ‘Next Home Ideas’ board – and my follower numbers have consistently grown since then for other boards too. 


5. Pinterest users may not realise it, but they are a content farmer’s dream. People will use the search facility to look for ‘cute puppy’ ‘lose weight fast’ ‘10 amazing [whatever] facts’. It’s like e-How, but actually not annoying. 

6. A feature in print about someone who’d lost 10 stone for their wedding, that was pinned as ‘lose weight for your wedding, fast’ works across the Alpha Female categories of Food&Drink, Health&Fitness and Weddings, and is a quick, permanent, win.


7. Category boards search is your friend. If the audience isn’t using search, they go straight to the categories list.

Pinterest categories that attract significant followers and repins are all around lifestyle –

Home Decor, Animals, Food&Drink, Health&Fitness (just look a the Popular category to see just how much) and after that probably Hair&Beauty, Weddings and Women’s Fashion with maybe Travel too. 

These give you access to people who are motivated to re-pin and share content, possibly it in smaller niche numbers but pins around celeb fashion and how to replicate it have worked well for me in the past. 


8. Pinterest categories are alphabetised so Animals is the first category anyone browsing the site sees. A great board of regularly updated, pinned animal pix linking to stories will capture the idle browser and also build up followers quickly.
It doesn’t have to be about cute puppies – true life stories are hugely shareable (although if you find yourself welling up at the amazingness of US animals, I advise running the tale – tail? – through Snopes.com before you believe a word) as people like to add their own comments under the pin. It also means you get user engagement and comments to reverse publish if desired.

9. Don’t beware Geeks; they bring gifts of audience and sharing. The Geek category is very engaged. Doctor Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, nerd affirmations… all these things are shared repeatedly. For newspapers with access to celebrity interviews, film reviews etc, or photogenic locations where shows or films beloved of the Geeks have been shot or have featured (hello, Cardiff!) it’s, well, a gift.

10. Embedding pins within your own CMS allows you the opportunity to invite your audience back over to Pinterest to discover stories they might have previously missed, sign up, start following you, etc etc.
11. Because Pinterest has integrated Facebook login options and actively encourages users to follow that route, a user has to opt out of it cross-posting their activity onto their Facebook stream. And I guess there are many, many pinners who simply miss the ‘Skip’ option Facebook hands them.
So, from a media point of view, there’s the potential of hitting two new audiences when someone repins you – once on Pinterest, and once on their Facebook profile.

12. Finally, adding the ‘pin it’ button to your bookmarks bar is the fastest way to pin something to your boards quickly from the Record site. It’s here http://about.pinterest.com/goodies/ under the apps. It makes life a lot easier!
And you can also add a Pinterest widget button to let users pin your stories off the site, of course, should your developers be feeling kindly disposed towards doing some coding.

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Tweeting and filming council meetings? Oh, go on then….

The Daily Post’s Right to Tweet campaign continues to roll forward (we even made Roy Greenslade‘s blog) but since we’ve launched it there have been a number of other instances of newspaper journalists and councillors falling foul of the ‘can we/can’t we’ ad hoc approach. 

Some of the recent examples can be found here (Hounslow) here (Oldham) here (Rotherham) and a number of Welsh councils, according to the director of the Electoral Reform Society,
Among the councils named by the ERS was Anglesey. However, good news on that front: 


COUNCILLORS on Anglesey are being encouraged to take to Twitter and Facebook to engage with communities – while the press and public will also be free to tweet from meetings.

Anglesey council is drawing up a social media protocol for members which sets out how elected members should interact with people on social media but warns “inappropriate” use could end in a standards hearing.
A draft report for the island authority also states it will permit the use of social media by the public and even allow for people to film proceedings on smartphones [my italics – purely because I’m so delighted to read such a sentence] as long as they do not disrupt the meeting.

You can read the full story here; the vote does have to be cast to set the plan in stone, but it’s a really positive step forward and one that sets a standard for others. Da iawn, Ynys Mon. Hopefully we’ll see others following in your footsteps soon.

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Why does live tweeting put councils in a spin?

The issue of tweeting in the council chamber has caused some debate lately, and I’m happy to hold my hand up as someone who helped the discussions along.
I’ve also been ridiculously busy at work, and so there hasn’t been much time to blog about local authorities and their varying views on anyone – press, public, councillor, officer – tweeting during the business end of proceedings. 

To recap, the Daily Post* sent a reporter to cover a budget meeting at Wrexham Council and it became apparent that a Twitter rule – in place for more than a year but unenforced, in our experience – would prevent real time reporting, and thus impact on our rolling news liveblog.  

The standing orders dictated:

 “Proceedings at meetings may not be photographed, videoed, sound recorded or transmitted in any way outside the meeting without prior permission of the chair”.

I’ve covered council meetings since I was a trainee reporter. I have watched (genuine list alert) snoozing councillors reflex-vote, tantrums worthy of two-year-olds, recommendations voted through because the reporter sat next to me called out “move progress!” and a mayor utter the warning: “Allegations have been made about me, and if I find out who those alligators are…”
I’ve watched councillors make the most moving, impassioned pleas on behalf of their electorate, block economically-sound but culturally-wrong recommendations, make principled stands against cutbacks or planning outrages, and conduct cut-and-thrust debates that made a democratic difference.




None of the above – good or bad – needs to be reported retrospectively. Google ‘council chamber live stream‘ and see all the authorities who let the electorate watch the democratic process as it happens 
Wifi, Ustream and a will to make it happen – that’s all our councils need to make a significant contribution to the transparent, open government. 
Being more open means more scrutiny, and potentially more criticism, but it also means more feedback, interaction and opportunity to talk to people. 
I don’t know why some councils embrace opportunities for transparency and others shy away from it. The subsequent fallout is never edifying – at best, it means the kind of nonsense the Daily Post is trying to negotiate a path through, at worst, well, all sense of perspective is lost.

Anyway, there was quite a lot of coverage, not least in the Post, and we’ve got a Right to Tweet campaign running now that is calling for consistency across public bodies, rather than ad hoc interpretation of constitution rules… 

The Twitter ban incident (hashtagged as #twitterban but never to be referred to as #Twittergate) was covered in various media; among the articles were these here and here and here

We even made the chief executive’s weekly email to staff (instantly leaked to the Press, of course): 

[Twitter policy] can of course change in time as the Council further embraces technology, it doesn’t however, change as a knee jerk reaction to an editor who it appears only communicates with her readers via “twitter”.

The annoying part of that comms is, of course, the “twitter” bit. It’s a PROPER NOUN, for heaven’s sake, and don’t get me started on the quote marks…
 
Ways to wind up in Rotten Boroughs, No.348
 . 

I don’t seek out Twitter spats but I do feel strongly that if reporters and the public can use mobile devices to transmit information from court, there is no reason why they should seem permission to do so from public meetings. 

Guidelines can be useful (maybe ‘switch off your phone’s volume’ or ‘ensure your behaviour doesn’t distract others’) but if the Attorney General doesn’t think the decision rests with his judges, then why should it rest with committee chairmen?

So, it’s an issue we aren’t letting subside – there’s a Daily Post campaign underway now as a result of us being refused tweeting rights during one council meeting – and the problem is spreading
Louth Leader reporter Sam Kinnaird was thwarted in a bit to amend Louth town council’s standing orders to allow live tweeting, this week and tweeted that fact
Two councillors backed it out of the whole full council; I see from the report the Mayor took the view that journalists should ‘have the courtesy to do it from the foyer’.
Quite how the dignity of the chamber is offended by someone quietly sending texts from a mobile phone escapes me. 
In other Lincolnshire news, Boston Borough Council has also banned tweeting of its full council meeting today. 
The Boston Standard report says

The borough authority currently only permits people to use Twitter during cabinet meetings and says its constitution will have to be changed to allow the social media site to be used to provide live updates from other meeetings.

Constitution, You’ll find it in the dictionary under S for Smokescreen. 

Twitter is viewed as an appropriate communications tool by the House of Commons – possibly not a bastion of courtesy but certainly the seat of democracy, and tweetin’ since 2011 – and at the Senedd
Welsh Secretary Dvaid Jones believes in it, Obama couldn’t wait to tell the world he’s secured four more years…
I just wish our locally elected representatives would try to catch up.

 

* Yes it’s a personal blog, but work inevitably bleeds into it sometimes. Like it says here, these ramblings are not the opinions of Trinity Mirror. 

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