We’ve decided to flip the script on you this week a bit. In our last couple of posts, we’ve spoken about Twitter quite a bit.
This time around, we’ve brought in someone who understands a very different, very fruitful part of the social Web: bookmarking sites.
Amy Vernon gets it. She’s AmyVernon on Digg, and it’s fairly easy to find her elsewhere on the Web. As a former editor of the Lower Hudson Journal News, she found time in her daily routine to figure out how to drive tons and tons of traffic to the site.
You can, too. You just have to work at it. A lot.
Please give us a short bio.
A native of Long Island (don’t hold that against me), I wanted to be a starving novelist, until I figured I should probably find some way to make a living and settled on journalism (joke’s on me, eh?). I got my BSJ from Northwestern University in 1991 and went on to work at The Miami Herald as a reporter, the East Valley Tribune as a reporter and then editor, and then The Journal News first as education editor, then metro editor of the Rockland edition.
Right now? One of the newly laid off journalists who are so common these days.
What are your official duties?
As metro editor, I was in charge of the local news report for Rockland County, which accounted for a quarter to a third of The Journal News’ total circulation. On the website, LoHud.com, the Rockland news index page consistently got nearly as many or more page views than the Westchester index page, despite Westchester having triple the population. I also created and administered a local news blog, Inside Rockland.
I also was education editor, responsible for keeping track of the biggest education trends and handling large data dumps each year from the state Education Department.
I contributed to four blogs at various levels — the television blog, Remote Access (I covered several shows, including “24″ and “Battlestar Galactica”); Ice Cream is Not for Breakfast, where six moms wrote about the challenges of feeding our children; the education blog, The Hall Monitor; and Inside Rockland, as I mentioned.
In addition, I was the blog “super user,” with administrative access on all blogs to help all bloggers continually update their design and content.
What unofficial roles did you take on?
The blogging role was officially unofficial. It started out as something I did as I had time, but grew into more of a permanent part of my job. I created widgets for blog and news page content; helped other bloggers find content in the course of my work on social media sites. I also was one of the newsroom’s go-to people with technical issues, on the blogs and elsewhere — for example, I was one of six people chosen to train our newsroom on a new publishing system seven years ago.
I also was the resident expert — the only expert, actually — on social media.
How did you get started on social bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, etc? What lessons have you learned along the way?
My first experience with all these sites was through my coverage of the television show “Jericho” for our blog. The show was canceled after one season on CBS, but had an extremely dedicated and stubborn (in a good way) viewership that basically forced the network to pick it up again for an abbreviated second season.
A couple of times, the “Jericho” fans had what they termed a “Digg Day,” when everyone would go online and Digg all the Jericho-related articles they could, to get more attention for the show and the fans’ efforts.
I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, but being a fan as well as a blogger, I dutifully signed up for a Digg account and promptly dugg everything on Digg that was about the show. I dugg stuff that was months old to hours old. I was beyond clueless.
After that, I noticed that other fans would pass around the URL of my posts about “Jericho,” asking everyone to Digg it, to gain more attention. Sounded cool, so I started submitting other blog posts to Digg. And getting absolutely no Diggs whatsoever, naturally.
The biggest thing I learned was that social media is just that — social. You can’t just submit something into a vacuum. You have to link up with other users and check out their submissions. You have to randomly look at other content on the site and digg/stumble/etc. other people’s submissions. Why would people check out your submissions if you don’t check out theirs?
The other biggest thing? Don’t submit your own stuff. Major social faux pas. I had no idea when I first started, but I learn fast.
What sites do you like? Which do you think people shouldn’t bother with?
I like sports, so I like ESPN. I also like local news sites. There’s a lot of great content on local news sites that are of broad interest, but people don’t tend to go to them unless they live in that specific geographic area. I also know that I’m definitely reading anything subbed from Popular Mechanics, Cracked or WebUrbanist, though those are probably the hardest sites to find new content on, as Diggers tend to watch them like hawks and submit anything new within minutes of it being posted.
The sites I like the least are the ones that republish content from other sites but are submitted to Digg or the others instead of the original publisher, such as Huffington Post. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind when I see a submit from HuffPost that’s original content. But too many stories are submitted on Digg that are reprints from original sites. There are other sites like that, too — Gizmodo, i09, for example — that have lots of good, original content, but too much of what gets subbed from them is their republished content. They give credit where credit’s due on their sites, but when submissions from them go popular, they’re the ones that get the traffic, not the original publisher.
I’m talking about Digg more than anything else, because it’s the 800-pound gorilla, and because I use it more than anything else. But I’ve grown to really enjoy StumbleUpon and have finally begun to understand Reddit. With SU, I could sit at my laptop and just hit Stumble! over and over to find great new sites and content.
Do your co-workers and bosses get what you do? How do you explain it to them? Do you even bother?
Very few, I believe, really understood what I did. When I pushed along a LoHud submit once someone subbed it, folks at my news org knew I’d ensured its popularity. But I don’t think anyone realized how much work that actually took. I’d worked for months on the social aspects of the site before I’d gotten to the point that I could easily help something get popular on Digg. Some at my workplace seemed to believe all it took was to sign up for an account, submit something and poof!
The few people who knew anything about the social media sites seemed to like throwing the names around, but didn’t have any real presence on any of them. A couple of times, I was asked to write up an SOP (standard operating procedure) on how to work on Digg. My attempts to explain that it’s not so simple as that didn’t really seem to interest anyone.
Do you submit stories just from LoHud.com? What’s your rule of thumb?
At first I did, not realizing that was a big Digg no-no. Of course, I tried to choose articles that really would be of broader interest — for example, a woman who died after eating mushrooms she’d picked by the side of an interstate. As I got to know people, people got to know the site and once LoHud was subbed more often, it got subbed more often, if that makes any sense.
How can reporters benefit to being in this space? Can you honestly say that LoHud.com has a bigger profile now that it’s been bookmarked on Digg?
First off, reporters can benefit, because once you are perusing Digg, you really see the stories that catch the public eye. And you can also improve what you’re doing sometimes. For example, someone had submitted a database of NFL players’ salaries. At the top of the database on the site, there were two huge pictures that made it so you had to scroll down just to get to the drop-down for the database. Diggers complained about it, I noticed that, and passed along the word.
Something like LoHud seems incredibly local, and lots of mainstream publications are looking to build local audiences. In your experience, can one build a local audience through bookmarking sites?
I ran into several people who either lived in the local area or had lived in the area or had family in the area. You definitely can build a local audience through bookmarking and social media.
What are three tips you have for anyone in mainstream media looking to get involved on these sites?
1. Remember that it’s all about the social aspects. Don’t expect anyone to Digg, Stumble, whatever if you don’t reciprocate. Doesn’t have to be a Digg-for-a-Digg, but if you never Digg anything from one of your “friends” submits, why would that person continue to look at and Digg yours?
2. Generally, don’t submit articles [or] posts from your own site. But if [and] when you do, make sure they really are of broad interest, not something super-local that no one outside your small area would be interested in.
3. Seek out the best content to submit; don’t stress if it’s from your “competition” – in the end, MSM is either going to sink or swim in part because of sites like this. Submitting from any originating news source is a good thing.
You can find Amy on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. She can also be reached at amy.vernon.digg [at] gmail [dot] com.
Anyway, here are some interesting tidbits from around the Web this week:
Are you looking to build a following on Twitter and Digg but don’t want a lot of noise in your profile? Simon Owens from Mediashift wrote a great primer for dealing with friend inflation on these sites.
Once you decide to put your organization on Twitter, the temptation is great to turn on Twitterfeed, which automatically puts RSS feeds into Twitter, and forget it. It’s like magic! You just have to come up with the idea of using Twitter and Twitterfeed does the rest!
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy — if you want Twitter to be useful for your organization.
Twitterfeed is a clever program. It pulls entries from RSS and posts them on Twitter with headlines or without, with links or without. You can tell it to send 1 entry every hour, 1 a day or as many as 5 every half hour.
Here’s the problem: People generally do NOT want to follow an RSS feed on Twitter, especially from a news organization. Twitter is a conversational tool. It is a personal tool. If you want to read an RSS feed, you can use Google Reader. If you want people to follow your newsroom’s account, put a person on it. A real person.
More news organizations are figuring out what Twitter is about, and are realizing that feeding an RSS feed to Twitter doesn’t work. Check out @dallas_news, @coloneltribune, @statesman, @phillyinquirer and @kxan_news for examples of what an account is like with a human voice behind them. Compare to @startribune (which didn’t use Twitterfeed, but was an RSS feed until it stopped updating two months ago).
It’s nice to see newspapers figuring out the right way to use Twitter.
The Indianapolis Star had Twitterfeed on full blast until Oct. 30, when it sent out this Tweet:
Since then, the Indy Star has been sharing links with a human touch. It makes all the difference. Twitter is free. All you’re spending by doing it the right way is work hours. Do it — you’ll like the results.
Our video of the week is from CBS News, about how social media played a big role in getting information out during the terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Included prominently is Gaurav Mishra, who makes some good points about the role of social media in breaking news events.
It’s easy for some to brush off social media as a news tool until big news events happen. Then it’s hard to ignore.
The New York Times today launched “Times Extra,” which is an alternate front page that links to stories that are NOT produced by the Times.
In the past few months, more and more mainstream media outlets have warmed up to the idea of linking to material outside their own sites. This in effect could turn old media, which is used to being the source of news, into news aggregators, at least sort of like the Drudge Report. The idea behind it is that although you jettison your readers off to other material, they will keep coming back to your site because you are a one-stop shop.
The Dallas Morning News has also waded into this by hand-picking opinion pieces from around the Web and posting them on their opinion page. The material is posted along side their own work — they often even play up material from outside the Morning News above their own.
It makes for a much better user experience, and it is likely to make their opinion page a destination site for people who are looking for smartly chosen opinion pieces from around the Web.
If you maintain a hand-chosen Twitter account (as opposed to dumping RSS onto Twitter) for your news organization, you should also link to outside material. Colonel Tribune and the @statesman do it as a matter of practice. Why not be the place to go to for news, no matter where it comes from?
By new media standards, old media has been very slow to pick up on this idea. Even the Times, which is ahead of most mainstream media in trying Times Extra, isn’t making it the regular home page — users have to click on a tab to get to it. (To find it, click on “Try our extra home page” tab near the top of the paper’s standard home page).
The open exchange of links is what drives information on most of the Web, outside of mainstream media. We doubt this idea will still be embraced at least right away by all in the old media — after all, it is hard for some to believe that sending folks away from your site is a good thing. It’s hard to argue with the numbers, though …
The following is data from Nielsen Online on the top 30 sites in the “News” category based on February 2008 traffic. This data takes into account U.S. home and work Internet usage, and it shows both unique visitors to each brand or channel and sessions per person. For more information about the sourcing of this data, please visit www.netratings.com.
Brand or channel; sessions per person; unique audience (000)
1. drudgereport.com; 19.9; 3,445
2. Daily Kos; 8.9; 1,204
3. Fox News Digital Network; 8.3; 10,177
4. CNN Digital Network; 7.9; 37,181
5. AOL News; 7.7; 21,119
6. Yahoo! News; 7.4; 35,274
7. MSNBC Digital Network; 6.4; 34,013
8. ksl.com; 6.0; 796
9. Breitbart.com; 5.3; 2,674
10. Google News; 5.3; 12,050
11. Gannett Newspapers and Newspaper Division; 5.1; 13,998
Although Twitter has turned into an (almost) instant messenger service, it was originally designed as a microblogging tool. The idea was to give short updates on what’s going on around you to a group of friends.
Twitter does still work well that way. Only now, your group of “friends” might be thousands of people, and what’s going on around you might be a natural disaster, an election or a concert. Twitter can be an excellent tool for “live Tweeting” these big events.
Here are five tricks for getting the most out of your live Tweeting:
1. Pick the right event (note: funerals are the wrong event). Ideally, the event you want to live Tweet would be interesting to the vast majority of your followers. Bonus points if it’s an event a lot of people want to attend but can’t get into and it’s not televised.
2. Tweet as often as is needed, but not too much. Yeah, that’s horribly vague, but if you use Twitter for a while, you’ve seen someone do “too much” on Twitter. If you flood your followers with too many Tweets, no matter how interesting they may be, you’ll annoy them and maybe even lose them. If you must live Tweet an event from an account with diverse followers, be sensitive to the fact that a lot of your followers might not care. In that case, keep Tweets to a minimum (hit only the high points). If you feel like you need a lot of Tweets from the event, start a separate account just for that event. If possible, start that new Twitter account well before the event and try to recruit followers who might be interested in that event to follow the new account.
3. Follow regular good practices on Twitter. When you find a relevant, useful tweet from someone else at the same event, retweet them. Reply to people who ask you questions. Thank people for helping you out.
4. Don’t #go #hashtag #crazy. They’re #annoying. It’s OK to use a hashtag in moderation (as in one or at most two per Tweet). Hastags do have a place – they allow for people to aggregate Tweets from an event and give an easy way to find event-specific Tweets in Twitter search.
5. If possible, post photos, quotes from people at the event and any observations that you truly think will be useful to your followers. Content is, as always, king.
You did all the right things building a social community for your site.
Hypothetically, let’s say you used Twitter to build a community of people who are actively interested in what you have to say. Perhaps you even have a thousand followers. Great.
Then Twitter, like so many hot Web ideas of the past, falls out of favor of the social media-consuming public or runs out of cash for lack of a business model (or a buyer).
So, all that work you did building the community up goes down the drain, right?
The people who are following you and conversing with you within a social network are still there, no matter what happens to any individual platform company. If Twitter, as is in this example, goes away, those people, who made that network valuable, are still with you. They still care what you have to say. If Twitter suddenly isn’t there, another platform will fill the void. If you’re paying attention to the Next Big Thing in social media, you’ll be able to start over there. The difference, this time, is you won’t have to start from scratch – you’ll have a community of interested people who will seek you out.
Remember, that community you’ve built is YOUR community, not Twitter’s.