Archive for January, 2010

New tricks: Know your audience – whether you’re on Twitter or in print

I recently started writing a social media newsletter for the Austin American-Statesman’s newsroom. I posted the first one, which was about responding to readers, here. Here’s the second one, edited slightly to make sense as a blog post.


Got a great question last week from a staff member:

“This may sound like trivia…. but, I’m wondering what posting on Facebook has received the most comments? People are always asking me…. what should they post to get a lot of responses?”

It’s not trivial at all. The answer is a bit nuanced, though, so stay with me:

Readers, of course, are all different and they consume their news in various ways. Based on my experience, however, I can stereotype them some based on the metrics we’ve seen:

* Print readers. They have some time to read in-depth stories and are looking for good investigative journalism and longer-form stories.

* Newspaper Web site readers. In general, they are interested intensely in local news (and Longhorns sports), and will click in droves on juicy crime stories. A lot of these readers come from the search engines to our site (not through the front page). On most days, the majority of the most-read news stories on statesman.com are crime-related.

* Social media consumers. They are not as interested in the juicy crime stories as our average online reader. Several times, we’ve had crime stories that were pulling in big-time traffic online. However, when I’ve posted on Twitter and Facebook, those stories would flop. Instead, these consumers are seeking immediate-impact news that affects them personally. Since social media is a two-way communication tool, I’ve heard about it, too. Often, the only public responses I’ve received are, “Why do I need to know about that poor kid’s murder? Stop being sensational.”

Why the different responses based on medium? I think it’s because people who use social media began and maintained using the services because their friends and family are there. Social media is more “me centric” than the rest of the Web. They hang out on Facebook and share things that impact their own lives, such as their kid losing a tooth or the latest cute pics of their dog. Journalists who are pushing news are invading that territory. We’re welcomed as friends if we’re playing along – giving them news that is immediately useful to them. We’re annoying intruders if we don’t realize that’s what they want.

The staff member had asked about the comments, and I’m not dodging that – I’ve seen that the social media posts with the most comments also are the ones that are read the most, so they go hand-in-hand.

My advice: When you post on Facebook or Twitter about your beat, you should be sharing stuff that you’d otherwise share with friends (even if you didn’t work here).

Robert Quigley

33 comments January 28th, 2010

Will the Apple iPad save newspapers?

It’s a little early to say any one gadget will save anything, but Apple’s new gadget, the iPad, at least makes that a serious question. The publishing industry has to be cautiously optimistic. Here’s why:

  • It is built for displaying publishers’ content in an attractive way. The New York Times got a star demo at Steve Jobs’ big announcement, and the newspaper actually looks like an easy-to-read digital copy of a print newspaper. Based on the demo of the Times, it feels more like a print edition than any previous digital attempt at reproducing a newspaper. It has a nearly 10-inch screen, allows for intuitive navigation between newspaper sections and yet still takes advantage of the bells and whistles of the Web such as video, resizing and changing fonts, digital breaking news alerts, etc.

  • It will start at $499, not the $999 many were predicting. For people who want a 3G wireless experience, Apple did make it unlocked, which means you won’t have to only use AT&T the way iPhone users do. This gadget will be in a lot of hands quickly, and I think it will be an Amazon Kindle-killer.
  • The iPad is compatible with all the apps already in the iTunes store, including any iPhone apps that publishers already built. The experience is good enough to charge for subscriptions (like e-editions on the Kindle) yet high-quality enough to display more traditional print display advertisements. To fully take advantage of the new technology, publishers need to do more than just upsize their iPhone apps, but at least there’s an easy way to already be in the space.
  • Apple also announced the iBooks book store to allow for easy reading (and buying) on an iPad. iBooks is Apple’s answer to the Kindle. People will get in the habit of paying for content they read. That can only be good for the news industry.
  • It supposedly has a 10-hour battery life, hours better than most laptops. Combine its good battery life with its small size (half-inch thick and 1.5 pounds), and you have something that people will carry with them just about anywhere.

Some of the things I like about the iPad might also hinder it. Is the device too big? It’s certainly not going to fit in anyone’s pocket. Jobs was seen typing on it while it was resting in his lap. That doesn’t seem very ergonomic. Does it do too much? Will people spend their time on the iPad tweeting, watching YouTube videos and playing games, completely ignoring the news industry? Will publishers take advantage of all that can be done on a better processor and bigger screen that iPad offers over the iPhone or be content just letting the iPhone apps be upsized? If so, will those apps be successful or will people want more?

Several other tablets have been released, and more will come. This surely will become the year of the tablet. Having the iTunes apparatus in place — and Apple’s cachet from successes with the iPod and iPhone — could make the iPad the best opportunity since print for a publisher.

Will this save newspapers? Probably not on its own, but that’s OK – it’s a step in the right direction.

- Robert Quigley

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If you have any questions, thoughts or responses, please leave them as comments on the post below!

16 comments January 27th, 2010

New Tricks: Create a successful news vertical

On a sunny, warm Wednesday afternoon in Newport Beach, Calif., surfers took in some waves in the cold Pacific Ocean waters, people shopped along the boardwalks and the lone content producer for Hookem.com was combing the beach for University of Texas Longhorn fans.

Thousands of people decked out in the distinctive burnt orange clothing were in Southern California for the BCS championship game, and Hookem’s Dave Behr was on a mission to find, talk to, video and photograph as many of them as possible. He was to be the eyes and ears for the fans who couldn’t make the 1,400-mile trek from Austin to California. Along the way, he rode in an RV full of rabid UT fans, got Darth Vader to flash a “hook’em” sign in Hollywood, posted blog entries about his first taste of In-N-Out burgers and met tons of tailgaters.

Some forward-thinking Statesman employee had reserved the domain name “hookem” more than a decade ago. All it needed was a purpose. This past summer, we gave it one when we launched the niche site just before the Horns football team started 2-a-day practices.

The Statesman had a Longhorns forum for more than a decade, but it was built in old software and wasn’t actively managed. Without oversight, the forum was a place for racial bashing, threats, expletives and everything else that happens when you let the mice play. In March of this year, the Statesman started the transformation to the new site by re-launching the forum under the hookem.com umbrella, using new software and moderation. To ease the workload of moderation, we deputized some good board members and gave them the power to delete posts and put other community members in timeout.

We then proceeded to build the site in WordPress. Building it in WordPress instead of our paper’s CMS allowed some flexibility and speed in design and implementation. WP is also a very easy system to push content through, no matter where you log in.

From the beginning, Hookem was planned as a site that leans heavily on aggregation (an editor choosing stories from dozens of sources and linking off to them from our site). Our guy in California, Behr, has been curating the Longhorns sports news all season long. He also finds photos, videos and more from all over the Web to link to from the site. There is some original content, in the form of blog entries by Behr and the content produced in the forum by our community.

We also wanted to use social media to help market and distribute Hookem’s content. During Longhorns games, I personally ran the @HookemFans Twitter account, and we often update our Facebook page. Both accounts actively engage the community. The Twitter account has more than 1,800 followers, and the Facebook fan page has about 700 fans.

The site is distinctly different than the Statesman’s coverage in a few ways. For one, since the information is curated from all across the Web, it does not rely on staff reports. Another big difference is that there’s a little license to have more fun than we can have when publishing material at the Statesman. The name of the site itself, “Hookem,” infers some bias. We run with that, and had no shame in having a good time in California with the rest of the fans.

We think that Hookem.com provides a one-stop shop for Texas fans, and the traffic has increased solidly in each month of the site’s existence. We’ve been very happy with the site’s financial success in its first year as well. We’ve had no problem selling ads on the site, even during an obviously difficult advertising period.

Although Behr didn’t get to see the game from inside the Rose Bowl (he spent it in the stadium’s parking lot with the people who run a rival site, Hornfans.com), he did have a great time, and he gave our site some great exposure. He told me he handed out tons of marketing cards to fans at the game. Although the Horns lost a heart-breaker, the site has been a winner all year long.

I’m surprised more newspapers haven’t done something like this: it’s relatively easy to build a niche site, and not hard to maintain it if you use aggregation and social media to their full effect.

- Robert Quigley

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Have you created a vertical site for your news organization? Please leave your thoughts, comments and war stories here!

NOTE: This piece originally appeared on Media Bullseye.

15 comments January 27th, 2010

New Tricks: Responding to readers – we’re here and we’re human

At its essence, social media should be, well, social. Thanks to the progression of the Internet, what people want (even expect) these days is to be able to have a conversation with just about anyone at anytime. Whether we like it or not, this is how a lot of people now communicate. We are in the communications business, so it makes sense that we’d embrace it.

Responding to people encourages good dialogue (and good commenters) and is likely to make people more loyal to our product. I often get notes, through Twitter, Facebook or e-mail, from people who express gratitude that I’m listening and responding to their concerns and comments. People seem to think we’re a giant, uncaring media corporation. They’re pleasantly surprised when they get a real human response.

What you should do:

  • Respond to your reader comments. You don’t have to respond to every comment, but posting a response or two in a thread of comments, even if to just thank someone, is good practice.  Here’s an example from a marketing blog of someone doing just that:

Be sure to represent yourself as the author of the story or blog post, and be sure to not be sensitive or defensive.

  • For those on Twitter: respond to tweets. When people direct a message at you, either privately or publicly, be sure to give a response of some type. If you ignore them, they’ll be less likely to care what you have to say in the future.
  • Respond to comments left on your news organization’s Facebook fan page. It’s one thing to have the official response, coming with the official Facebook page’s avatar. It’s a step further to see a familiar columnist’s Facebook page responding to the question, giving some more authority to the answer. Jump in to help.
  • Respond to e-mails. E-mail is old-school social media, and if you’re a staff member, your e-mail is likely out there for the public to find. If you get a question from a reader, taking a few minutes to respond can go a long ways.

All of this sounds like it could be a major time suck, but a quick response or a short reply will often mean a lot to the reader who reached out to you.

18 comments January 25th, 2010

Old Media Interview: Gowalla CEO Josh Williams

Mobile social game startup Gowalla has only been around since October, but the Austin-based company pulled in $8.4 million in venture capital in a tough market. Why? Because what Gowalla does is not just a game – it might be the next way we communicate. The next Twitter.

This Q&A is with Josh Williams, the CEO of Gowalla Inc. and a co-founder of the company.

Josh Williams, the CEO of Gowalla. (Credit: Keegan Jones)

Josh Williams, the CEO of Gowalla. (Credit: Keegan Jones)

OMNT: Please explain what Gowalla does, for those of us who are not addicted to “checking in” to locations. Why would someone participate?

Williams: Gowalla is a location-based mobile social network (the kiddies who make up acronyms are calling these things LoMoSo’s) that encourages people discover and share places with their friends. We use the GPS and other location services in smart phones to help people find nearby locations, “check in,” leave a comment if appropriate, then share that update with their friends.

It’s like a updating your status on Facebook or Twitter, only in the case of Gowalla you are sharing the place you’re at as well. It’s a remarkable way to meet up with friends, share your favorite places or learn about nearby hotspots you might be unaware of.

You could even think of Gowalla as a digital passport rewarding users with beautiful icons each time they check in. We see these “digital collectibles” as a bit of a game encouraging people to remember to check in.


How many active users does Gowalla have and what is the growth like?

Our month over month growth is north of 70 percent. I’d prefer to steer clear of specific numbers for the time being though.

Mashable’s Pete Cashmore said Foursquare, Gowalla’s chief competition, is “next year’s Twitter.” Do you believe that location-based social apps have that potential? Why?

Yes, I think location is the next big thing. We’ve been chasing this Holy Grail for years, but only now—with ubiquitous location-aware devices such as the iPhone — have some of these dreams become reality. The next several years are going to be a coming out party for this space.

What separates Gowalla from your main competitor, Foursquare? Is there room for two big mobile location services?

Gowalla’s strength is in our community. We have the most remarkable group of folks who have now created and shared over 400,000 unique locations in nearly every recognized country and region around the world. I believe that Gowalla, and the care with which it is crafted, resonates with people everywhere.

The reality is that location is going to be a massive space with many players fulfilling diverse needs. I believe the verdict is still out on whether or not there will be “One Check In to Rule Them All” but we’re working feverishly to ensure Gowalla is always improving based on the feedback from our community.

How does/will Gowalla get revenue? Do the locations (restaurants, bars and coffee shops, etc) see any benefit, and if so, what?

We’re already working with established brands who are excited to partner with us to experiment with location-based product placement within Gowalla. We’re being careful to ensure these brands uphold the “ethos” of our product and what it stands for. As these experiments yield measurable results you’ll begin to see the fruits of our partnerships become a revenue generating product.

Users can push out their “check ins” from Gowalla out to Twitter and Facebook. There has been criticism that many of those posts are mundane and annoying to people who are followers and friends. Is there a way to make those push notifications more interesting?

In their current form, I agree that push notifications tend to be very simple, even dumb, in their implementation. We have lots of room to improve here, adding context and relevancy to these notifications, while only pushing them to you when they’re truly meaningful. It’s an interesting problem to solve, but we’re up for the challenge.

Outside of its own application, what is Gowalla’s social media strategy?

If we build a quality product that brings happiness and meaning to someone’s life, then they’re going to share it with their friends. That’s our social media strategy.

The established media seems to have missed out on either partnering with or usurping sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor for user reviews. Do you think there is there a place for mainstream media when it comes to mobile apps? How could local news organizations leverage platforms like Gowalla and Foursquare?

I do think there is a place for mainstream media and brands, but I am concerned that the decision makers that be look at location like the next big gold rush without truly understanding the space. Just like Twitter, there’s going to be folks who leverage the technology in remarkable ways while others attempt to sell snake oil. It’ll be important for mainstream media to keep an open mind.

However, I do think news outlets will have an interesting opportunity to learn more about the people and places that surround them. Where are people going today? Is there a storyline? Could be very exciting.

What’s next for Gowalla?

We’re working hard to release native Gowalla applications for Android, Palm and Blackberry devices. Getting Gowalla into the hands of more people is our top priority.

What’s next for location-based social networks?

I think we’ll see a variety of established internet players attempt to hop into the game with varying degrees of success while the younger companies like ours drive innovation forward. Our goal is to make a product that is useful, serendipitous and focused on enriching the lives of our community.

Note: After submitting these questions to Williams, a major player did hop in: Yelp. On Jan. 15, Yelp announced a change in its iPhone app that lets people check-in to locations, much the same way Gowalla and Foursquare do. I followed up with this question for Williams:

Yelp just jumped into the fray, offering in its latest build-out the ability for users to check in to businesses, much like Gowalla. What are your thoughts on Yelp as a competitor?

I think Yelp’s foray into the space is certainly a validation of what we’re doing. Ultimately the presence of other well known players is driving us to build a more compelling, innovative product. We’re excited.

Thank you, Josh, for doing this interview. Best of luck.

Team Gowalla. (Credit: Brooke Raymond)

Team Gowalla. (Credit: Brooke Raymond)

19 comments January 22nd, 2010

Will you pay for The New York Times online?

When The New York Times starts charging for frequent access to its online content starting in 2011, will enough people pony up to make up for lost advertising revenue? Obviously, that’s the big question not only for the Times, but for the newspaper industry as a whole.

Once in place, you’ll be able to get a few articles (unannounced number yet) for free each month but will have to pay a flat fee to get more content after you hit that wall.

Times’ executives have not answered some key questions yet, including the price that the public is going to be asked to pay. Also unanswered is what is the overarching goal: to protect the print product (by creating a barrier to reading the content online, driving people to print) or to boost revenue for online (which is quite a gamble).

Those goals are fraught with peril and nowhere near guaranteed for success. I’m sure a lot of publishers are glad that a player as big as the Times is jumping first.

What do you think? Are you a frequent nytimes.com reader? Will you pay to keep that up in 2011?

15 comments January 20th, 2010


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