For those of us in the publishing industry, it’s kind of a “no kidding” statement to say that the vast majority of what we do is gather content and then push it out there through print and online means. However, there’s another side to being a journalist: listening. We listen to what members of the community are saying. We listen to city officials. And we listen to the competition.
One of he little-known benefits of social media is that the tools can be used to listen. You can use social media effectively even if you’re pretty sure you’ll never tweet a thing. Here’s how:
Through story comments. Though maligned (often righteously) for being the junk heap of the Internet, comments can offer some information if we listen. Don’t believe me that there can be value? Check out what American-Statesman Business Editor Kathy Warbelow has to say:“Readers sometimes know things we haven’t heard yet. Their comments have given up tipoffs on things like local layoffs — including recently at Dell — stores or restaurants opening or closing, the sudden stop of work on big construction projects — we heard about the big star riverside condo project problems from a reader comment — and sometimes about companies we had not known about.”
Warbelow points out that sometimes comments are “maddeningly vague” and that e-mail addresses can be phony, but the business staff has been able to connect with enough people that she believes that “comments are good.”
Besides sending out Tweets, you can also use Twitter just to listen. It’s not a bunch of people saying they’re eating a sandwich … you can follow a select group of Twitter users who can help you in your job (politicians, sports figures, corporations and other media outlets come to mind). There is some good (free) software for that, including Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop. If your followers are just tweeting about sandwiches, drop them and find the right followers. There are plenty of informative people and organizations on Twitter.
Listen to what your Facebook friends are saying. Assuming you have some locals you have friended, you might hear some good tips. At the very least, you’ll likely get some good feedback on stories you’ve written.
Before social media, good journalists listened to what their neighbors were saying, what people were saying at the coffee shop and what city officials were telling them. Think of social media as a way to extend your reach.
The buzz on the Internet this past week has been the unveiling of Google Buzz, the search giant’s serious bid to become a player in social media. Whether it can pry people away from Twitter and/or Facebook, which it will have to do to be successful, remains to be seen.
Either way, if Buzz turns into a powerhouse — or not — now is the time to establish your presence.
Not sure what Buzz is? It’s a hybrid between Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. Check out this demo video from Google:
Here’s what you should do:
If you don’t have a Gmail account, get one. It’s free, and you need one to use Google Buzz.
Fill out a Google Profile, if you haven’t done so already. Fill it out completely as possible, and include a picture of yourself. Be sure to use the URL section to link to your blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts. When you want to tell people via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail that you’re on Buzz, you can give them the URL to your profile.
Go to your Gmail account and click “Buzz” on the left-hand side of the page.
Connect your Twitter account, Flickr account or more by clicking on the “connected sites” link in the middle of the page. Anything you connect to it will feed into Buzz (not vice-versa).
Find people to follow using the “find people” link. Google suggests people (even auto-follows some) based on your conversations you’ve had in the past via gmail or Google chats. Once you follow a well-connected friend, you can find more people to follow by on the list of his or her followers.
Anything you post on Buzz can be commented on, “liked” and e-mailed around, assuming you posted as a public message (there’s an option when you post).
If you are in a position to do so, you should establish a Buzz account for your media organization. I made a Buzz account for the Statesman by creating a new Gmail account for it. Please feel free to follow it.
2010 really looks like the year of location-based social networks, and the news industry seems to agree. The Metro publishing group recently announced a partnership with Foursquare; once a site user says where they are (done via GPS), relevant articles from Metro’s Canadian papers will be pulled into the program, providing site users additional information about the neighborhoods, restaurants and stores near them.
While this move may make some waves for Metro, and may drive some incremental traffic to the Metro group of sites, some may question the move’s overall value for the news company.
Here are three additional ways news organizations — and the business units that support them — can leverage location-based social networks such as Foursquare to make money and drive some incremental traffic:
Highlight local landmarks, must-dos and other activities in a multimedia tour. Location-based services such as GoWalla and Foursquare were created, essentially, for social urban explorers: people who like to go to new places and tell others about their travels. Local news organizations can encourage their writers to create content about landmarks and partner with advertisers to create promotions and deals for tour goers along the way.
Drive SEO by encouraging local lifestyle writers to post links to reviews/articles on location pages. While not a location-based social network, Urbanspoon allows bloggers to link their restaurant reviews to restaurant pages through a special embed code. (Example here.) Social media leads at news organizations can encourage restaurant reviewers to post restaurant reviews as “tips” on venue pages, feature writers to link to pieces on local landmarks on those pages, and so on. Then, when site users check in to a certain location, they may click through to the newspaper article pages from the network venue pages.
Partner with location-based networks to become their sales force. If a local news organization were to show interest in Foursquare, it could become its local sales division, helping draw in new users, new deals and new locations. The quicker Foursquare, GoWalla or MyTown grow, the more likely that site is to become the location-based social network of the future.
Addendum: Foursquare has announced partnerships with Zagat, Warner Bros., HBO and ExploreChicago. No other news organizations have signed on with the service, but the partnerships, as reported by Mashable, are quite interesting.
Newspaper copy editors spend a lot of time crafting the best headlines for stories, with particular attention focused on the front-page headlines. The reason is obvious: to draw readers into our content. On the Web, writing a good headline is just as important.
Thanks to detailed metrics, we can see exactly what draws people to our content, and we know that search engines bring in a sizable chunk of traffic on newspaper Web sites. Most of that traffic is not coming to the newspapers’ home pages but to individual stories, blog posts, videos and photos.
This search engine traffic is so valuable that there’s an entire industry, search marketing, built around finding ways to drive it. When you search for something on Google, it’s not sheer luck that you can find what you’re looking for – Google takes several things into account before deciding what content to put first. Search marketers work with companies and individuals to help them place better in the search engines.
Although Google’s algorithm for ranking stories is a trade secret, search engine marketers have figured out the major factors that come into play. One of them is including relevant keywords in headlines. When news broke recently in Austin about the local-favorite Cactus Cafe closing, Austin360.com could have written a headline online that said, “Longtime UT music venue to close in August.” Although there’s nothing factually wrong with the headline, it misses out on some keywords that would help people find that story when they search for it on Google, Bing or Yahoo. The headline Austin360 did use was “UT to close Cactus Cafe, end informal classes.” That has all the keywords we’d want: “UT” “close” and “Cactus Cafe.” Thanks in part to that headline, the story appears at the tops of the search engines today.
“When writing headlines, you all are the masters,” said search marketing expert Kate Morris. “I did not major in journalism in school, but many blog writers are told to look at journalists for ideas.”
We’re all headline writers these days, whether you’re writing a headline for your blog, for a photo gallery, a video or a story that’s going on A1.
Morris has this advice for writing headlines:
* Look for a balance between eye-catching and relevance. Don’t worry about trying to pack the headline full of keywords to the point that the headline is awkward, but also try to avoid something that’s clever but lacks any keywords.
* Focus on one topic. Morris says: “Going for “Michael Jackson” isn’t going to get you on the top for his name. But if you go for something like “michael jackson documentary austin show” – that focuses well, but may not have the best traffic. In the end, write for the end user, but keep keywords in the back of your mind.”
* Although we’re not limited in space the way we are in print, if a headline is too long, it might get cut off online in an awkward spot when displayed in search engines.
Link, link, link
Headline writing isn’t the only thing that helps us in rankings. Google’s algorithm also takes linking into account. Generally, more people linking to us helps our search engine “juice.” Linking out, surprisingly, also helps, Morris said.
“Linking out is becoming more important as time progresses,” Morris said. “Think of it as Karma. The search engines have noticed that the sites that link out are more relevant than those that keep traffic to themselves.”
Morris said it’s important to link out only when relevant, though. Don’t add 20 links to one article or blog entry – two or three is fine. A few more than that is OK if they’re relevant. “Ask yourself if you would read the story, if the links are interesting to you. We are all readers.”
We should also link internally, again, when relevant. Linking to one of your own past blog entries or another story on our site is good, but only if it makes sense to do so.
Search engines also look at the tops of storie sand blog posts to find relevant key words to organize and rank content. Morris points out that a good story will already most likely have the top keywords near the top of the story. So burying the lead online can be as much of a problem as burying it in print.
Overall, we’re doing pretty well, Morris said. “You’re more ahead of the game than you know.” Click here to read a Q&A Old Media New Tricks conducted last year with Morris.