Author’s note: This is an old memo I wrote from my days at Tribune Company. I’ve edited it into a blog post and have added a couple of links, but it’s very much a media rant. Enjoy!
What is it about Zappos that makes it an innovative, well-regarded company?
It’s not that Zappos sells shoes and clothes online, and it can’t be because of Zappos’ sleek Web site. (In fact, Zappos.com isn’t the most visually attractive website.)
Every inch – well, perhaps not every inch – of the page oozes, “We care about our customers.” There are links to live chats, and a company phone number is posted in a place that’s easy to find. It’s not buried on some hidden customer service page. (Read Zappos founder Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, for more on this.)
The fact is this: If you go to any news Web site, how does it feel? Does it feel like the news organization cares about what you think the news is?
Newsrooms are constantly reorganizing and changing the look and feel of their digital and print products, but I believe that there’s a unique opportunity to change the way people actually experience the news.
Here’s my point: Experiment with small, cross-functional teams to change the environment in which folks experience our content. And there are some things that you can gain:
A feedback loop or connection with readers that you’ve never had before.
Insight that will help your figure out ways to improve the quality of your reader comments. (On this point, this OMNT post is a must-read.)
A look into reader dynamics.
Experience. This will help teach your community managers, digital producers or bloggers how to wrangle a community.
Expand the reach of the online communities you’re trying to build.
Most importantly, this will let your readers know you’re listening in ways mainstream media tends not to. My vision of true “journalism on demand” isn’t just similar to a restaurant comment drop box, but is a living, breathing, dynamic community.
Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
A Small group of forward-thinking, customer-centric – not necessarily social media-savvy – folks in your news organization. A reporter. The public editor. A web producer. A marketing team member. Someone in ad ops. A circulation manager. Anyone who really wants to gain these insights, and someone who likes side projects.
A platform. Start small. Try putting a link on a homepage to a live chat. From there, we can possibly build forums. Events. Anything. Try to make your community vibrant and open, because if you do, you can market it somehow.
A message. If you think of branding your platform from the start, you’ll get support from the top down.
True journalism on demand can be an industry-changer. Be willing to test technology, timing and figure out what you even want to know. Don’t rush this into looking like a hokey marketing initiative, but a real effort to connect with your readers. (Perhaps, at some point, you can extend this into a chat with your advertisers.)
This isn’t cutting edge stuff, but test with some basics, including forums, live chats, instant messenger (or Skype), and customer service-driven platforms (e.g. Get Satisfaction).
If you do this, it should be a two-way street. In addition to getting ideas from readers, you could pitch ideas to them, asking what they think you should write about. The idea that gets picked will get done in a timely fashion.
Experiment with treatments. Is your execution a blog? A forum? A poll? Is this promoted in a box with a graphic, or as a text link? You don’t know what will resonate until you try.
Lastly, steward the conversation, and have clear, concise rules of conversation. If you’re waist deep in it, you can drive a positive experience for everyone.
What examples of “journalism on demand” have you seen in the news world? Is your news organization doing something along these lines? Please leave your thoughts as comments below!
I was at dinner a couple of days ago with some friends when, apparently, there was some food blogger event or meetup happening the same time in the restaurant’s upstairs room.
As the bloggers walked into the restaurant, some stopped to take pictures. Myself, my girlfriend and several friends were in one of the pictures. (It’s the one above; if you click through, we’re in the picture at the top of the post.)
Don’t get me wrong: I am not mad that I’m in the picture. We saw this particular blogger kneeling down to take her picture, and based on her angle, it was clear that we would be in the picture. However, the blogger never approached us and asked if we would mind.
For bloggers, there are several reasons why they should approach people who may appear in their photos:
It’s a courtesy extended by many professional journalists and members of the media. (NOTE: I’m not trying to spark a journalist vs. blogger debate.) Not all professional news photographers ask permission of their subjects to take candid photos. In fact, since we were in public, we’re fair game. Still, blogger photogs may want check and see if it’s OK to use a person in their photo, even if you can’t see their face clearly. (Here’s a good read on the history of photojournalism ethics.) This leads me to my next point…
It’s a marketing opportunity. Let’s say I were asked if I minded being in the blogger’s photo. The conversation might’ve gone like this:
Blogger: Hey — I’m taking a quick photo of the restaurant for my blog; do you mind? You’ll be in it, but you’ll be totally small and unrecognizable, and your face won’t be in it. Me: Maybe. What’s the blog for? Blogger: Oh, I run a food blog called “Oh She Glows”; there’s a food blogger meetup going on tonight, and I’m documenting it. Me: That’s cool; I’d love to check it out later! Go ahead and take the picture. It’s also cool that this restaurant is doing blogger outreach; is it on Facebook and Twitter as well?
…or something like that. (Not as cheesy, of course.) This could have been a marketing opportunity for the blogger; chances are they would have drawn in a few new readers. (This particular blog is about healthy food and exercise; I’m looking to learn more about these things, which is one of the reasons I was dining at that restaurant.) In addition, she could have generated more buzz for the restaurant, which I now know is active within the social media space.
It’s just the courteous thing to do. Ya know?
What do you think? If you’re taking pictures for your blog — or for an article — do you ask the subject’s permission? Do you use it as an opportunity to tell others about your blog? Please leave your thoughts as comments below!
Earlier this month, Austin American-Statesman reporter Steven Kreytak live-tweeted a local murder trial. The trial was emotional and at times painful because of the involvement of a child who had to testify about his mother’s death. Steven, who had never live tweeted a trial before, and was a light Twitter user before this trial, dove in. I asked Steven to answer a few questions for this newsletter because it was an interesting and successful trial use of Twitter as a breaking news tool during a highly competitive news story.
Below the Q&A, you’ll see some of my notes:
OMNT: Why did you decide to do this? Did anyone ask you to do it?
Kreytak: Around the time the trial started, the Baltimore Sun ran a story that said the Maryland Supreme Court was considering banning Twittering from courthouses. The story quoted a reporter from the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle who Twitters from court. I checked out some of that reporter’s posts and got some ideas for how to use Twitter as a court reporter.
At the time I thought to myself: A) I can do that, and B) Maybe I should consider doing that if someone is considering banning it.
I had set up a Twitter account months ago but never really took to using it. At the start of the Milton Dwayne Gobert trial I had about 50 followers. (I now have more than 125).
The most anticipated testimony of the trial was of the 11-year-old boy who was 5 the day that Gobert killed the boy’s mother. The boy was there and his testimony promised to be dramatic.
When the boy took the stand I filed a blog that he was testifying. Then I put a link to my Twitter page on the bottom of the blog. I really just made the decision to Twitter his testimony on the spot.
OMNT: How difficult was it to do? You not only live-tweeted, but you also blogged profusely and wrote stories for print. How did you manage?
Kreytak: In court I take some notes by hand and some on the laptop. Generally, because I type faster than I write, I type notes of opening statements, closing arguments as well as critical witnesses, like a defendant taking the stand in his own defense. The boy’s testimony was going to be critical so I typed it. I knew I’d want a lot of dialogue to put in the story.
So that allowed me to cut and paste sections of the boy’s testimony into Twitter. I may have missed some parts of his testimony that I would have had otherwise, but I got most of it.
When there was a break in testimony, I hurried and wrote a blog. I even wrote one once while the lawyers were discussing an objection at the bench. Usually these delays are frustrating but I managed to use them to my advantage.
As for the print stories, that came later so the blogging and Twittering served as a notebook for those stories. Now by the end of the day I was pretty tired from all of the blogging and Twittering, but not so much that I could not finish the day off with a print story.
OMNT: What was the response from readers? From your colleagues/supervisors?
Kreytak: I got great feedback from my colleagues/supervisors as well as readers. I also felt like many people around the courthouse — lawyers, private investigators, cops — were noticing my work more than usual. While I was covering the testimony I was fueled by watching as the number of followers I had increased.
OMNT: Would you do it again? What would you do differently?
Kreytak: I would do it again, but I would try to find more opportunities to send folks back to the Website and probably file fewer posts to Twitter.
OMNT: Did you see any personal/professional benefit to doing this?
Kreytak: The professional benefit is to assert myself as the authority on the courthouse. It’s great to feel like I am delivering directly to readers and can interact with them in real time. Yes, while live Twittering from court I responded to readers during brief breaks in testimony. And I got nothing but positive feedback. That’s a real psychological/emotional benefit in a time when online commenters love to beat you down.
OMNT: What tips or caveats do you have for the rest of the newsroom?
Kreytak: Pick your spots. The 11-year-old’s testimony was clearly riveting and so it was no doubt worthy of Twitter. But there are some really boring parts of any trial (public meeting, etc) and I believe that readers want us to distill those parts and not burden them with too much minutiae.
First of all, I’m excited that Steven wanted to experiment with a new way of reporting, and I think he did a great job. Not only was he live-tweeting, but he was filing excellent, frequently-updated blog posts and in-depth print stories as well. As you all know, this is not an easy task.
And people did appreciate what Steven did. How often do you get this kind of feedback from our readers?
What Steven did:
Below, you’ll see a Twitter exchange from Steven in the middle of the sentencing phase. Note that he replies to a reader (@TheDrowElf) and links to his work online, in this case, his blog post:
Linking back to the site:
Steven’s point that reporters should link back to their news site is a good one. As a newsroom, the Statesman is doing some fantastic and exciting things with new tools, from live video to live chats to social media. The key is to remember to balance it all out. If you put all of your content on Twitter or Facebook, but don’t link back to your site at all, you’re giving your content away, and cheating readers out of seeing all the detailed work you put into your publication.
To that end, balance pouring content onto Twitter with linking people to your reports and articles online as much as possible. You can go overboard with this (only sending out links to our sites without putting any content on Twitter). Give your readers some content on Twitter, but leave enough for them to want to go to your news site for more.
News organizations have been putting more money — and resources — into their Facebook and Twitter efforts. Engagement, like news, is a 24/7 job, but there are times when newsroom producers and community managers can get some serious bang for their buck.
In a recent blog post, Dan Zarrella published results from an ongoing analysis of Facebook data points. One interesting statistic stood out: Facebook users share anywhere from 20 to 50 percent more stories on weekends than they do during the week:
What does this mean? Your newsroom probably has weekend web producers. You either have a Sunday newspaper, newscast or web content. If your news organization has a Facebook page, post links to your stories on there over the weekend. It’s as simple as that.
Recently found another survey from the folks over at Retrevo. According to their survey of theirs (not sure how many people participated, so don’t ask! 1,000 people across the country took the study, which was conducted in early 2010; thanks to Jennifer over at Retrevo for the quick update), 42 percent of Twitter and Facebook users check or update their pages/feeds first thing in the morning:
First thing. Before turning on the television. Before going to their local news website. There are several things this should tell you:
Tweet early in the morning, and be sure to post a variety of content, including any traffic tips and weather updates. If you get these out the door early enough, there’s a good chance your posts can show up in people’s Facebook News Feeds.
Post reminders for your followers to check your Twitter and Facebook profile for early morning traffic tips and weather, as well as other news and information they need to know.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.