Timelines for Facebook Pages: not all bad

There’s been a mixed reaction to the news that all Facebook Pages will be getting the new Timeline by the end of the month. But I think there are a lot of pluses if you run a local newspaper Facebook Page. Here’s why.

Cover photos:

  • The cover photo is big, which makes it a great way to showcase images. I’m going to use it to highlight local beauty spots, the best reader photography or our own archive pictures and change with the seasons
  • You can tag where they were taken for more views, or tag people in them
  • Highlight upcoming big events with an archive image from previous events – for us this means a great picture from the Air Festival or Camp Bestival. We’re watermarking to prevent theft and adding a link to the photo sales site in the description. I don’t think this breaks any rules but if it does someone will no doubt let me know!
  • Use it to showcase a picture gallery post-event with a link to our galleries and coverage – race for life, a big community event – and tag some faces. I’m thinking of our cover photo like an extra bonus front page that will show as a new post when we change it.


  • Highlight big local issues by adding them to our timeline – for us that’s the development of the surf reef for instance and the building/closure of the Imax. Or the night the ruling party lost control of the council. We’re going to link to our archived content
  • How we covered major historical events – upload scanned versions of our front pages the day war broke out or the Titanic sank. Add new ones on the day of the anniversary, link to galleries of archive pictures – Coronation street parties on the weekend of the Jubilee for example

Other pluses:

  • The message button, for people who don’t want to talk to you publicly. This is a real boon for newspapers, where readers might not want to tell their story in public to start with. I have a “work” FB profile specifically so people could contact us privately without anyone having to use their personal accounts. This change takes that problem away.
  • Tabs are now extra wide and can have custom images – annoying if you spent ages coding a really flash one, but far better for displaying our content
  • Highlights and pinned content – brilliant for keeping something at the top of the page when you’ve got a breaking story (so we could use a picture and link to our constantly updating content on our site) or star a picture to make it widescreen.

And don’t forget, even if none of these things sway you, how many of your fans actually visit your page instead of commenting/sharing/liking on your posts as they appear in their news feed? How many of your Facebook friends profile pages do you visit regularly?

If you run a page it’s also worth reading this post from Buddy Media about some of the changes to advertising – I imagine its not something that most local newspapers would be shelling out for but makes interesting reading all the same.

Anyone think of any more upsides to the timeline that I’m missing?

Tagged , , , , , ,

Engagement: some unexpected downsides

Engagement: some unexpected downsides I have discovered this week.

1) the people you think might be interested, aren’t. One of our most voracious commenters (and a frequent critic) has stopped commenting compeltely. After an initial willingness to engage in a conversation, they stopped talking to us at all. Is that because they don’t like being asked about their opinions? Don’t want to accept that we might have a different view? Sinply preferring trolling? Or is it because they think our responding to their comments is unwanted intrusion? I have no idea which it is.

2) There might be some things that actually shouldn’t be discussed in public. Yesterday one of our readers took offence to the removal of comments on a story about a grieving family. The comments were about what causes road accidents in the place where a young man died.
Our policy is that comments are only open on those stories to allow people to place tribute. Normally we’d post that at the foot of the story when it’s uploaded: on this occasion it was accidentally left off and I had to post it in retrospect.

One reader took this as a personal affront and developed our Twitter “discussion” into accusations about whether grieving families should talk to the press.

I felt, rightly or wrongly, that giving that reader details of how we came to speak to said family wasn’t really appropriate in a public forum: it’s none of their business if they choose to come forward to speak.The reader, though, assumed that my refusal to engage in an argument meant that the family didn’t come forward and that we must have obtained the quotes by underhand means.

So what to do? Our integrity is being questioned, in public, but I can’t defend us in a dignified fashon. In the end I offered to speak to the reader face to face, they called me a hypocrite for not being able to take criticism.

And finally, and most unexpectedly, 3). If people are used to a chatty, social, entertaining Twitter feed, they might take offence when you post serious news.

We didn’t really post much on twitter yesterday about the tragic deaths of a family in Fordingbridge. The RSS feed posted an initial story, then we tweeted when the family were named, because the updated story wouldn’t feed through the RSS.
We also tweeted to say we had video footage from the scene going online – it was a policeman giving a statement and some reaction from the town; less in fact than had been on the rolling news channels all day.
Some of our readers felt Twitter was not the place for such news. Which made me think. We didn’t treat it any differently than any other news story. But should we have? Do people expect different things from the news they get from Twitter? Does adding detail make you seem in some way ghoulish? Is it because of the specific kind of story?

I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts about any of these points. Twitter has not been my friend this week but hopefully we can learn something, even if it’s just when to keep our mouth shut.

Tagged , , ,

Newsrewired: so how many readers plus DO we have?

I WAS overwhelmed by the positive reaction to my presentation at last week’s excellent news:rewired conference, but slightly annoyed with myself for not having a better answer to Hannah Waldram’s question afterwards.

My presentation was about building online communities, and the concept of the reader plus – the elusive category of cheerleader readers: demanding customers, but the most effective marketing you could ever ask for.

The slides from the presentation are here and the post where I first came up with the lamer-the-more-I-hear-other-people-say-it “readers plus” is here.

In the questions afterwards, Hannah asked me what percentage of our readers did I think were readers plus. The best answer I could come up with then was “I’m not sure.” But really, since I’m trying to persaude people that the time spent getting them is worth it, I should know. So I’ve been thinking about it and here’s my best estimate.

Flickr: I’d say 25 per cent are genuine readers plus. I know this because we talk to them not just on Flickr, but on Facebook and Twitter and face-to-face occasionally! Because what they do is just a specific area of interest, I think the very fact of our taking an interest has been enough to transform the way they think about the paper or at the least challenged their expectations of us.

Facebook: The best I can say here, is I’m working on it! Putting effort into Facebook is a recent development, and Facebook doesn’t tell you how many times your links are shared by friends, so the only thing we have to go on is comments and traffic figures coming to our site. As I said on Friday, traffic from Facebook has tripled and comments are building. We’ve got some facebook friends who definitely COULD be readers plus but I’m not sure we’re quite there yet!

Twitter: Based on retweets and interaction, I’d say twenty percent of our twitter followers are definite readers plus. It may be more, but obviously I don’t know what people are saying about us when I’m not listening!

Hopefully that’s a fuller answer than “I don’t know” – and sorry I didn’t say this at the time.

For those who asked about how exactly we use facebook etc, you can see for yourself here:

facebook.com/bournemouthecho (my work profile)
facebook.com/bournemouthdailyecho (our Facebook page)
We also have a pretty neglected YouTube account at youtube.com/bournemouthecho, and of course there’s the comments at bournemouthecho.co.uk.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Facebook: lessons I’ve learned about using it

Recently those of us who work for Newsquest have been taking part in some best practice social media workshops (main lesson learned so far: no two twitterers are alike and they all think their way is the right way!).

As a result of chatting with fellow web types about Facebook (main lesson learned there – no-one really knows how best to use it!) I’ve made some changes to our pages and profiles, which have doubled the number of the clickthroughs we’re getting.

They were really straightforward changes, so I thought I’d outline them for anyone who might be interested.

First: RSS Graffiti for Facebook – the best way to feed your news to Facebook, whether you’re cheating with a profile (of which more in a second) or using a fan page. It looks pretty and it doesn’t dump all your stories at once, but in relatively real time to when you post them.

Second: we had been using a profile, simply because the only way to actively find and friend people on Facebook is to have a profile. We’d set this up in the paper’s name, not mine, because I wanted the paper online to be it’s only personality and not connected to a specific person. However. This is generally frowned upon and people who are sussed out can have their accounts closed down without warning.

So I invited all our friends to “like” our page. Almost all did. I changed the name of the profile to Bournemouth Echo Sam (the name change had to be approved by Facebook) and started using it to share news links fed through to our fan page.

I also turned off the link that fed all our Twitter updates to our profile page, to stop all the news stories being replicated.

The page changes have been massively successful, although I’m finding that the best way of generating interaction with our posts is to comment or like them myself.

The profile changes have changed the way other people on Facebook treat me – because they can see I’m a real person now I’m being approached a lot more, on chat and by email. It’s more time consuming – if I want a story from the paper to appear on my profile I have to remember to manually post it – but with more than 70,000 potential fans in the Bournemouth network, it’s got to be worth the effort.

Two observations about online advertising

First thing: I check Facebook twice a day: probably I spend half an hour a day on the site. Every day I see at least one advert that makes me think – oh, I want/need/like the look of one of those.

But I’ve NEVER clicked one. Why? I don’t trust their integrity. They run alongside the ubiquitous take this pill to be thin and 1 tip of a flat belly adverts, and I have no confidence that the link I’m about to click will take me somewhere sound. I wouldn’t trust these advertisers with my money.

Second thing: Here’s an advertising policy from an American blog, describing how they choose (yes, choose) their advertisers and sponsors.

First, they need to have been recommended by a reader, client or industry professional. We don’t simply look for a referral but rather for a passionate reason as to why a particular vendor deserves to be in the book. Whatever the connection, it must be strong and based on a real knowledge of the vendor’s work.

Second, we dive head first into the vendor’s business. Their portfolio, their experience, their time in the industry. We look at press that they’ve received, we chat with their industry neighbors, we get to know who they are and why they are good at what they do.

We spend time…. getting to know them, figuring out if they are honest, have a high level of integrity and are truly devoted to their craft. For highly competitive industries, like photography, we also have vetting teams. An unbiased group of vendors who can fairly, objectively, and accurately evaluate other’s work.

If you have had a negative experience with any of the vendors listed, please let us know as soon as possible. Your name will remain anonymous and we will take your issues very seriously. If we find that indeed the vendor has violated what we believe to be good, honest work ethics, they will be removed from the site immediately and any advertising dollars will be refunded.

That’s a pretty firm commitment – but one that I’d say increases the chances of readers clicking those ads dramatically.

People talk a lot about curating in journalism, a new attitude to news gathering and distributing, being a place readers trusts to sift through the web and find them the solid gold good stuff.

So what if you applied that logic to advertising?

What if your food pages had a similar list of producers that your knowledgeable food writers had checked out? Or even restaurants or coffee shops? What if your leisure pages had a similar list of hotels? What if your online readers knew that they wouldn’t see fat-busting ads but instead the logos of reputable local trainers?

Just a thought….

Tagged , ,

Why don’t we value our online communities?

Other people, not least Jeff Jarvis and Alan Rusbridger, have said what I’m about to say better than me.

 But as a person who “community manages” I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

Here’s a quote from a local councillor’s blog.
Why do local papers go to the trouble of producing a newspaper, then providing most of it for free in a way that for many people is also more convenient?
Perhaps to drive people to the website? but to what end? We are not going there and buying something (we are going there and NOT buying!) I am certainly not clicking on any money making links.

I cannot see any point in providing content for free on the site. Nor can other local newspapers, The Whitby Gazzette charges £5 for 3 months access to premium content. Thats not bad – I would pay that!

Some commentators say that it would alienate readers, but they are not paying readers!

That last sentence bothers me. It’s this growing tendency to punish online readers because we can’t figure out a way to make money from them.

People like me spend a lot of time trying to build and nourish online communities. And it’s pretty successful. All the online year-on-year figures I’ve seen suggest rises of between 40 and 70 per cent

And these aren’t like paper readers. They’re readers plus.

They talk to us. They correct our mistakes and they suggest questions for us to ask. They respond to our questions. They distribute our work for us, when they like and when they hate it. They tell their friends.

They’re our newsagents, our delivery drivers and our billboards. They create content for us, they help us answer complicated questions or sort through complicated data. They chat with us, they help us out when we don’t know what’s happening in a weather crisis or a police incident.

They make us part of their lives. They trust us to be fair, and if we haven’t been fair, they expect us to be honest about our mistakes. They don’t let us get away with being sloppy. They force us to be better at our jobs, to close the gap between them and us.

And no, they don’t pay. But since when did the cover price ever pay for newspapers’ journalism? In most places the cover price doesn’t even pay for the cost of printing, let alone the salaries of the people who write the news.

So to me, the concept that readers are to blame for the fact that online doesn’t make money is nonsense. And yet despite the months and years they’ve put in, and we’ve put in, creating an interesting and engaging online community, newspapers all over the country are choosing to punish them by installing paywalls for frequent visitors or holding content off the web.

But it’s not their fault our advertising strategies failed. It’s not their fault they don’t click the flash-heavy, irrelevant-to-them monstrosity for a dodgy sounding loan company or car dealer. It’s ours.

If you don’t sell advertising in the paper, you don’t blame the readers who borrowed their copy from a friend, or read it in the library, and you certainly don’t put the cover price up to compensate.

So why are we blaming our readers for our failure to recognise that print advertising strategies don’t work online?

If you can’t do it right…. then what?

One of our local councillors (@lisanova) has just posted this on her blog.

It’s about commenters on our site and what responsibility we have to moderate them.

On the one hand, she’s entirely correct. Comments on this story started badly and got worse.

On the other hand, none of the points she suggests are we in a position to implement. Our moderation policy (in that we don’t moderate) is dictated by group-wide legal advice. We can’t require people to register with their real names as we have absolutely no means of checking whether they’re telling us the truth.

Point four we do of course stick to, with the proviso that we don’t moderate, so we can only act when something is drawn to our attention.

Point one, the community manager, is in many ways what I do, although it’s not my job description and not a position that would be recognised by anyone else in our newsroom. I also don’t work 24 hours a day.

Point two – have reporters respond to comments – is a brilliant idea in theory but in practice is hard to implement (willingness, experience, confidence all being factors here, in management as well as reporters).

In an ideal world, you see, I’d post a response to her blog. But I’m not sure what I’d say. Is she right? Probably. Is there anything I can do about it? Not at all.

Liveblog failure: an update

Oh the irony.

My  post asking why our live blogs weren’t working got more comments than all the liveblogs put together.

And the responses have been a bit of an eye opener:

I would suggest that people would like to discuss the major issues, not the periphery issues. Specifically, staffing levels, salaries and staff pensions which I assume are the biggest element of Council expenditure by a country mile.

Most people have no interest in this online blog for the simple reason the options are all about cutting services that effect us. What most people want is to see the wage bill cut from the overpacked top half of the Council. Why don’t we have the option of saying “sack half the managers?” Year in, year out these people take more of our money, and give us less and less services. Doesn’t stop them voting themselves increases in wages and expences though. Stop paying for consultants and do the job yourself, that will save money. Cut down on the amount of Councillers. It’s been shown time after time that they are of little use. They find out more about what the Council is doing by reading the Echo, then they do from attending expences paid meetings. Most of all, they had better remember it is election time next year.

Its the same old B$ response we get – nothing changes no mater how much we do or do not get involved. Why waste our time

as for the blog waste of time if it made any difference you would not have it

There is no point in commenting because most of the suggestions are not acceptable for example cutting back services to the elderly or for youth
What should be brought forward are cost saving measures that the public actually want-Cuts in number of Councillors , cuts in Special Allowances , cut expenses,get rid of agency staff, get rid of any posts that have been vacant for more than 3 months,cut out expenditure on outside Consultants, cut out expenditure on projects like “Town Centre Vision”, cut down on the number of meatings and the number of people attending them so they can do some actual work, and generally make the Council more efficient and cost effective
Why should the public have to say they would cut Youth Clubs or Concessionary Fares when these other areas are the places savings should be made

I suspect that there is no sense of an equality of sacrifice and that we are being asked to cut into too many services for vulnerable people. Cut Councillors allowances to where they were in May 2007. make a pledge to aim for a slimmed down Council. and people might begin to think their views were important.
The cost-cutting measures suggested for comment look like Civil Service impossible choices, with the implication that there is no scope for the efficiency improvements and cost of service- delivery reductions that people are entitled to expect.
If I thought that the council were really serious about cost-cutting then I might want to engage with the process, but the council suggestions so far just don’t give that impression. When I see serious proposals about reductions in the number of Councillors, removal of contract staff, cuts in allowances, reduced overheads, etc, then I will start to believe that they mean business. And even then I will want to see the accounts!

I guess too many people realized that the select inner few in the cabinet have already decided what is to happen; after all if they have shown little interest in democratic local government in the past, so why should we expect a change now?

This was just a box ticking exercise to show that they are listening.
Recent events prove they don’t care what we think, then they wonder why we dont bother going along with there stupid pr stunts.

I’m not surprised the ‘Blog’ was of little interest to people. It appeared to me to be nothing other than a propaganda excercise, designed to show that the council was so efficient, that the only way to make ‘Savings’ was to cut services that would have a highly visable impact,(closing public toilets/being unable to close down drug dens/not repairing roads etc).

Because despite anything being said by the ‘public’, people are probably of the opinion that Bournemouth Borough Council will go ahead anyway with whatever has been decided by them already. I suggest that whatever they are going to cut (allowances are NOT to be cut) has been set in stone and the agenda’s, together with discussion papers, already prepared for the meetings.

Because the council’s mind is already made up, never mind the ‘consultations, they know what they are going to do and they will do it.

And my personal favourite….

This needs to be run and controlled by an organization that has both the skills and knowledge to do a consultation in this way. With respect to the Echo I don’t think they have such skill and knowledge.

I’m not sure what any of this means for us and future liveblogs. But the strength of feeling against the council has been quite a surprise.

You can read the rest of the comments here

Live blogging: why such a disaster?

I’ve just written this for our Ask the Echo blog.

We tried an experiment this week. Three lunchtime live webchats focusing on Bournemouth Borough Council’s proposed budget cuts.

We spent a lot of time thinking about the best time and structure for these blogs – the council had asked us to help get people involved in the budget consultation, and we were happy to do so. It’s your money, after all, it’s only right that you have a say in how it’s spent.

So we decided on three blogs focusing on specific subject areas. A councillor and council officer would come in each day to answer questions and respond to comments.

We posted a story about each blog, with a form for submitting questions if you weren’t able to be there live. We also made sure each story had details about exactly what cuts were being considered.

And we chose lunchtime because our previous experiences with evening blogs had not been very successful.

The response, however was underwhelming. Even Cllr Stephen MacLoughlin putting in an appearance on Thursday wasn’t enough to provoke a response.

Today’s blog, about cutting funding for ASBOs, stopping closing drug dens because it costs too much and switching off the town’s CCTV cameras, was cancelled because not a single question was posted.

Reader numbers for the blogs never made it out of the “few dozen”. So we’d like to know why.

Is it the format? The time? Are you not interested in the budget options? Do you think it’s not your job to decide? Whatever the feedback, we’d like to hear it. Be constructive, please… we really want to know how we can make these discussions work for you. There’s a form <a href=http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/yoursay/ask_the_echo/> here </a>…

Essentially this week’s discussions have been a very damp squib. The most response we got came from the issue of bowling greens (it costs the taz payers £200 per year per bowler to keep the greens maintained.)

My theory that is people comment, on stories or blogs, only when they feel personally outraged by the subject in question.
Ask for their opinion before a decision is made, and they don’t have one (unless they feel something underhand is happening, of course). But tell them that decision has been made and they’ll be outraged that it wasn’t the choice they wanted.
Or maybe it’s simple apathy about politics and councils in general. Maybe people feel their opnions aren’t needed. Maybe they thought the options in question were so ridiculous they weren’t ever going to get the nod.

Hopefully we’ll have more respsonse to the why than we did to the original blogs… will let you know!

Tagged , , , , ,