Tag Archives: twitter

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.

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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:

bournemouthecho.tumblr.com
flickr.com/bournemouthecho
flickr.com/groups/echoyear/
twitter.com/bournemouthecho
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.

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Blogging the weather: brilliant or stupid?

We’ve been using CoverItLive for football games for some time now, but I’ve never managed to persuade the news desk to utilise it for breaking news stories or for liveblogging meetings.

So when it snowed last week I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to show them what I meant.

The first snow day we didn’t handle very well. The web editor and I were both snowed in, so while we could go out and get pictures and video it was hard to run the story from our respective homes.

We didn’t have school closures, the information was patchy and scattered across ten or twelve four par stories – so while we did the best we could, I thought we could do better.

For snow day two, we’d set up a liveblog in preparation. We’d agreed to run three stories maximum, one for traffic updates, one for school closures and one main story, plus the blog.

@markng remarked on Twitter “I can’t decide if it’s a brilliant idea, a silly idea, or both.”. I couldn’t either.

We were, after all, liveblogging the weather. But we decided to see how it went.

One of the issues with CIL is that we only get one page impression per viwer, despite the endless refreshes the blog goes through. The words on the blog also don’t count for SEO purposes, so our using it isn’t terribly popular with the men at the top.

To compensate, I asked people to send us their pictures by text to our SMS service, linked to the live traffic feed and the school closure list regularly and tried to make sure some of the people taking part in the blog visited as many of our other pages as possible.

It started gently, about 100 people or so in the first half hour as the snow started to fall heavily…. but it very quickly turned into a monster of a thing.

Reporters would tell me about closures and cancellations, I’d add them to the blog, then the web editor updated the website. The reporters could then use our stories and blog to pull together copy for the paper.

People sent us dozens of pictures from out of their window. Photographers texted and emailed me pictures from their jobs.

We sent reporters out with Flip video cameras, first from the top of the office roof, then to the beach, where the snow was settling on the sand, then to the hill outside the office, where the snow had made it lethal for cars and pedestrians. We did a video vox pop and uploaded all the videos directly to YouTube (avoiding the we can’t edit the Flip video issues that we still haven’t resolved) so I could embed them in the blog.

By the time I got up from my desk at about 2pm we had 1800 people taking part. They were telling us about bus and school closures before we could get the information from the official sources.

As people started to think about going home they came to ask each other about the route home, which roads were passable, where it was still snowing and so on.

We published 26 pictures and nine videos and 600 reader comments. We were also running a #bmthsnow hashtag at our @BournemouthEcho Twitter account, and I fed comments and updates from Twitter on to the blog too. We linked to Twitpics and Vimeo videos, the BBC weather site, our Flickr groups, our Facebook page and our own stories.

We ran the blog from half nine until half four, when I had to leave. We couldn’t persuade any of the reporters to take the blog over, sadly, but the weather was clearing up by then, so it could have been worse.

Final stats were:

Total Unique Readers who pressed ‘Watch Now’: 2298

Total Unique Readers who watched for over 1 minute: 2298

We had several comments from readers about how helpful they had found it. The editor wants us to use if for breaking news more often. And the people in charge of development at Newsquest are looking at building a liveblog that works like CIL but will give us the page impressions.

So all in all, I’m counting it as a bit of a result. What do you think?

You can replay the blog here:

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Newspapers on Twitter: is there any point?

I think there is. Forgive if this is going sound like trumpet-blowing, but this is why I think twitter is worth persevering with as more than an RSS feed.

One of our followers asked for suggestions as to where he should take his girlfriend for dinner.
This is what happened
Our conversation on Twitter

Our conversation on Twitter

PROS: The links are all links to our reviews. And everyone who’s following us or him can see this conversation.
We’ve promoted our taste section, boosted our reputation for being the source of all food knowledge, published links to five old reviews that might now get some traffic and increased awareness of us as a brand providing a service to readers. (and possibly created a rod for my back when people start asking me questions!)
But it took five minutes of my time and Rob Hawkes thinks we’re great now (and hopefully will tell other people how great we are, and so on.)
CONS: is the benefit worth the time?Will we, as a paper, get enough from this one reader for it to have been worth my stopping what I was doing (writing a photo sales strategy) and spending five or ten minutes finding some content that matched his needs?  Added on, of course, to the time I spend monitoring the account in the first place, which, as I read here is a time consuming job.

I think, in this age where we’ve got some pretty stiff competition for people’s attention, that it probably is. This may only be one person. But better to have 1000 true fans than than 100,000 who’ll visit the site once and then never again, right?
What do you think? (and sorry again about the trumpet blowing)
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Nine resolutions for 2009

They’re a bit late. But here’s nine resolutions for 2009

This year I’m going to:

1. Integrate our burgeoning social media audience with our homepage.

Specifically this requires: persuading the powers that be to let us self-host http://bmthblog.wordpress.com, http://roundfortea.blogspot.com/ and a photography blog in the style of the Croydon Advers (hat tip Martin Stabe for pointing it out Jo Wadsworth for filling me in on the details)
Why? We can’t pretend that being part of the blogosphere/twitterverse/flickrverse is going to be enough. While we are a for profit business we need to translate that into something, page impressions, advertisting eyeballs, unique users.

2. Recruit some new bloggers
3. Develop the dismal dorsetbusiness.net into something that’s relevant and useful
4. Look for ways to monetize that have value for us, our readers, and the advertisers. I’m not going to leave this entirely to the ad department. Why should I? It’s my business too.
5. Reorganise the navigation on our website so it’s easier to work out where things might be
6. Persuade, by demonstrating, that responding to comments, being transparent about mistakes and  linking to source material is a good way to build trust with online readers
7. Persuade the powers-that-be to let us have a twitter feed and feed aggregators as part of our site, not sneaked in though the back door.
8. Produce more news. Leading by example is the best way, they say. I’m not a sub anymore. And while I don’t, as yet, have a job title, I’m going to get a bit Gandhi and be the change etc etc
9. Nine is tricky. It involves taking an as-yet-unformed idea, a bit Regret the Error, a bit Newsmixer, aimed at preempting the ‘yes, but –‘ response readers often have to news stories, and turning it into something workable. I’ve no idea if it’s possible without being extremely labour intensive. But I’m going to try!

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The news hub – are we even a spoke?

I’ve spent some time this afternoon looking at our web traffic for this week, mainly because our unique user numbers have quadrupled thanks to Laplandgate.

It’s always interesting to see the kind of links people follow to get to us – and, I think, important in terms of working out which networks we should be part of and how our audience consumes its news.

What it often shows is how little attention they pay to our beloved brand name. The idea that we’re at the centre of the news wheel and all roads lead to us is nonsense.

What happens is that everyone’s at the centre of their own wheel. People send them links, and they follow them. They google things. They search YouTube. We even had some clickthroughs this month from a Twitter search.

Our biggest referrer was a Norwegian newspaper. Why they picked us to link to rather than our Southampton sister or any of the national stories I’m not sure (although it probably demonstrates the important of tagging and SEO to make sure we’re top of that Google list.)

We also had refers from countless blogs, forums and a weird spike for a columnist writing about Gordon Ramsay (all the traffic for the last coming via Google News).

I’ve been trying to build an online audience for said columnist for weeks, but so far we’ve only managed a few dozen RSS subscribers and a trickle of page impressions.

Now obviously I realise this week is an anomaly. But the point is refers come to us from the strangest places and we can’t actively be in all of them, or second guess where our traffic will come from. We also can’t assume that people who find us in the obvious places want what we have to offer.  Our Lapland videos have won our YouTube channel variously most watchedin the UK honours (reporter) and most viewed UK news and politics video honours this week.  Our overall video views have doubled.  have any of those people clicked through to our story or petition? According to our software, no. Not one. They know the story. They’re just looking for the laugh.

So what do we do? I guess we just have to make sure we’re in the most obvious places, link as much as we can (in-site and externally) and be sure to plug RSS all over the place.

Then we *might* make ourselves a spoke in that wheel.  A skinny one.  But a spoke nonetheless.

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Comments or no comments?

I’ve been quite busy of late and haven’t found the time to blog – which means that what I intended to say in the post has shifted slightly.

One of the things I’ve been focusing on at the Echo is ways on interacting with our online audience more effectively. I’ll be blogging about it later but basically I’ve been working Twitter, getting involved in our forums, starting an ents blog – and responding to story comments.

It’s the last bit that’s causing me the most grief. Newquest has a register-to-comment policy but doesn’t require any more than an email address and nickname.

So, like almost every other newspaper out there, we struggle with our comments thread being hijacked by anonymous posters who like to abuse the stories, the people we’re writing about, their fellow commenters and the paper itself.

It’s not made easier by a lack of house rules and the fact that if we remove a comment, there’s no ‘removed by moderator’ or ‘reported for breaching house rules’ message. It just disappears. Which often causes its own problems.

As an experiment I tried contacting the offenders to explain why their comments were being removed (the Echo hadn’t been doing this although we do have a standard ‘yellow card’ message we send to people who really step over the line.)

This does have an effect, although it’s time consuming – and there are a certain number of offenders who simply register a new gmail address and have another go.

We’ve got one visitor, from Australia, who’s only comments are about how poor our stories are. There’s another who consistently claims we’re ‘out to get’ whoever the subject of a story is or that we should ‘stop telling him what to think’.

This week’s superstory – the Lapland New Forest extravangza – has had more than 200 comments in its various guises. About 50 are off topic, or are about how no-one in their right mind would have gone there in the first place.

On the one hand, we want to see lots of comments. After all, that’s the sort of audience interaction we’re aiming for, isn’t it?

And I firmly believe that conversation can’t be one-sided: we have to be part of it; the reporters reading and responding to comments on their stories, correcting mistakes when they’re pointed out, or adding polls to a story when what the readers are saying warrants it.

However. The high volume of offensive and abusive comments makes it hard for me to argue this point against reporters who say that by responding to them we give them credence in a way we’d never do with the ‘nutters’ who ring the newsdesk.

There are some days when I look at the comments and my heart sinks. I’d like to ban them all.

So what’s to do? Tougher house rules? Bans for persistent offenders? More moderation? Or just more interaction and hope that if we treat the audience with respect, they’ll treat us with respect?

I’d love to know what you think.

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How many 25-year-olds you know buy a newspaper?

A thought:

I hate to admit it, but newspapers as they exist today have probably had their chips.
Maybe not tomorrow, or next month, or even next year – but it’s coming. Why?

Well as Ryan Sholin demonstrates, the newspaper buyers of the future don’t buy them. A weekly publication, maybe. A daily newspaper, when they can get the news that’s relevant to them online? Nope.

After all, how much of the content of the average regional newspaper (because that is what I’m talking about here… I’m not sure if this theory applies to the national and even less sure why I’d think that was the case) is of relevance or interest to all its readers?

I’d say maybe five or six page leads out of the 15 or so pages will be interesting enough to appeal to everyone.  And the nibs are usually glorified events listings and done much better elsewhere.

So if you’re only reading five stories a day, it makes much more sense to look at them online, subscribe to a feed that will tell you when important breaking news happens, and rely on your social network to send you the interesting stuff.

So maybe what we have to do is
a) break the news online. Be first, be best, be the place people trust for the facts. If that means curating the best UGC in your patch then go for it.
b) provide some of that interesting stuff. Present it in an interesting way. Give people something they can’t get in print and then use the feedback to inform the in-depth analysis you’re writing for print
c) be where the people are, whether that’s Twitter or Blip.tv
c) be really good at the analysis, the backgrounds, the feature writing – so that people will buy your weekly round-up because they think it’s worth spending some of their spare time on

What does that mean for the newsroom? Fewer reporters, probably, more emphasis on quality of writing, both in print and online, and contacts.
We’ll all have to know about mapping and video and creating interactive content.
More page designers, less sub-editors.

You’ll notice I’m clinging to the idea that there will still be a printed publication of some kind.  Why? Because I love books and newspapers and magazines. I love how stories can be presented in print. I think great page design can always be a show stopper. I think pictures still work better on paper. And I do agree that people will always read. Fingers crossed I’m right

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