Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Rebekah Brooks and Horsegate: There but for the grace of God go I...

I have few things in common with Rebekah Brooks beyond the fact that we're both women and both in the media (ish - it's not like she's gone into Engineering or anything since quitting the Day Job).  
But now it turns out we have two other things in common - we're both horsewomen, and we've both been offered the gift of all creatures great and small by Plod. 

When the revelation exploded on Twitter today, courtesy of the Leveson Inquiry, that Rebekah Brooks had been loaned a police horse by the Metropolitan Police, it was truly astonishing. 
I was reading the latest evidence regarding murdered Private Detective Daniel Morgan, a case I know from my South Wales Argus days and more lately through Media Wales, when Horsegate broke, and I can understand the outpouring of rage, disbelief and - inevitably - humour that followed. 

But people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I too had the prospect of animal husbandry dangled before me by Her Majesty's Finest, although it wasn't quite a quarter tonne of horseflesh; it was a cockerel. 
A fighting cockerel that was taken into custody - along with its sparring partner - by Pembroke Dock Constabulary, acting on a tip off that illegal bird fighting was happening at Catshole Quarry. 

Given that more than two decades have now passed, and everyone involved has retired, I can't imagine there's too much at stake to say that my morning trip to the local nick to go through the crime book was disturbed by much ruckus from the back yard, home to the police cars and seized dog pens. 

Walking round I met the then-licensing officer (a character I knew from court and council, and who had boomeranged between sergeant and constable at least twice) bent double wheezing with laughter while two constables attempted to separate a couple of shrieking cockerels who were busy clawing ten bells of crap out of each other. 
Eventually I learned the birds had been confiscated the previous night, kept in separate cat transporter boxes and then, with morning, the idea of putting them in a dog pen occurred. Unfortunately, they were put in the same dog pen and did what fighting chickens (which are essentially Velociraptors with feathers and a smaller brain) do best, until the nearest junior ranking staff were sent in to restore order.

Once the birds were in different pens the problem of long-term care emerged. As I was still involved in the discussion (this happens on regional papers - you find yourself sucked in to the weirdest situations) and was known to be of Farming Stock, I was asked whether I'd be interesting in caring for them til something more permanent could be worked out. 
I assume that meant an RSPCA rehoming but, equally, it could have meant until a special occasion meriting a roast fowl, say a really good drugs bust, presented itself. 

As there was no way I was taking in a psychotic rooster or two I declined, but volunteered a farming friend who lived a few miles away. He had large pens to keep the birds apart or, failing that, shotguns and a pragmatic approach to life and death. 
And that was that - the birds were taken into foster care and housed on separate farms owned by the same family. Their fostering never ended, and they had a free range life that was probably longer than the average chicken's due to their self-defence abilities. I think the RSPCA did prosecute but as I didn't cover the case there is no satisfactory judicial outcome to report. 

But still, like Rebekah, I was tempted although my moral fibre proved tougher. Still, if they'd offered me a pony, who knows what the answer might have been...

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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Bild's UGC success story

Reading Maria Purdy Young's take on UGC (Citizen Journalism: Something for Nothing Won't Last Long) recently I remembered Bild's 2008 intiative to pebbledash basic digital cameras around it's potential audience, to try and boost the photographic network. 
According to Bild's picture editor the newspaper now receives something like 4,000 photographs a day, and  has led to nearly 1,000 lead stories. (more here, courtesy of Google Translate). 
 The mind boggles as to how they process all that content pouring in, or whether they respond to everyone who makes a submission (I doubt it's possible)  but it really is the whole River of UGC idea that the regional press has been so intrigued by in recent years.

Bild is, of course, huge - 2.2m copies a day - with a vast audience and the amount of photos, tips and more it receives are correspondingly vast; but when Bild and Lidl announced their plans I thought how wonderful it would be if only my company could give free or peppercorn cost Flip cameras to people. 
Because like Maria Purdy Young says, something for nothing won't last. In fact, something for nothing shouldn't last -  ethically it's a concept we should be uneasy with.
There should be an exchange - it doesn't mean that it always has to be a financial one as people see value and reward in various ways, but an acknowledgement that both sides are benefiting in some way and an exchange has taken place is crucial.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The problem with engagement? It involves other people

There have been several social media conferences recently where, from hashtag evidence, person after person stood up and urged listeners to "go where the conversation is",  "be part of the conversation" and "if your brand isn't engaging on Facebook, ask yourself if YOU aren't engaging on Facebook".

Which is all very right (although possibly repetitive) but quite often you see brands attempting to engage, and then getting caught up in a social media storm for striking the wrong note.
Remember the admittedly-baffling Greater Manchester Police tweet 'there are no excuses!' (now deleted) around the riots sentencing last year?
It saw GMP go from the Darling of Twitter for its commitment to engagement and social media to a pariah within moments and was quickly followed by...
That made it into the Guardian, no less. And yes, it was a stupid editorial to add to a tweet about a sentencing, but feeds are run by people, and people make mistakes.
This week it was London Midland having to apologise for tweets about a suicide on the line causing delays.
Among the tweets complained about was:

@louhaffner Go to the pub - things will be rubbish for at least the next hour.
— London Midland (@LondonMidland) February 12, 2012

Hmm. Maybe I'm being insensitive but I can't get exercised about that. And having looked at the London Midland Twitter page, which responds not just to @messages but also to tweets generally referencing the company, I think it's pretty exemplary and the result of decent training and, possibly, some harsh lessons.
Whoever helps run it (assuming it's a team effort) has a good line in engagement and conversation, understands hashtags, doesn't overdo the emoticons and generally sounds, well, human. All in the face of people tweeting intelligent responses such as

@LondonMidland yes you can,stop hiking the fares,have the trains on time & you would have no one jumping in front of trains. #frustration
— PIEnMASHgeezer (@PIEnMASHgeezer) February 12, 2012

Tweeting as a brand is a hard balance to strike. You need personality, but not too much, and a degree of familiarity might work some of the time but not always - or at least not always with everyone.
Some people are apparently keen to be offended, some people will respond in inappropriate ways, but expect you to remain respectful and informative.

Engaging as a news brand is an even bigger minefield. You ask a question around, say, what people would be interested in reading about and get a "Why should I do your job?" tweet back from someone.
At which point, you can either shrug and respond to those who do want to engage, or try to strike some common ground with those who prefer to complain.
The benefit of the latter could be very real... it could also end up being a mutually dissatisfying time-suck.

I've got some personal rules about responding to people who are in full fighting plumage - usually on Twitter rather than Facebook - as a brand (ie. tweeting as WalesOnline or WalesonSunday)...

1. Are they simply grandstanding? (Generally, they don't want a response, they want a reaction)
2. If they are grandstanding, who follows them? (If you're broadcasting to 3 pornbots and a couple of mates, fill your boots)
3. On Twitter, do they have an avatar or are they an egg? (Often indicative of whether they're likely to engage or not)
4. Does their tweet make any sense or are they swearing? (I won't talk to you on the phone if you swear at me, I'm not making an exception in digital life)
5. Are they agent provocateurs? (if their Twitter stream comprises complaints, whinges and attacks then there's a good chance they just enjoy annoying people)
6. Am I responding simply because the person is bone-crushingly stupid, and I'd quite enjoy smashing their point out of the park? (If yes, it's generally not worth it)

Four years ago I would have said it was wrong to have a criteria for responding to anyone online, but now I'm not so certain.
I've closed two online forums because in both cases my overstretched digital teams were intervening in rows not only between users of those communities, but with some of the community-appointed moderators. The horse hadn't just bolted, it was accelerating into the next county.
Shutting them down wasn't a decision lightly-taken - the page views were advertiser-friendly (100k+ in one case) but the spite and fighting weren't.
Getting those channels back on track might have been possible with concerted, full-time community management. Ergo, from a team manager point of view, it wasn't practical or desirable. Putting new efforts into Facebook, Twitter and site users elsewhere proved far more beneficial, and led to lessons learned and better engagement.

The beauty of social media for brands is that it brings a connection with other people.The drawback is that other people will be, well, people. Add a little anonymity, distance and the opportunity for some manufactured outrage, and the results can be illuminating.

* Update: The subject of engagement and brands has also prompted a blog post from David Higgerson. Recommended reading: SOCIAL MEDIA: THE PERILS OF GOING TOO FAR WHEN TRYING TO MAKE A BRAND INTERACTIVE
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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Joining the Pinterest revolution

English: Red Pinterest logo
Image via Wikipedia
WalesOnline has joined the Pinterest revolution - or leapt on the bandwagon depending on your point of view - and it's early days (and invite-only) but the prospects for good social sharing and driving traffic through specific curation activities are looking pretty bright.

Pinterest has become very fashionable in recent weeks with 2.2m users a month, and was bolstered last month by news it was driving more traffic than Google+ to retail sites.
We're currently focussing on the female-friendly aspects of Pinterest, and specifically promoting content from our Lifestyle section - fashion, cosmetics, crafting, fitness and diet - onto boards. 
So, for example, this pin about how to enjoy family-friendly holidays... 

... is promoted on our Family pin board, and  links to this story
Meanwhile, the one below, on tanning, which links to here, is promoted on the Products We Love board. 

Both have been repinned by other users and we currently have 17 boards with six topics - I expect that to increase, and gain some serious momentum as Operation Get Ready For Bikini Season starts up (OGRBS is, of course, a MSM churn phenomenon that kicks in around April and involves diets, exercise, fake tan, hats, sunnies, sarongs and a host of other be beachy accoutrements). 
The 'embed pin' option allows more bloggers access to our images and content than before, with in-built links, and it displays attractively.

It's too new for analytics on traffic to show any real uplift but, since these sections have traditionally required a lot of promotion on social media - such as relevant Facebook pages - to reach the required audience (Lifestyle has a niche audience and WalesOnline tends to be more heavily weighted towards men, user-wise) an external site that can boost the number of visits and users is a gift. I'll update this post as I get more numbers for visitors and visitor paths.

Personally, I sign up for more new things in the social web than I ever really use, but I don't advocate the same for work as I'm conscious that sometimes these shiny things take up more time than they are worth. And sometimes go paid for-only (hello Dippity!), or close after you've put time and effort into them (hello Trunk.ly!)

But I suspect Pinterest is different (not least because you can add the handy Pin it! extension to your browser bar and pin without pause) and it really does add value. The more we use it for curating our own and others' content the richer source we become, and the greater opportunity there is to reach new people. 
Currently we're Pinterested in Lifestyle content as a pathfinder, but next sport and news will need to follow, sport being a particular opportunity.

Of course, there will be pitfalls - look at this source code image Zach Seward tweeted today...
...but the potential is exciting. I've been using Pinterest myself to gather images, video and graphs linked to my MA dissertation around innovation, disruptive industries and leadership. I think it works ok for that but (as a member of the community rather than an interested individual) I'm actually more interested in the lifestyle pinboards - that's what I'd browse in my lunchhour five spare moments eating a sandwich at my desk. 
Also, I still like Pearltrees for displaying curated web pages, though my main bookmarking site is Diigo, which autoposts to my Delicious.

Meanwhile,this post 17 Free Resources & 59 Tips For How To Use Pinterest For Your Business  is excellent for getting started. If you're thinking of using Pinterest as a media organisation, I recommend bookmarking it. 

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Monday, 6 February 2012

Why (and how) news organisations should schedule tweets

Image: Wikipedia
It's not exactly a raging controversy, but there are decided opinions held on whether news organisations should schedule their tweets. 
It makes a huge difference when someone writes a tweet as opposed to a bot spitting out a link - the colour, interaction, nuances are quite different, but you can't hover over a keyboard promoting links 24/7 and there are times when planning ahead and scheduling means you put the reader first. 

So, some thoughts...

1. Be mindful of what's happening
One of the big issues with scheduling tweets is that the news agenda and public mood can change quite rapidly; a jaunty tweet about a showbiz story is obviously jarring to people gripped by a major, rolling news break of significance.
If you did schedule tweets in advance and then have second thoughts about them, log in and quietly unschedule*. In Hootsuite and Tweetdeck (which I flit between - especially now CoTweet is ending its free model) you need to add Scheduled Tweets as separate columns to edit/delete them. 
Just because you've set a tweet in time it doesn't mean you've set it in tablets of stone, after all Just... kill your schedule for the time being. *May necessitate some midnight logging on if something of international significance occurs late at night.

2. Apps matter
Scheduling does have drawbacks - not least the client you use. 
I've been using the neat tool Bufferapp for a while, and started running SocialBro for Twitter analytics after TM's social media wrangler Heather Hughes tipped me to it, but I've now realised they mash-up to produce a very handy scheduling option.
For example, analytics tell us the Welsh ex-pat community in the southern hemisphere will not be logging on on WalesOnline, agog for local news, at 7am GMT. 
They will, however, show up in the small hours, and many of them will be checking their Twitter and Facebook networks around the same time. So by linking WalesOnline's Twitter with Bufferapp and SocialBro, it does some crunching, and resets Bufferapp's schedule to hit the times most of our audience are online. Bufferapp also offers several browser extensions and can be installed in Twitter. Like I say, it's very neat.

3. Humans rock

We switched off the Twitterfeeds in Liverpool a few years ago; WalesOnline lost most of its auto tweets last Spring and everything on the new @WO_breaking is tweeted by Actual People. 
We hit the lunchtime traffic, for example, with some of the more diverting stories in the Need to Read section (which sits alongside the Wales News story queue and effectively sums up the difference between public interest and interesting to the public). 
The early evening traffic gets the big/high-traffic stories of the day that have broken while worker bees may have been stuck in meetings, and are looking to catch up on the commute. We also add diversions - the picture editor's choice, some quirky reads - because it's not all about news.
Most of those tweets can be written earlier in the day and scheduled; they can run to a timetable that sits outside the news agenda.

4. It's not gatekeeping - it's curating
Possibly some the resistance to scheduling was born out of the Journalists as Gatekeepers backlash - certainly I think a lot of us working in MSM digital spaces were terribly conscious a few years ago about the stigma of being seen to hold back the flow of news. 
Personally, I'm not so worried about it any more - news flow happens whether we want it to or not, there are so many options out there for stories to be shared that it's laughable to assume things won't find their way into the world independent of what the newsroom does (this goes double for sport stories). Don't try to gate keep but do try and curate interestingness to make things more convenient for online users - and your average time-poor, Daily Mail sidebar of shame lunchtime reader deserves a bit of help in finding something other than TOWIE and Branjelina updates to read. 

5. Check your tweets
Don't assume the link will be perfect, or the photo will have uploaded as you planned. It looks unprofessional and uncaring if your Twitter page starts spitting out broken links.
Hootsuite has a good scheduling option but ow.ly links are flaky and frequently break; Tweetdeck scheduling is, in my experience, a disaster. 
The analytics on Bufferapp (I use Bit.ly) and SocialBro show me how many times each individual tweet has been reshared, who retweeted it and what its likely reach was. 
From that, and from on-site analytics, it's easier to build up a picture of who your readers are, what they want and when they want to read it - which makes it easier to consider what tweets you should be scheduling, and at what time. It's practically a virtuous circle.

Those are my thoughts; anyone who has some other views or scheduling thoughts tricks or tools, please share - I'm always on the look out for new things to try.

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