Tag Archives: online journalism book

Technology is not a strategy: it's a tool

Here’s another draft section from the book chapter on UGC I’m currently writing I’ve written which I’d welcome your input on. I’m particularly interested in any other objectives you can think of that news organisations have for using UGC – or the strategies adopted to achieve those.

A common mistake made when first venturing into user generated content is to focus on the technology, rather than the reasons for using it. “We need to have our own social network!” someone shouts. But why? And, indeed, how do you do so successfully?

A useful framework to draw on when thinking about how you approach UGC is the POST process for social media strategy outlined by Forrester Research (Bernoff, 2007). This involves identifying:

  1. People: who are your audience (or intended audience), and what social media (e.g. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, forums, etc.) do they use? Equally important, why do they use social media?
  2. Objectives: what do you want to achieve through using UGC
  3. Strategy: how are you going to achieve that? How will relationships with users change?
  4. Technology: only when you’ve explored the first three steps can you decide which technologies to use

Some common objectives for UGC and strategies associated with those are listed below:

Objective Example UGC strategies
Users spend longer on our site
  • Give users something to do around content, e.g. comments, vote, etc.
  • Find out what users want to do with UGC and allow them to do that on-site
  • Acknowledge and respond to UGC
  • Showcase UGC on other platforms, e.g. print, broadcast
  • Create a positive atmosphere around UGC – prevent aggressive users scaring others away
Attract more users to our site
  • Help users to promote their own and other UGC
  • Allow users to cross-publish UGC from our site to others and vice versa
  • Allow users to create their own UGC from our own raw or finished materials
Get to the stories before our competitors
  • Monitor UGC on other sites
  • Monitor mentions of keywords such as ‘earthquake’, etc.
  • Become part of and contribute to online UGC communities
  • Provide live feeds pulling content from UGC sites*
Increase the amount of content on our site
  • Make it easy for users to contribute material to the site
  • Make it useful
  • Make it fun
  • Provide rewards for contributing – social or financial
Improve the editorial quality of our work
  • Provide UGC space for users to highlight errors, contribute updates
  • Ensure that we attract the right contributors in terms of skills, expertise, contacts, etc.
  • Involve users from the earliest stages of production

Can you add any more? What strategies have you used around UGC?

UPDATE: ‘Pursue the goal, not the method‘ by Chris Brogan puts this concept well in broader terms.

What is User Generated Content?

The following is a brief section from a book I’m writing I’ve written on online journalism. I’m publishing it here to invite your thoughts on anything you think I might be missing…

There is a long history of audience involvement in news production, from letters to the editor and readers’ photos, to radio and television phone-ins, and texts from viewers being shown at the bottom of the screen.

For many producers and editors, user generated content is seen – and often treated – as a continuation of this tradition. However, there are two key features of user generated content online that make it a qualitatively different proposition.

Firstly, unlike print and broadcast, on the web users do not need to send something to the mainstream media for it to be distributed to an audience: a member of the public can upload a video to YouTube with the potential to reach millions. They can share photos with people all over the world. They can provide unedited commentary on any topic they choose, and publish it, regularly, on a forum or blog.

Quite often they are simply sharing with an online community of other people with similar interests. But sometimes they will find themselves with larger audiences than a traditional publisher because of the high quality of the material, its expertise, or its impact.

Indeed, one of the challenges for media organisations is to find a way to tap into blog platforms, forums, and video and photo sharing websites, rather than trying to persuade people to send material to their news websites as well. For some this has meant setting up groups on the likes of Flickr, LinkedIn and Facebook to communicate with users on their own territory.

The second key difference with user generated content online is that there are no limitations on the space that it can occupy. Indeed, whole sites can be given over to your audience and, indeed, are. The Telegraph, Sun and Express all host social networks where readers can publish photos and blog posts, and talk on forums. The Guardian’s CommentIsFree website provides a platform where dozens of non-journalist experts blog about the issues of the day. And an increasing number of regional newspapers provide similar spaces for people to blog their analysis of local issues under their news brand, while numerous specialist magazines host forums with hundreds of members exchanging opinions and experiences every day. On the multimedia side, Sky and the BBC provide online galleries where users can upload hundreds of photos and videos.

The term User Generated Content itself is perhaps too general a term to be particularly useful to journalists. It can refer to anything from a comment posted by a one-time anonymous website visitor, to a 37-minute documentary that one of your readers spent ten years researching. The most accurate definition might simply be that user generated content is “material your organisation has not commissioned and paid for”. In which case, most of the time when we’re talking about UGC,we need to talk in more specific terms.

Amazon.co.uk Widgets

Maps on news websites – an overview

The following is part of a chapter for a forthcoming book on online journalism. Contributions welcome.

Maps have become a familiar part of the news language online due to a number of advantages:

  • They provide an easy way to grasp a story at a glance
  • They allow users to drill down to relevant information local to them very quickly
  • Maps can be created very easily, and added to relatively easily by non-journalists
  • Maps draw on structured data, making them a very useful way to present data such as schools tables, crime statistics or petrol prices
  • They can be automated, updating in response to real-time information

News organisations have used maps in a number of ways: Continue reading

Starting a blog? 12 ideas for blog posts

I’m currently writing a chapter on blogging for a book on online journalism [UPDATE: Now published]. It includes 12 typical blog post types to kickstart ideas. Here are the examples I came up with – I’d welcome any more:

UPDATE: Also available in Japanese.

Point 6 UPDATED January 20 2012 in response to this blog post (I’m now wondering: was that linkbait? ;)).

  1. Respond to something elsewhere on the web: the best way to start blogging: simply link to something elsewhere that you feel is interesting, or (better) that you disagree with. If you make a constructive response to what someone else has posted, for example, you can start a useful inter-blog dialogue. You might add links to evidence that challenges what the original post says, for example. In its most simple form, when you simply post useful links, this is called ‘link journalism’.
  2. Suggest an idea: for a story or for a way of doing things. Invite reaction and suggestions – and don’t expect people to come to you: approach people you might otherwise be shy of asking, and invite them to respond on the comments. Ideas can travel very far, so can be very effective in attracting readers.
  3. Interview someone: a straightforward and easy way to create a post. An email interview can work well, but if you can put an audio or video recording on the site that often adds value. If you are interviewing a busy person it helps if you limit your questions or, if you’re asking for their advice, specifically ask for their ‘3 tips on…‘ or ‘5 things I know about…’. You can even turn this into a series of interviews with the same theme.
  4. Blog an event: attend a relevant event – a conference, meeting, public talk, demonstration, or even just a conversation – and write about it. If you have access to the internet during the event you can even ‘liveblog’ it by starting a post as soon as you have something to report and adding updates or new posts as the event progresses. Ambitious bloggers can use liveblogging tool CoveritLive.
  5. Ask a question: this typically only works once you’ve established a readership and generated goodwill by contributing yourself on your blog and in comments on other blogs, or if it’s for a worthy cause. But it can be very effective in generating useful information. Taken further, you can use free online polling tools such as PollDaddy and SurveyMonkey to conduct a larger survey.
  6. Pick a fight: there are two ways you can pick a fight on your blog – one good, and one bad. The bad variant is called linkbaiting (although the term covers a broader range of practices), and is done by bloggers seeking traffic or attention, typically by loudly criticising a popular blogger in the hope that they’ll respond, sending links and readers in your direction. The result tends to be lots of noise, and not much insight. The good variant, by contrast, starts with two things: constructive criticism, and a desire to gain insights rather than attention. If you are to criticise another blogger, then, it is worth considering if it will be seen as ‘bait’ or a constructive and valuable debate. Done well, a genuine argument between two bloggers can generate insight and bring factions to compromise. You can also pick a fight with a company or brand, and mount a campaign to instigate change.
  7. Reflect on something: it might be something that happened to you this week, a decision or choice that you made, a lead for a story, or anything else. Why did it happen? What are the implications? What did you learn? Keep it open so others can contribute their experiences or insights.
  8. Do something visual: take photographs and/or video footage as you travel along a particular route. Explain them, ask questions, include relevant links. Or draw sketches and photograph them.
  9. Review something: try to make it useful – include links to further information, quote from (and link to) other reviewers.
  10. Make a list: Lists are enormously popular on the web, frequently topping websites’ ‘most shared’ lists. It may be anything from ‘5 ways to tie a knot’ to ‘The 100 best albums by women’. A good tip for your first post is to make a list of the top 10 blogs in your subject area – a useful task for yourself while also making them aware of your existence.
  11. Write a how-to: in his book Click, Bill Tancer notes how one of the most popular types of search query is ‘How do I..?’ or ‘Why do..?’ Tutorials also frequently top websites ‘most-shared’ lists and can be enormously useful in generating goodwill in your sphere – not to mention attracting comments that then add to and improve your knowledge of the subject.
  12. Let someone else post: if you find someone with particular expertise or experience, invite them to write a ‘guest post’ on a particular subject. Even if they already have their own blog, they will probably appreciate the opportunity to reach a new audience, or to write in a different context, and again it will improve your own knowledge.

Are there any other typical blog post styles you can think of?

An attempt to define blogging as a genre

Having asked previously “Can you define blogging without mentioning technology?” here is my attempt to do just that for a book chapter on blogging and journalism. Am I right? Have I missed something? Would love your comments on this short excerpt:

Blogging, above all else, is conversational. It is social. It is networked. There are two key features to the blog: links, and comments. Fail to include either, and you’re talking to yourself.

Blogging is also incomplete, open, and ongoing. It is about process, not product. It is about a shared space.

Only republishing print articles or broadcast journalism on a blog, for example, is not using the medium in any meaningful way – a process derisively called ‘shovelware’. Instead, a more useful approach is to blog about an idea for an article, then blog a draft version, asking for readers’ input – and responding to it – at both stages. The published or broadcast version can also be posted on the blog later, as the latest stage in its production, but again with an invitation for updates and corrections. You might publish the ‘uncut’ version, too.

In short, the story is never finished.

And blogging is personal and informal – often difficult for journalists who have been trained for years to be objective and removed from their stories. This personal quality has a number of strengths: it allows you to make a closer connection with readers, which in turn often helps build your understanding of the issues that matter to them. It allows you to be more transparent about the news production process, building trust and news literacy. And it allows you a space for reflection, if you choose to use it.