Tag Archives: richard millington

Research: why communities are a key “strategic resource” for magazine publishers

Magazines should be investing more effort in developing their online communities because they represent an increasingly important “strategic resource,” according to new research.

The research, “Audience Community as a Strategic Resource in Media Work” by Nando Malmelin and Mikko Villi, identifies two main advantages that publishers gain when working actively with their audience community:

  • Firstly, it helps strengthen engagement with, and loyalty to, the media brand
  • And secondly it gives journalists a deeper understanding and knowledge of their audience, making them quicker to respond to trends and better at identifying stories they know will interest that audience.

The researchers looked in particular at two successful magazines in Finland: Demi (aimed at 12-19 year old girls) and Lily (aimed at women aged 18-39).

The magazines’ two websites reach 75% and 45% of their respective target audiences, and benefit from highly active communities that actively feed into the editorial process.

As one interviewee puts it:

“If we didn’t have a community producing contents and subjects that they themselves are interested in 24/7, we wouldn’t be able to keep up to speed on what’s important to our target audience.”

4 roles in community collaboration

But collaborating with audience communities requires new kinds of journalistic practices, and the researchers identify 4 different roles that journalists adopt in this respect:

  1. Observer
  2. Developer
  3. Facilitator
  4. Curator

The observer monitors the audience community’s discussions to identify interests, needs and concerns.

The developer helps improve the online platform(s) and service so that users are more likely to contribute.

The facilitator helps start and maintain online discussions and feed those back to the editorial team. The emphasis is on stimulating, rather than driving, as one journalist points out:

“We can’t interfere too much. The biggest mistake we could make would be to decide amongst ourselves what we like at the moment and what other professionals respect and what’s in vogue for our industry, that’s perhaps the pitfall we fall into every now and then.”

Finally, the curator might highlight the best work by members of the community, both online and in print.

You might not have a community yet

Magazines are typically in a better position than newspapers when it comes to developing audience communities, and readers of speciality publications (for example hobby magazines) tend to have a stronger attachment to the brand than generic magazines – but that doesn’t mean that all magazines have a community:

“When audience members have more regular communication amongst themselves, they can be said to form an actual community; otherwise atomized media consumers simply form a crowd.”

The key question for publishers, then, may be to what extent that communication between users exists – and where.

Community management specialists such as Richard Millington tend to warn against the tendency to launch technically impressive platforms without consideration of the cultures of communities themselves. Sometimes it makes more sense to participate in existing communities than try to recreate them (another option, taken by some publishers, is to buy blog networks).Meanwhile Malmelin and Villi settle for recommending that:

“Media organisations should invest increasing effort in creating and managing audience communities … the successful operation of the media industry should in many cases be in fact as much about content production as it is about facilitating the maintenance of social relations among and with its audience.”

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An online journalism reading list

It’s the start of a new academic year so I thought I’d compile a list of the latest reading I would recommend for any students looking at online journalism. (If you have suggestions for additions please let me know!):

Theoretical, historical and conceptual background

  • Digital Journalism by Jones & Lee (Sage, 2011) is very comprehensive and worth reading in full.
  • Gatewatching by Axel Bruns (Peter Lang, 2005) covers areas that tend to be overlooked by journalism books, such as new media methods and startups from outside traditional media. Read: Chapter 4: Making News Open Source
  • The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler (Yale University Press, 2007) provides a wider context and is available free online. Read: Chapter 4: The Economics of Social Production.
  • We The Media by Dan Gillmor (O’Reilly, 2006) is a seminal book on citizen journalism which is also available free online.

Practical online journalism – general

  • Clearly I’m going to say my own book, the Online Journalism Handbook (2011, Pearson), co-authored with Liisa Rohumaa, which covers blogging and web writing, data journalism, online audio and video, interactivity, community management and law. Continue reading

20 free ebooks on journalism (for your Xmas Kindle)

For some reason there are two versions of this post on the site – please check the more up to date version here.

20 free ebooks on journalism (for your Xmas Kindle) {updated to 64}

Journalism 2.0 cover

As many readers of this blog will have received a Kindle for Christmas I thought I should share my list of the free ebooks that I recommend stocking up on.

Online journalism and multimedia ebooks

Starting with more general books, Mark Briggs‘s book Journalism 2.0 (PDF*) is now 4 years old but still provides a good overview of online journalism to have by your side. Mindy McAdams‘s 42-page Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency (PDF) adds some more on that front, and Adam Westbrook‘s Ideas on Digital Storytelling and Publishing (PDF) provides a larger focus on narrative, editing and other elements.

After the first version of this post, MA Online Journalism student Franzi Baehrle suggested this free book on DSLR Cinematography, as well as Adam Westbrook on multimedia production (PDF). And Guy Degen recommends the free ebook on news and documentary filmmaking from ImageJunkies.com.

The Participatory Documentary Cookbook [PDF] is another free resource on using social media in documentaries.

A free ebook on blogging can be downloaded from Guardian Students when you register with the site, and Swedish Radio have produced this guide to Social Media for Journalists (in English).

The Traffic Factories is an ebook that explores how a number of prominent US news organisations use metrics, and Chartbeat’s role in that. You can download it in mobi, PDF or epub format here.

Continue reading

Strategies vs tools redux

Yesterday I chaired a panel on ‘UGC and Social Media’ at Birmingham’s Hello Culture event. Determined that it did not descend into the all-too-common obsession with tools that often characterises such discussions, I framed it from the start with the questions “Why should we care? Why should users care?”

The panellists were grateful – and the tactic seemed to work. We talked about the tension between creating content and building relationships; between the urge to ‘get people on our platform’ and going to their platforms instead. We discussed how the experience of designing physical spaces might inform how we approach designing digital ones; and about revisiting strategic priorities as a whole instead of simply trying to ‘find time’ to ‘do the online stuff’.

In other words we talked about people rather than technology, and strategies rather than tools.

So this morning it was good to be brought back down to earth and reminded just how embedded the technology-driven mindset is by Richard Millington.

Richard writes about a ‘State of Branded Online Communities’ report that uses Bravo TV as an example of a “successful” online community. The problem is that by any sensible measure, it isn’t. And I think Richard’s quotes on just how flawed the example is are worth reproducing here at length:

“If simply posting a standardized thread each week and leaving people to their own endeavours is seen as good community management practice, what exactly is bad community management? This is community management by autopilot.

“… You judge a community’s success by it’s stage in the life cycle, the number of interactions it generates, it’s members sense of community and the ROI it offers the organization. ComBlu defines success by what features the platform offers. By that assessment, nearly all of the most successful communities would be considered failures. [They struggle to get more than 10 members participating in a community at any one time.]

“ComBlu credits Bravo with an array of successes which have no impact on the community’s success. Only one suggestion is offered:

“[..] On our Bravo wish list? A better gamification or reputation management system.”

“There are a variety of things the community needs, a better gamification system certainly isn’t one of them.

“How about hiring a community manager to take responsibility for stimulating discussions […]?

“… Content sites branded as communities are still content sites.”

Ah, gamification: I’ll tip that to be next year’s QR code/Facebook page. How about an iPhone app? Everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t we? Remember when everyone had to have a space in Second Life?

It’s a point I’ve made before in Technology is not a strategy: it’s a tool (and its follow-up), and which is explored at length in my Online Journalism book. Too often in an organisation or in a student project someone decides that they must launch a Facebook page or ‘be on Twitter’.

I recently compared this to someone approaching a TV producer, saying they wanted to make a documentary, and explaining that their strategy would be to “use a camera”.

No producer would accept that, and we need an equally critical attitude to the use of new technology. Otherwise we’re just hammers walking around seeing nails.