Tag Archives: smo

The viral choice: too good to check – or too good not to debunk?

We are in the golden age of verification: a generation of journalists trained to process content rather than check it; the culling of the subs who used to; and a generation raised on bullshit with the means to check it and the networks to exchange notes. Continue reading

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The Scarcity Principle: writing online headlines which ‘click’

Increasingly, when journalists now write headlines for the web or for social media, they specify the medium or format involved. They shout VIDEO and AUDIO in caps at the start of the tweet or post; MAPPED or INFOGRAPHIC; INTERVIEW or LIVEBLOG.

Sometimes the medium or format is implied more subtly, with a call to action: we urge users to ‘Watch’, ‘See’ and ‘Listen’. But we also invite them to ‘Join’, ‘Meet’ and ‘Find out’.

Users choose the medium as well as the message

Why do we do this? Part of it is that we recognise that the medium is something special; that users often make a choice based on the medium itself.

But I think putting the medium/format front and centre is about more than just user preference: it’s about abundance and scarcity. Continue reading

Choosing a strategy for content: 4 Ws and a H

Something interesting happened to journalism when it moved from print and broadcast to the web. Aspects of the process that we barely thought about started to be questioned: the ‘story’ itself seemed less than fundamental. Decisions that you didn’t need to make as a journalist – such as what medium you would use – were becoming part of the job.

In fact, a whole raft of new decisions now needed to be made.

For those launching a new online journalism project, these questions are now increasingly tackled with a content strategy, a phrase and approach which, it seems to me, began outside of the news industry (where the content strategy had been settled on so long ago that it became largely implicit) and has steadily been rediscovered by journalists and publishers.

‘Web first’, for example, is a content strategy; the Seattle Times’s decision to focus on creation, curation and community is a content strategy. Reed Business Information’s reshaping of its editorial structures is, in part, a content strategy:

Why does a journalist need a content strategy?

I’ve written previously about the style challenge facing journalists in a multi platform environment: where before a journalist had few decisions to make about how to treat a story (the medium was given, the formats limited, the story supreme), now it can be easy to let old habits restrict the power, quality and impact of reporting.

Below, I’ve tried to boil down these new decisions into 4 different types – and one overarching factor influencing them all. These are decisions that often have to be made quickly in the face of changing circumstances – I hope that fleshing them out in this way will help in making those decisions quicker and more effectively.

1. Format (“How?”)

We’re familiar with formats: the news in brief; the interview; the profile; the in-depth feature; and so on. They have their conventions and ingredients. If you’re writing a report you know that you will need a reaction quote, some context, and something to wrap it up (a quote; what happens next; etc.). If you’re doing an interview you’ll need to gather some colour about where it takes place, and how the interviewee reacts at various points.

Formats are often at their most powerful when they are subverted: a journalist who knows the format inside out can play with it, upsetting the reader’s expectations for the most impact. This is the tension between repetition and contrast that underlies not just journalism but good design, and even music.

As online journalism develops dozens of new formats have become available. Here are just a few:

  • the liveblog;
  • the audio slideshow;
  • the interactive map;
  • the app;
  • the podcast;
  • the explainer;
  • the portal;
  • the aggregator;
  • the gallery

Formats are chosen because they suit the thing being covered, its position in the publisher’s news environment, and the resources of the publisher.

Historically, for example, when a story first broke for most publishers a simple report was the only realistic option. But after that, they might commission a profile, interview, or deeper feature or package – if the interest and the resources warranted that.

The subject matter would also be a factor. A broadcaster might be more inclined to commission a package on a story if colourful characters or locations were involved and were accessible. They might also send a presenter down for a two-way.

These factors still come into play now we have access to a much wider range of formats – but a wider understanding of those formats is also needed.

  • Does the event take place over a geographical area, and users will want to see the movement or focus on a particular location? Then a map might be most appropriate.
  • Are things changing so fast that a traditional ‘story’ format is going to be inadequate? Then a liveblog may work better.
  • Is there a wealth of material out there being produced by witnesses? A gallery, portal or aggregator might all be good choices.
  • Have you secured an interview with a key character, and a set of locations or items that tell their own story? Is it an ongoing or recurring story? An audio slideshow or video interview may be the most powerful choice of format.
  • Are you on the scene and raw video of the event is going to have the most impact? Grab your phone and film – or stream.

2. Medium (“What?”)

Depending on what format has been chosen, the medium may be chosen for you too. But a podcast can be audio or video; a liveblog can involve text and multimedia; an app can be accessed on a phone, a webpage, a desktop widget, or Facebook.

This is not just about how you convey information about what’s going on (you’ll notice I avoid the use of ‘story’, as this is just one possible choice of format) but how the user accesses it and uses it.

A podcast may be accessed on the move; a Facebook app on mobile, in a social context; and so on. These are factors to consider as you produce your content.

3. Platform (“Where?”)

Likewise, the platforms where the content is to be distributed need careful consideration.

A liveblog’s reporting might be done through Twitter and aggregated on your own website. A map may be compiled in a Google spreadsheet but published through Google Maps and embedded on your blog.

An audioboo may have subscribers on iTunes or on the Audioboo app itself, and its autoposting feature may attract large numbers of listeners through Twitter.

Some call the choice of platform a choice of ‘channel’ but that does not do justice to the interactive and social nature of many of these platforms. Facebook or Twitter are not just channels for publishing live updates from a blog, but a place where people engage with you and with each other, exchanging information which can become part of your reporting (whether you want it to or not).

(Look at these tutorials for copy editors on Twitter to get some idea of how that platform alone requires its own distinct practices)

Your content strategy will need to take account of what happens on those platforms: which tweets are most retweeted or argued with; reacting to information posted in your blog or liveblog comments; and so on.

[UPDATE, March 25: This video from NowThisNews’s Ed O’Keefe explains how this aspect plays out in his organisation]

4. Scheduling (“When?”)

The choice of platform(s) will also influence your choice of timing. There will be different optimal times for publishing to Facebook, Twitter, email mailing lists, blogs, and websites.

There will also be optimal times for different formats (as the Washington Post found). A short news report may suit morning commuters; an audio slideshow or video may be best scheduled for the evening. Something humorous may play best on a Friday afternoon; something practical on a Wednesday afternoon once the user has moved past the early week slog.

Infographic: The Best Times To Post To Twitter & Facebook

This webcast on content strategy gives a particular insight into how they treat scheduling – not just across the day but across the week.

5. “Why?”

Print and broadcast rest on objectives so implicit that we barely think about them. The web, however, may have different objectives. Instead of attracting the widest numbers of readers, for example, we may want to engage users as much as possible.

That makes a big difference in any content strategy:

  • The rapid rise of liveblogs and explainers as a format can be partly explained by their stickiness when compared to traditional news articles.
  • Demand for video content has exceeded supply for some publishers because it is possible to embed advertising with content in a way which isn’t possible with text.
  • Infographics have exploded as they lend themselves so well to viral distribution.

Distribution is often one answer to ‘why?’, and introduces two elements I haven’t mentioned so far: search engine optimisation and social media optimisation. Blogs as a platform and text as a medium are generally better optimised for search engines, for example. But video and images are better optimised for social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And the timing of publishing might be informed by analytics of what people are searching for, updating Facebook about, or tweeting about right now.

The objective(s), of course, should recur as a consideration throughout all the stages above. And some stages will have different objectives: for distribution, for editorial quality, and for engagement.

Just to confuse things further, the objectives themselves are likely to change as the business models around online and multiplatform publishing evolve.

If I’m going to sum up all of the above in one line, then, it’s this: “Take nothing for granted.”

I’m looking for examples of content strategies for future editions of the book – please let me know if you’d like yours to be featured.

Choosing a strategy for content: 4 Ws and a H

Choosing a strategy for content: Format, Medium, Platform, Scheduling - and objectives

For this content I chose to write text accompanied by some images and video, published on a blog at a particular moment, for the objective of saving time and gaining feedback.

Something interesting happened to journalism when it moved from print and broadcast to the web. Aspects of the process that we barely thought about started to be questioned: the ‘story’ itself seemed less than fundamental. Decisions that you didn’t need to make as a journalist – such as what medium you would use – were becoming part of the job.

In fact, a whole raft of new decisions now needed to be made.

For those launching a new online journalism project, these questions are now increasingly tackled with a content strategy, a phrase and approach which, it seems to me, began outside of the news industry (where the content strategy had been settled on so long ago that it became largely implicit) and has steadily been rediscovered by journalists and publishers.

‘Web first’, for example, is a content strategy; the Seattle Times’s decision to focus on creation, curation and community is a content strategy. Reed Business Information’s reshaping of its editorial structures is, in part, a content strategy:

Why does a journalist need a content strategy?

I’ve written previously about the style challenge facing journalists in a multi platform environment: where before a journalist had few decisions to make about how to treat a story (the medium was given, the formats limited, the story supreme), now it can be easy to let old habits restrict the power, quality and impact of reporting.

Below, I’ve tried to boil down these new decisions into 4 different types – and one overarching factor influencing them all. These are decisions that often have to be made quickly in the face of changing circumstances – I hope that fleshing them out in this way will help in making those decisions quicker and more effectively. Continue reading

Is community moderation etc. journalism? Another ice cream question

Photo by Photoctor

Looking down? Photo by Bhaskar Pyakurel/Photoctor http://www.flickr.com/people/dev07/

Here we go again. Fleet Street Blues reports on a user comment which “seems to makes quite a lot of sense”. It reads as follows:

“Five years or so ago, there was a certain kind of old-school journalist who, converted to the cause, as it were, banged on at length about the importance of hacks having a web presence of the highest order to demonstrate the new skills. It turns out, however, that the new skills are a piece of piss (particularly with current web technology), and promoting a yarn via Google, Facebook, Twitter etc is, in reality, an administrative task rather than a journalistic one. If you want to employ a proper journalist rather than a cheap web monkey, the SEO stuff really is secondary. (Of course, there is the fact that many employers actively want web monkeys rather journalists because they are so much cheaper, but that’s a whole other debate.)”

What is wrong with this picture?

Well even before we get to the conclusion, the premise is flawed.

The headline is indicative: “The difference between promoting a yarn… and writing it”

This is the usual ‘drawing a line’ waste of time (“Is ice cream strawberry?”) that seeks to establish some kind of higher ground that journalists can occupy, rather than actually asking what we want to do in our journalism.

If you want to have a web presence to demonstrate new skills for your career, fine. If you want to use those skills to produce good journalism while you’re at it, however, then you’ll probably do a great deal better.

The point of community management/SEO/social media optimisation etc. from a journalist’s point of view is that it should seek to involve readers as early as possible, and so improve the editorial product while it is produced. Not only that but also so that, once published, any errors/additions etc. are likely to be added by users.

It’s the difference between seeing users as passive audiences, or as active collaborators.

If you see them as audiences then, yes: SEO/SMO/community management is an administrative job akin to being a papergirl or delivery man. Let’s all look down on those poor web monkeys who fail to live up to our own high standards.

If you see them as collaborators and users, however, then no: SEO/SMO/community management is not something you can comfortably leave entirely to someone else.

via Mary Hamilton.

Does Twitter improve your site’s search engine results?

A Tweet's Effect On Rankings - An Unexpected Case Study

Yes. Or at least according to a couple of blog posts in the SEO blogosphere.

Back in December Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan asked what “social signals” Google and Bing count in their algorithms. Previously, the answer would have been none, as far as Twitter is concerned, because like most social media (including blog comments, forum posts and social networks) any links posted on Twitter carry a ‘nofollow’ tag, instructing search engines to ignore it.

But now that Twitter has signed deals with the big search engines, they now get the “firehose” of data from Twitter direct – without nofollow attributes. Bing tell Sullivan:

“We take into consideration how often a link has been tweeted or retweeted, as well as the authority of the Twitter users that shared the link.

Google tells him:

“We use the data only in limited situations, not for all of general websearch.”

The post contains more information about how both search engines use the “social authority” of a user (followers, followed, etc.) to further rank links.

A case study

Yesterday, the issue gained a fascinating case study from SEOmoz (image at top), when one of their articles suddenly appeared on the first page of Google search engine results for the term “Beginner’s Guide” following a tweet from Smashing Magazine and hundreds of retweets. Continue reading