Social Media

Facebook needs to offer newsrooms a panic button for important stories

33904_cooldnn20facebook20likeShortly before the elections in the summer, I was sat outside Dublin Airport trying to get an Uber ride to the Irish Mirror. A pop-up appeared on my screen telling me it was important to make sure I’d registered to vote.

Uber – reminding me of my civic duty to vote. Doing, in some ways, what the media has always tried to do, combining a role in civic life with the need to appeal to people, and occasionally being prepared to say to readers sometimes: “Hey, this is important.”

But how do we do that in a world of distributed platforms, and where eyeballs = money in the bank?

It’s a dilemma every social media editor will have faced — the need to get something out which is clearly important versus the very real risk that if readers on Facebook don’t feel it’s important, all in the knowledge that the signals Facebook will pick up will suggest you’ve suddenly got bad at knowing what your readers want.

And then Facebook penalises your subsequent posts, reaching fewer people than expected. And so the world of playing to get back in Facebook’s algorithmic good books begins. How do you overcome that?


But this isn’t a post to join the chorus of people decrying Facebook as ‘journalism’s public enemy number one,’ as the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade rather sensationally announced last week. In fact, it’s wrong to say Facebook is journalism’s biggest problem. Facebook is a symptom of two problems facing journalism.


EU referendum: What does the social media reaction tell us about coming out in favour of Remain?

Several titles I work with have, over the past week, urged readers to vote ‘remain’ in Thursday’s EU referendum.

Contrary to the popular myth being shared on some parts of social media by Brexiteers, each editor has been free to decide whether their titles should back either side, or remain neutral.

I think the titles which have taken a side – including the Newcastle Journal, Birmingham Mail, Liverpool Echo and Manchester Evening News – are proof that you can take a position on something while still providing balanced coverage.


Journalism’s challenge isn’t Facebook. It’s much bigger than that


The annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report contains so many interesting insights into where online journalism – and the consumption of it – is heading it can be hard to know where to start.

Most of the coverage has focused around the stat that up to half of people now get their news on social media, with a growing number using it as their main source of news.

And with that came a grim summary from one of the authors of the report, according to the FT:

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the Reuters Institute director of research, said: “The move towards a more distributed environment offers publishers opportunities to reach new audiences on an unprecedented scale, but as people increasingly access news via third-party platforms, it will become harder and harder for most publishers to stand out from the crowd, connect directly with users, and make money.”

It led some commentators to suggest that Facebook is effectively bankrupting the news industry – by hoovering up huge chunks of advertising (which presumably was destined for news publishers instead, a bit of a big leap to make) and not actually investing in content creation itself.


The currency of endorsement (or why Facebook likes matter)


Every month, brands within the company I work for, Trinity Mirror, publish the number of followers they have on Facebook and Twitter, along with unique browser data.

Every month, the data is picked up by the trade press, including sites such as Hold the Front Page, and reported in a straight-down-the-middle sort of way.

And every month, the same conversation begins in the comments section. “What’s the point of counting your Twitter followers” or “Where’s the money in Facebook likes?”

It’s a discussion which happens in newsrooms too, and the idea of counting followers and likes only really makes sense if you buy into the fact readers have a new sort of currency to bestow on you: Their endorsement.


Twitter at 10: 11 things news brands can do to get better at Twitter


10 years ago, Twitter was born. A decade on and there’s a lot of talk about where Twitter ‘goes next.’ This isn’t one of those pieces, although if you do want that, this article from Mashable raises some good points.

Instead I want to focus on journalism’s – specifically regional journalism’s – relationship with social network which became something of a darling for many journalists long before the importance of Facebook took hold in newsrooms.

Twitter was embraced by a significant number of regional journalists early on, even if the snark of ‘why would I post what I had for tea on Twitter’ took several years to die down. Nowadays, a reporter who doesn’t use Twitter probably won’t get very far in their next job interview.

But, after living with Twitter for a decade, you don’t have to look far on Twitter to find news brands missing opportunities to get the most out of the social network. I suspect part of this is due to the fact that Facebook is such a monster driver of traffic to many websites now, whereas Twitter is, bluntly, not.


Facebook’s challenge to journalists: Make your work shareable to be successful


Facebook’s latest algorithm changes came into view last Friday. Posted late in the evening UK time, the social network said it was going to using data from a tiny sample of users via surveys to help determine what everyone else saw in their feed.

The idea, claims Facebook, is to make the news feed ‘fundamentally human.’ Basing big decisions on the feedback of around 1,000 users via a survey when Facebook has such a vast volume of user data at its disposal seems a very odd decision, and Facebook runs the risk of making the mistake so many publishers have made over the years.


For all the wisdom of how to do ‘social media’, surely only 4 rules are needed to keep out of trouble

This post popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, shared by a friend:

GMP Salford

As social media posts go on behalf of an organisation, it probably deserves a place in presentations about how to get it right.

It makes a serious point, is written in a friendly, engaging manner and achieves the right balance of humour with an underlying message: Fly tipping isn’t on.

In theory, such posts should be easy for anyone to do, regardless of their role in the organisation: Think like a human, talk like a human.


No, the 2015 general election was not the social media election


One of the many predications given ahead of the 2015 general election was that it was going to be ‘the social media election.’

Similar predictions were made in 2010, but in hindsight it really wasn’t. But what about 2015?

I suppose it depends how you define what it would it would take to remember a general election by the impact social media had on it. So my conclusion is that no, rather like 2010, social media did not define the general election. Therefore 2015 was not the social media election.

That’s not to say it didn’t have a much bigger impact on the journalism surrounding the 2015 general election than ever before. It certainly did. In 2010, Twitter was still treated with suspicion or outright contempt by many journalists. Facebook was still, for the majority of journalists, a personal, rather than professional, space.

In 2015, social media sat at the centre of media coverage of the general election. Sky News built a whole part of its election website around social discussion, breaking out sentiment by age and sex, for example. 

The Press Association ran a UK politics page for Facebook, Tweets were referenced in content everywhere, and politicians and political parties were alert to the fact any post from them on social media was likely to attract mainstream media attention quickly.

But that’s where I think it fell down somewhat. Social media, for many politicians, remains a broadcast tool. It might have sat at the heart of election strategies – the Tories are rumoured to have spent fortunes on Facebook advertising – but the communication was very much one way.

And until that changes, I struggle to see how we can ever have a social media election – because until politicians realise that they need to have individual conversations on social media in the same way they do on the doorstep, they won’t be harnessing the power of social media properly.

To say social media is a powerful tool for change is rather like remarking that water is wet. Campaigns are won within days. The Manchester Evening News raised £1.4m in 24 hours for a burning dogs homes, thanks largely to people sharing on social media. Petitions, such as the one for a parliamentary debate on Hillsborough, reach their 100,000 target in days thanks to sharing on Twitter. Yet faced with the potential to connect with a large number of people, politicians seem determined to keep just shouting at them.

Indeed, at times Twitter’s best attribute to politicians has seemed to be the 140-character limit, providing politicians with a way to say as little as possible, but still get their message across. It’s not supposed to be like that.

There are exceptions, of course. Nicola Sturgeon has been widely acclaimed for her use of Twitter. She’s far from the first to be good on social. Ed Balls used to be active too, once giving me directions to a football ground. So to was John Prescott, once balling me out for disagreeing with him. But for every great political Twitter account i mention to someone, I invariably get back the question: “Ah, but do you know if s/he writes it themselves?”

The answer is that I don’t know. But what I do know is that the big political parties treat social media the same way they do every other form of communication: The more people you can reach for the least amount of effort, the better.

And while that approach works when determining the merit of a wrap in a local newspaper, or buying Facebook advertising, it misses the point of social media entirely. And as a result, the likes of Sturgeon are few and far between.

This isn’t a ‘let’s bash social media’ blog. It’s hopefully a ‘let’s get real’ blog post. Social media works so well because it fits into people’s lives, and reflects the real world too. Treat Twitter like you would going into the pub is a common piece of advice. Reply to people, and listen to them, is another. Be useful is another. The political parties miss all of these points but probably pat themselves on the back for the reach of a Tweet or Facebook post.

An MP last autumn boasted to me: “My local newspaper only sells 10,000 copies a week but a post on my Facebook people can be seen by 40,000 people. What do you think of that?”

In hindsight, my reply should have been: “I think you should focus on talking to people locally, rather than getting carried away by meaningless global numbers, you nugget.” Sadly, it wasn’t.

Social media does have the power to determine an election in the future, in a far more democratic way than any traditional media outlet could ever claim to do (and let’s be frank, has The Sun really ever won an election, or has it just always ensured it’s backing the winning horse?)

The right party, with the right message, could do exactly what Barack Obama did a decade ago and bring together many people and secure a victory against the odds. But do so requires people to buy into the message, and buy into the person presenting that message. For that to happen requires personal relationships and engagement on social media.

As any newsroom social media editor will tell you, social media isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work to maintain relationships. But if you get it right, the rewards are there.

The social media election can happen – but only once politicians start treating networks as more than just an extra channel for an off-the-shelf party political broadcast.

So succeed at social, you need to succeed at being human. That’s where I fear our mainstream parties go wrong.

Try It Tuesday:

The aim of Try It Tuesday – if it can be as bold as an aim – is to share a tool a week which might be useful to journalists. It might be new, it might be old but forgotten, or it might be somewhere inbetween. It’ll be something I’ve found useful though and one I’d suggest spending 10 minutes getting to know. 


What? is social networking at its most hyperlocal. Those behind it have been busy writing to millions of homes across the UK urging people to sign up and share local information. Those receiving a letter get a code which automatically selects an area for them to be added to, with the option to opt in to some nearby ones too.

Why? For journalists, especially those with a district beat or patch, Streetlife has the potential to be a great source of stories. I’ve tried it for a few areas and the quality of comment and debate does vary, but in some cases is exceptional. I know of editors in London active on it in their communities, with the most successful ones being the journalists who add to conversations in a way which helps people, rather than just using it to source stories.

The daily update email has become something I read every day. If I’m doing that as a local resident, surely it’s useful to journalists?

Other Try It Tuesday ideas can be found here

18 tools for journalists covering elections

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1. Yatterbox

A great tool originally designed for marketing folk to keep up to date with what is being said about their brand. Select the people or places (eg constituencies) you want to be alerted about when they are referenced, and it’s job done. Works with several social networks but is at its best on Twitter.


2. Facebook interests

Facebook Interests are essentially like Twitter lists, allowing you to build up a list of pages around a particular theme which you can then find very quickly. Once an interests list is created, it should be easy to access on the left-hand side of your desktop page. All activity from the pages you add to an interest list then appear in the same way other posts do on your feed. Given Facebook’s feed generally tries to serve you what it thinks you want, rather than just everything (like Twitter), Facebook Interests ensures you have an easy way to see everything from pages which are important for the election, such as candidates or campaign groups. More details on interests here.