I’ve long thought there’s a way for newspapers to tap the audiences in what I call “underground social media” — Reddit, 4chan, digg, Plurk, FARK, others — and I’ve been chewing on this blog post about it for some time.
For those who aren’t familiar, these are forums for interaction via user-generated refers to existing content produced by others… Less geeky translation: Social media consisting mostly of links and +/- reactions to said links, for the most part. I’ve seen them called social readers, aggregators, social bookmarks, social discovery sites and even just “internet services.”
I’m calling them “underground” since they’re wildly popular but rarely come up in daily conversation. “So, I was on Fark the other day, and came across the most hilarious post.” Uh, no. You post the link, often with a wisecrack, and move on with your life, barely noticing the obvious url branding.
So I started noodling around this post a couple months ago when I, ahem, stumbled upon a use of Reddit I’d never seen before: the Reddit list as survey. ONA used it to engage its membership, and anyone else who felt like playing along, to pick sessions for this year’s conference. I participated a couple times, and I suppose it started me percolating on this post. By the time I caught a demo of our new commenting system — Disqus, which reminded me a lot of Reddit — I knew I needed to get a lot more comfortable with social readers.
Full disclosure: I’m not personally a fan of these sorts of sites. I’m willing to admit that I might just be weird, not weird enough or, at the very least, terminally uncool. (Thank you for being shocked.) It could also be my design background getting the better of me; all those sites just look like a jumbled mess of links — not the sort of social media that appeals to me, though some have made strides in that department. I liken each of them to a shopping mall (another environment I don’t particularly relish), full of lots of places full of stuff I probably won’t buy (in this case, click). Random browsing seems to not really be my thing; surfing or shopping, in reality or online, I generally start out with some kind of actual purpose. Where I might wander after that will probably depend on what I do or don’t find, as well as what other sorts of things that might come to mind along that journey. Arguably, that’s still random in nature, but certainly not in its genesis. I signed up to be emailed now and again with “interesting” posts from a couple of them, but not very many of them got me clicking unless I was reeeeeeally bored, or in severe need of procrastination fodder.
That said, given the extreme popularity of all those sites I mentioned above (and a few I’ll talk more about below) — as well as their innate ability to propel posts to viral status — it seems like folly not to familiarize myself with what they have to offer. They’re exactly the type of social media that appeals to many of my cousins, who are fast reaching that target age group news media is constantly attempting to reach. In fact, one of them, a college student at Berkley, recently told me that he first heard about Osama bin Laden’s death on 4chan. His smirk indicated I should have nosed out a few more details, but I got distracted by a shiny object, and we never got back on the subject.
And so, I dipped my toe in via social media. I would say that was a logical entry point for someone like me; most certainly, it’s led me to click on more social reader posts — specifically Reddit and StumbleUpon, as the others don’t seem to tweet much — in the past month than my entire life previously up until that point. And I have to admit that I’ve found a few gems among the rough — a lot of rough.
A couple years back, I dinked around on digg some, but I think that was more because I’d heard about the fervor over its redesign, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe it was the “flawed” new design, but nothing I experienced there led me to visit that site more than a handful of times once the fury faded. Upon a recent revisit, however, I noticed they now have a “Newsrooms” feature in beta. If they figure out a way to curate local news for users, I could see where this might help us out — or become our worst nightmare, I suppose. I’m choosing to remain positive — and keep at least one eye on it.
Same deal, kinda, with StumbleUpon, which also got my attention upon word of a redesign. The rest I’d only really visited when someone passed along a link, generally to some kind of time-wasting yet HILARIOUS meme.
I did make a run at GetGlue, which strikes me as the couch potato’s FourSquare. No judgments, but… If you don’t get out much, if you’re often glued to the gaming system of your choice, or if you make a point of watching episodes of the most popular shows as they air — and want to be “rewarded” for doing so — this is the “check-in” social media you should be checking out. (And if I were in features, I’d start brainstorming how this social media could be useful. Since I’m geared more for news, though, I’m putting that one back on the shelf… for now, at least.)
Pinterest initially struck me as a similar sort, and arguably is exactly like the rest I’ve mentioned. But since it lacks the ability to +/- a post (in terms of actually rating the post, not like Google+’s answer to the “like” button), not to mention its rather high-profile popularity, it makes more sense to lump it in with more mainstream sorts of social media.
Last week, I was sent a link to a story about BuzzFeed.com. But before I had a chance to read it, I storified what I now realize is a somewhat related example for our Inland papers and deployed it to our three websites at kind of the worst time ever — after 5 p.m. Friday. When I checked up on it Monday morning, though, it had received 750ish hits — not too shabby, especially considering how minimal an effort it to pull it together in the first place… a positive lesson for future (and better planned/developed) undertakings, I’m thinking.
And so, since it did that well with basically no help from me, and since I was in the mood to test out a couple of theories about the BuzzFeed items I’d read about, I decided to dust it off, change the headline (to something more BuzzFeed-ish), and give it a Monday morning run. By the end of the day, it had surpassed 1,200 hits, and eventually topped out just above 2,500. Amazing.
But here’s the bad news: Only a few hundred of those hits are views from any of the three papers where I posted it, according to Storify stats on that post that seem in line with what I’ve dug up on Omniture. Most of the clicks, it seems, are coming via Storify, and really I’m guessing I have Google & Co. to thank for any traction whatsoever, as well as the fact that I was unable to change the original URL to a more accurate (and less perceivably salacious) SEO than I would have liked. (Still need to check up on the stories included in that Storify to see how they might/not have benefited from the increased exposure. Stay tuned on that.)
THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA (and its aggregators): After I’d all but hit the “publish” button on this post, I happened across this one-two punch of a Storify that stands as a pretty remarkable example of what social media of all kinds, brought together by yet another form of social media, can do. According to the Storify by user Ben Doemberg, the donation drive originated on Reddit, while 4chan users worked to weed out the perpetrators (a movement that was quashed by 4chan monitors). Meanwhile, the Storify that pulled it all together has 1.6 million hits and counting — a Storify record — was picked up by the likes of Mashable, Gawker and the Huffington Post… Storify’s built for sharing, after all.
I think social readers, or whatever you want to call them, bear discussion — and investigation, and experimentation — about how journalists could make use of them beyond the occasional attempt to make the a specific sort of oddball story go viral. Seems like we could do better, especially since I’m not sure we’ve ever even really tried.
Let’s start with “What’s your favorite ‘underground social media,’ a.k.a. ‘social reader’?” I’d love to hear about it, and why you like it. Tag me @designerGNA or comment below with links to some of your favorite posts, or any posts worth checking out for whatever reason.
In the meantime, I’m going to finish up reading this BuzzFeed post I found on Why Digg is Better Than Reddit, which seems a touch more useful than this post about Plurk vs. Twitter, though not as instantly entertaining as the fact that Reddit has a 4chan page it describes as “The utter cesspool of humanity. The very lowest common denominator of humor. The Bottom of the Internet.” And yes, I already read the post detailing the five things I need to know about the TomKat divorce.
Maybe there’s hope for me and this whole random browsing thing after all.
If you don’t already know, Steve Buttry and Mandy Jenkins blogged on Wednesday about the creation of a curation team for Digital First Media. Rather than immediately releasing an official job description, as you would with traditional job openings, they instead asked for input into what a curation team should do, via Twitter or in comments in their respective posts. They also invited responses via blog posts. (Ahem.)
Typically, I’m all over these kinds of online conversations, hashtagging my ass off. Not yesterday. First, because Wednesdays are the days I’ve set aside to work on my ideaLab projects, so I spend them on the Esri campus, semi-out-of-reach of what’s happening in the newsrooms and other realms of our organization. It helps me focus on what I’m trying to learn and do, and is also a bit of a courtesy toward the Esri staffer who has spent his Wednesdays at my side, teaching me about some aspects of data I never really took the time to learn; showing me the ropes and some snazzy features of Esri’s fairly robust programs; and setting up meetings with other Esri personnel who have an interest in what news organizations today need — and what they want.
The other reason for being off-grid in this case was that I wanted to develop a real answer on my own. I didn’t even read the full blog posts about this job until just a few hours ago, and I still haven’t yet looked at a single comment or tweet on the matter. Perhaps that’s folly, but I just felt like I needed the isolation on this answer, at least initially. (If I change my mind on anything, I’ll note it at the bottom of this post.)
I promise I’ll make up for all of that in the next couple days. And beyond.
So here’s what I came up with:
At its simplest, curation at this level is Twitter lists of valued, verified and authoritative tweeters for as many aspects of news as shades of blue in the sky: national and regional collections of everything from lawmakers to philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to weather sources; helpful resources for victims of everything from fire and flood to foreclosure and scams to domestic violence; world and national news media, and maybe even the paparazzi; sports teams and official fan sites; and everything in between — or solidly trending. Same thing on Google Plus. Same thing on Facebook. Same thing on… You get the idea.
Curation is gathering valued, verified and authoritative links to all our properties’ bonafide social media in as many social media platforms they’re utilizing — and then some.
It’s looking for opportunities to leverage social media in ways that augment Thunderdome coverage and increase reader engagement, likely through tools like Storify, VeriteCo., Delicious, blogs, Facebook pages and timelines, Google Docs; plus more I can’t think of at this late hour and some I haven’t even heard of yet.
It’s discovering new tools that aid — or even ease — the aggregation process, with bonus points for those that cater to both web and print. Or discovering new ways to achieve that same objective using “old” tools. Oh, and keeping them all handy in a shared arsenal.
It’s collecting valued, verified and authoritative data — maps, databases, spreadsheets, charts, whathaveyou — of wide relevance, significance and importance — Census data, election results, voter turnout figures, Congressional district boundaries (before and after redistricting), Olympic counts (medals, records, participating nations, etc.), foreclosure rates, fire/flood/major mayhem maps, etc. — in formats that’s readily accessible by any, or many, of our 75 properties’ websites, should they need it in a pinch or for a project.
It’s pulling together links and available authoritative source information on all of those topics and then some into centralized locations readily accessible by reporters and editors across DFM, including links and means of communication with other DFM properties.
It’s teaching, empowering and mobilizing newsrooms across DFM to do as many of these same things as possible on the local level — local officials, agencies, restaurants, businesses, personalities, sports teams, etc. — with the goal of establishing that local newspaper as the go-to resource for anything relating to that community.
And it’s providing back-up to those organizations when national news breaks in their back yard, and curation is the last thing they have time for, but something their community greatly needs.
As I see it, a curation team at the national level would lead these charges, deploy these tactics and continue furthering the development of curation editors/teams across all DFM properties. At least, that’s my take. Eager to see what others had to say on the matter Wednesday, and to talk more about this topic in the weeks and months to come.
While the bulk of my Social Media Month challenges focused on the “Big 3” — Twitter, Facebook and G+ — I also sprinkled in a few sorts of social media tools that took the next step, be it forward or sideways.
Enter Storify, Klout and CoverItLive — ”the rest" of my Social Media Month challenges, as it were:
Storify: While I personally am experiencing some technical difficulties with my Storify account on iPad, I’m still a big fan of the platform and anticipate using and discussing it quite a bit as I ramp up my own social media efforts.
Klout: Though it has as many critics as fans, Klout can help you track your own successes and find quality commenters.
* CoverItLive announced some changes last week that have sparked a bit of fervor among users that had come to rely on it for dynamic coverage of live events. On a personal level, I’m rather disappointed to see it slip from our grasp before we were really able to make good use of it at the papers I work for. But there’s no point in dwelling on it, and thankfully, DFM’s Mandy Jenkins (& Co.) issued a fast response with some feasible — and inexpensive — alternatives.
Other general tips:
There’s a lot of facets to Google+ that leave its users intrigued, frustrated, mystified or dismissive — and sometimes several of those at once.
Using it increases our content’s exposure in Google searches, and allows us another platform for reaching out to our readers — and specific groups of our readers, if we so choose… and do the prep work.
Once you realize you’ve already got a functioning Google+ account, all that’s left is to dive right in and find other good uses it. In case you missed them in April, here’s some easy ways to get started:
Facebook. Seems like it’s been around forever. For many of you, it was your very first social media experience. And even though its changes generally spark a lot of fervor among many users, eventually we all just jump in, figure it out and continue being faithful users. Or back away until we see enough others jumping in that we feel comfortable following suit.
There’s probably a greater lesson in that, but let’s move on for now.
Facebook’s relatively long history translates into a relatively wide reach, especially for our papers. Though our core accounts have about as many followers here as on Twitter (with the exception of the Redlands Daily Facts, which instead has about twice as many Twitter followers), it seems our particular readership is more consistently mobilized via Facebook.
But we can always do better.
To that end, I offered up some Facebook tips among my Social Media Month challenge poststhroughout April. In case you missed them, here’s a quick recap, in no particular order:
Think back to your first tweet. Do you remember what it was?
If you’re pretty new to the medium, you might actually remember. But if you’ve been using it awhile, you probably don’t recall, and certainly don’t have the time to go traipsing back through hundreds of tweets — or thousands, in the case of some of you — to track down the origin of your Twitter identity.
An early adopter myself, I admit I initially was not a huge fan of the Twitter. And yet, I’m on track to hit my 2,000th tweet sometime this week — if I keep at it.
That might seem like a lot to you, but I assure you I’m no aficionado, and really, for as long as I’ve had an account, my numbers should probably be at least twice that by now. More than a few folks I’ve been following the longest have tweeted two, four and even 10 times more than that — with few RTs and no assist from auto-feeds.
Not that it’s a race, by any means. And not that quantity means quality, either.
No matter what tweeting milestone you’re approaching, everyone has room for improvement or can learn something new. That’s the thing about social media: Ever-changing. Ever-evolving.
So if you think you’re expert already, I invite you to open up your Twitter feed, do a quick scroll down through 20-30 of your tweets, then ask yourself these questions:
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re in need of Twitter tune-up, Social Media Month-style. Whether you’re due for a review or need a little push, I encourage you to dive into this collection of my Social Media Month Twitter posts, in no particular order:
Today’s Social Media Month challenge: Create your social media calling card at about.me.
All that social media spring cleaning you did this weekend is about to pay off. About.me lets you attach all your social media identities — as well as any links of your choosing — into one place so that you can refer contacts there. Or let your existing audience discover everywhere else you’re at, all at once. …Think of it as “self-curation.”
Find other people you know by allowing access through a few of your accounts; you can gather any of them onto your “favorites” page by clicking the star under their info.
And of course, if you prefer, there’s an app for that.
Today’s Social Media Month challenge: #FF at least two tweeters from sister papers.
Did you remember to #FF last week? Either way, get back on it today, and this time, include at least two folks from a sister paper — you’re following that list, right?
And if you need a refresher on Follow Friday, check out my previous #FF challenge.
Today’s Social Media Month challenge: Launch a Twitter poll.
Engage your audience in a story you’ve recently done or are currently working on. Build a poll to ask them their opinion about an issue, and see what kind of reaction is out there. You might come away with a source or two, or a few good contenders for a Storify element to go with your story, or even stand on its own as a folo of sorts.
And once you’ve got your poll in place, let your editors know so they can promote it on core social media accounts, and possibly even in the paper.
Special thanks to Mike Cruz @sbcourts for inspiring this challenge.
Today’s Social Media Month challenge: Sign up for a social media client.
Today’s Social Media Month challenge: Go list-diving!
Poke around some of your favorite folks to follow to see who they’re following — or being followed by — and find a dozen (or more) additional quality tweeters. You might come away with a wider audience yourself. Don’t forget to check their lists, too, to see whether there might be some worthwhile follows among them.
Bonus challenge: Subscribe to three lists.