Friday, 30 October 2009

Writing for business: a free ebook from me

Thursday, 22 October 2009

How magazines and newspapers can make Facebook work for them

Facebook can be a problem. Many organisations find that it is so addictive that it takes employees away from their work.

A lot of firms block access to it from work computers. And who can blame them?

If Facebook, or any other social network, disrupts the work of an organisation, that’s clearly a problem that can’t be ignored.

But, in media companies, we can’t let the fact that Facebook is a problem obscure the fact that it is also an opportunity. By my reckoning, it’s probably the greatest currently under-exploited opportunity for media companies within social media.

After all, in management school they say the bigger the problem the bigger the opportunity. A problem of the size of Facebook has to be a great opportunity.

But first, and skip the two pars that follow if you are already convinced of this, why engage with social media?

Because we need to fish where the fish are. Our potential readers are on Facebook, Twitter and a range of other social networks. That’s where we need to be if they are to find us. Putting the right content there is like baiting a hook.

A whole generation raised on the internet will never find our branded websites or, indeed, our print publications unless we engage with them first on social networks. Get our use of social networks right and we can draw them to us, and to our core content, and convince them of our worth.

Huffington Post made a splash recently when it installed Facebook Connect, which as Ken Burbary explains means "Facebook users log in to partner sites using their Facebook account and share information with Facebook friends: a single sign-on authentication solution that websites can use instead of relying on building it for themselves."

Since integrating with Facebook Connect, more than 33% of new Huff Post registrations come through Facebook.

But many media brands that you would expect to be social engaged aren’t using Facebook to anything like its potential.

Two examples

NME just scratches the surface of what is possible – with one-line news items that don’t link anywhere. For example, a free Echo and the Bunnymen download is announced, but not linked to.
Heat magazine is schizo. Search on Facebook and this appears to be the official fan page Yet follow the link to Heat’s website provided and you find there a Follow us on Facebook link that takes you not back here, but to another Heat Facebook page entirely 

Not a problem for readers who go from Heat’s own branded site to Facebook, but mighty confusing for browsers on Facebook who are looking for Heat’s official page. And it’s the currently unengaged audience that Facebook can most usefully put you in touch with, not the converts.

Facebook is a massively powerful marketing tool. Many commercial brands – Coca Cola, Ben and Jerry, Red Bull, iTunes and others are using it as such, and to great effect.

We can learn a lot from them about how to market ourselves to a whole swathe of people who would like us if they met us -- socially, as you do on Facebook -- and who could become visitors to our branded websites and (just maybe, one day)  purchasers of our print products.

Penn Olson blogged about the sophistication of the social media Coke Happiness campaign which is "sending three winning bloggers to more than 200 countries in a year to uncover what makes people happy, as part of the soft drink maker’s Open Happiness campaign.”

Here’s the embed of part of the sell for that campaign from Coke’s  Facebook page

It’s this kind of creativity that is needed on Facebook. But hey, we can do that. So if you are on a sports mag/website, say, what about it? Run a competition on Facebook with a commercial partner, and get prize-winning fans to video-blog the F1 season, or next year’s  Football World Cup.

Penn Olson came up with 10 successful Facebook business pages and, among them, highlighted Red Bull
which ran Red Bull Stash, a treasure-hunt covering every corner of the USA with rewards for engaged fans.

Become a fan of iTunes on Facebook and you get 20 free songs, as long as you are in the US.
Penn Olson adds: “New to iTunes? Not to worry. They have a series of tutorial videos right on its page. A smart move to acquire more users through Facebook.”

What we get on social networks is personal recommendations: readers who find us and like us share us with their friends on Facebook. Book publishers have always known about the power of a personal recommendation. Now we can exploit the same benefit.

But should you bother? After all, a proper engagement on Facebook will take time, effort, imagination and resources. Mashable found that, of social networks, Facebook provides the most loyal visitors:

  • 20% of those that originate from the social network then revisit the site four or more times in a week.

That is not just a boost in traffic, it’s a boost in the right kind of visitor – the one who finds they like you and become loyal. Using Facebook and other social network sites is not about eyeballs, it’s about making yourself  known to the reader who values you once he or she knows you exist.

I’ll highlight two here:
  • Increased registration: of between 30-300%
  • Increased engagement: Facebook users are used to being social. They are an active group, participating, sharing, and generating more content. Sites with Facebook Connect see a 15-100% increase in reviews. Connected users create 15-60% more content than users who have not connected with Facebook Connect.

So, we know all too well about the threat Facebook poses. Now’s the time to focus on the opportunity.

Monday, 19 October 2009

New Course: Developing your social networking strategy

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Wave... journalists and publishers often see them as the new threat, even eclipsing search engines in their power to rob us of our content and our users. But it ain't necessarily so.

This course is about developing a social networking strategy that benefits your journalists, your titles and your brand. Find out more...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

How journalists and publishers must adapt for social media and Web 3.0

I’m delivering a course tomorrow on social media and Web 3.0 strategies for magazine brands called Developing the story, and wanted to get clear in my head the framework within which journalists and publishers must now operate.

Developing the story is about how, having created the initial story, in whatever medium, it must be developed and moved on to reach as many readers as possible in different channels. It’s about how to package and atomise news for multiple channels, and it takes as one of its starting points the view of the social media generation: “If the news is that important, it will find me”.

The other starting point is the context we are beginning to operate in: that of Web 3.0. First, let’s try to define it.

Web 1.0 was about commerce
Commerce was the driver in the early days of the web. This was the time when online institutions including Amazon and Ebay were created. There has always been content too, but it has rarely been the key driver.

Web 2.0 was about community
Community sites including Myspace and Facebook and hundreds more often niche players drove development.

Web 3.0 will be about joined-up thinking
Actually, no one can yet be entirely sure of what Web 3.0 will be like, but the simplest way of looking at developments that will shape it is to say that they bring things together.

At present you often have to go to one place for content, another for community and another for commerce. But many organisations are trying to knit the three together, and in doing so they are ushering in Web 3.0, the web of connectedness.

Let me quote from an incisive article at, which offers four pictures of the way Web 3.0 could develop. They are:

The Semantic Web
This is a web in which machines can read sites as easily as we can. The simple example PCMag gives is this: “You ask your machine to check your schedule against the schedules of all the dentists and doctors within a 10-mile radius—and it obeys.”

The 3D Web
A web you can enter, by slipping on a suitable headset. So from your armchair you can go shopping, travel geographically or through time.

The Media-Centric Web
A web where you can search not just with words but with all other media. A photograph of a favourite painting entered into a search engine brings you hundreds of similar paintings you may also like. Searches could be done with sound, video, anything.

The Pervasive Web
A Web that's everywhere. So not just your PC is online, every device you use is too. So your fridge orders the food you are running out of from the online supermarket, and checks your diary to ensure it is delivered at a time when you will be at home.

The elements that Web 3.0 brings together
For this I’m quoting from Sramana Mitra, an entrepreneur, strategy consultant and author of the technology business   She sees 3.0 as bringing together and developing everything from Web’s 1.0 and 2.0 -- content, commerce and community, or what she calls the 3Cs, and adding to it a fourth C – Context.

She says it also brings personalisation, plus vertical search. So, if you like equations it looks like this: Web 3.0 = (4C+P+VS)
Personalisation has been limited because of the lack of an appropriate context (the fourth C) within which to develop it.

Mitra says: “In Web 3.0, I predict, we are going to start seeing roll-ups. We will see a trunk that emerges from the Context, be it film (Netflix), music (iTunes), cooking/food, working women, single parents, and assembles the Web 3.0 formula that addresses the whole set of needs of a consumer in that Context.

She gives this example of how it would work:
Context:  I am a petite woman, dark skinned, dark haired, brown eyed. I have a distinct personal style, and only certain designers resonate with it.
Commerce: I want my personal SAKS Fifth Avenue which carries clothes by those designers, in my size.
Content:  I want my personal Vogue, which covers articles about that style, those designers, and other emerging ones like them.
Community: I want to exchange notes with others of my size-shape-style-psychographic and discover what else looks good. I also want the recommendation system to tell me what they’re buying.
Personalisation and vertical search: There are also some basic principles of what looks good based on skin tone, body shape, hair colour, eye colour … I want the search engine to be able to filter and match based on an algorithm that builds in this knowledge base.

What Web 3.0 means for publishers and journalists
Clearly content is still very valuable. High quality, reliable, well informed and trustworthy content will be of great value to an individual, as part of a coherent and rewarding online experience. What is vital is that we get our material into that C-for-content element of the overall package. If it’s not us but a rival, we have been left on the outside of a viable and lucrative collaborative venture. So we must develop the story we create.

Developing the story means using social networking sites and other aggregators
That’s why publishers set up YouTube channels, or Twitter their breaking news headlines. In the future, wisps of our journalism will be spun up with other pieces of information from all over the web into a very highly personalised candy floss made to suit an individual.

If you are buying a car and like Top Gear’s car reviews plus Autocar’s buyer’s guide and need to know about places near you where the car you are interested in is on sale at a discount, that material can be brought together. You could also have finance information, insurance quotes, great drives to take ­– all delivered however you want it, on your phone or PC, and in the appropriate multimedia combination of mapping, video, audio, stills and text.

What this means is that the content we produce as journalists has very many different uses. It can be cut and sliced many different ways. The one piece of information, the one sentence, that matters to an individual user gets to them, the stuff that is not relevant does not.

It means that while we are still creating well-crafted packages – be they in text, audio or video format – we are also creating material that can be broken up and repackaged.

This means our content is becoming more granular. It’s not a sugar lump, it’s grains of sugar. And its not only our material that’s becoming granular, so is the whole publishing process.

Readers are the new distributors and social media the trucks they use

Social media isn’t just a new way to push a message to potential readers via a paper’s Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. It’s also a means by which readers themselves act as distributors – sharing what they like with others.
The development of personalised news streams and how we can get our content onto them

We see the start of that in Facebook and Twitter. For our content to be found, we must get it to where the people are. The user of social media has this attitude: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

We must go to where the people are and not expect the people to come to us. So we must create content that readers want to distribute, and give them the tools that enable sharing, including Tweet this, Share on Facebook, embed this video etc etc etc.

The atomisation of the article

So another great rethink is needed, as succinctly explained in the Reinventing the Newsroom blog:
“Today the article remains the basic unit of newspapers, but the problem of context has utterly changed. Readers do still come to articles through a paper’s internal web navigation, but the much larger audience that’s being pursued finds individual articles through search, or through third-party news aggregators, or through links emailed by friends, shared on social-networking sites, or tweeted as shrunken, transformed URLs.

“The atomisation of the article is now complete...

“When it comes to devices and services, newspapers are realising that they have to go wherever readers want them to be — whether that means Facebook, Twitter or the iPhone.

“And in every case, the newspaper should offer dramatic, in-your-face branding for drive-by readers… I bet in a depressingly large number of cases, the readers won’t even have registered what site they were just on.

“I firmly believe that the long-term strategy for papers adapting to the age of digital news is to rebuild the reader communities online that they once anchored in print. But that strategy has to begin with treating readers properly whenever and however they arrive.”

Where should you go to find your reader?
That depends on your reader. Wherever they are, you must go: Fish where the fish are. You yourself must be findable, and for that you must be in the right places.

The big risk in this approach: social network sites replace search engines as the new robber barons
Jakob Nielsen says: “Websites have already lost much of their value to search engines by making them the entry-point to the web's riches. When people have questions or want to accomplish tasks, they turn to their preferred search engine — which is why search engines collect billions and content sites collect peanuts, despite the fact that they're the ones actually satisfying the users' needs.

“If websites train users to turn to a handful of SNS sites for the next level of Internet activities, history will likely repeat itself, further diluting the value of those sites that actually produce content and services.”   

The conundrum is: how much to share?

Nielsen says: “One possible approach is to feed the outside sites only broadly targeted material that might go viral and/or attract casual browsers, while keeping higher-value specialised content on your own site, including any action-orientated and need-to-know content and discussions. The broad material can then drive traffic to the specialised content, as can email newsletters and other standard tactics that foster loyalty to your own site’s services."

So how does a journalsit or publisher apply all this? Well, that depends on yout title, and your audience. There'll be a tailored solution for you, but for that you need a good tailor.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

How journalists and publishers can optimise their use of Facebook

How valuable is Facebook to you? I'm preparing a training course on that very subject, and these are my initial thoughts. If you can help in any way, please feel free to make suggestions.

To begin at the beginning...there is evidence that Facebook can deliver loyal readers.

Mashable reports that: “Of social networks, Facebook provides the most loyal visitors, with 20% of those that originate from the social network in turn visiting the site they landed upon four or more times in a week. Among other social media sites, Digg traffic produced loyal users 16% of the time, while Twitter traffic was only good for 11% loyalty.”

How to present your brand on Facebook

A successful Facebook page needs to be engaging, regularly updated and rewarding.
It must be meaningful to the fans. You have your wall, plus a number of other possible pages including events, discussions, polls, photos and video, if you want to use them.

If you are unfamiliar with Facebook, here are some basics

There are Facebook groups and Facebook pages. Which is better?

There is a comprehensive answer from Search Engine Journalwhich includes this:

• Pages are generally better for a long-term relationships with your fans, readers or customers;
• Groups are generally better for hosting a (quick) active discussion and attracting quick attention.

Facebook members can become fans of a page, or join a group. If they like you, the more active among them might do both. They can easily comment on items on your page, and share those items. As readers comment, others see a discussion developing.

Fans can create groups that relate to their interest in your publication, and hence spread your content and discussion of you. Of course, if they don’t like something you have done, you are likely to find protest groups set up to take you to task.

What you post on your Facebook wall should be meaningful to your fans, and should encourage them to get involved. It should fit the social network you are publishing on. Pick posts that work in the Facebook context: things that encourage fans to get involved with you and to spread the things you are offering more widely.

A partial use of Facebook
Not everyone chooses to do this. You can just present links to your news stories. Some sites double up by posting their Twitter tweets to Facebook, and these short infobites may not even link to anything. That’s a very restricted use of the platform, and doesn’t encourage social engagement.

Penn Olson came up with 10 successful Facebook business pages These business pages have in common an appropriate choice of content and tone of voice. They are essentially there to make marketing announcements, but they successfully engage with the audience.

Let me show you four. Take a look, and ask yourself: What can publishers learn from these sites?

Penn Olson say:
What’s on the wall?
Posting pictures of happy Ben & Jerry’s fans enjoying its tasty ice cream regardless of location and occasion has definitely created an image of global happiness. Not only that, its status is up to date and filled with comments from its fans.

What’s special?
Ben & Jerry’s is definitely one of the more creative pages around in Facebook. To promote its Flipped Out ice cream, it has created a Facebook application that allows you to flip your text like that: s,ʎɹɹǝɾ & uǝq (ben &  jerry’s). This sends other people questioning, “how did you do that?” and guess where the fingers point to? Definitely Ben & Jerry’s!

In a sentence:
Ben & Jerry’s is more than ice cream, it is a community.

Let me add here, and to each example, what I think a publisher can learn from it:

Idea for publishers: Create a Facebook community

What’s on the wall?
iTunes promotes different music and short MTV to entice buyers. Well, such advertisements are always welcome and are normally flooded with thousands of likes and comments. Who doesn’t like to be updated with the latest and coolest music?

What’s special?
There is a whole load of treasure under its “Featured” tab. Share a song through Facebook and easily receive podcast updates with the iTunes page. New to iTunes? Not to worry. They have a series of tutorial videos right on its page. A smart move to acquire more users through Facebook. And best of all, just by becoming a fan, you get 20 free songs. Isn’t this rewarding?

In a sentence:
Music updates and rewards with iTunes.

Idea for publishers: Offer rewards for fans. Make those rewards dependent on engaging with your main site, or even your print edition.

What’s on the wall?
Besides the normal stuff you see, there is an interesting video that features Red Bull Racing NASCAR driver, Brian Vickers and his pit crew performing a full pit stop in the middle of Times Square, New York. That struck me hard. Redbull certainly lives up to its cool and sporty image.

What’s special?
Showing off its diverse sponsorships in sports has pushed its sporty image to a higher level. Redbull also features its athletes and allows its fans to connect with them through Facebook and Twitter. Building the connection between its fans and athletes give them more reason to indulge in Redbull. What a move!

Idea for publishers: Currently there is a treasure hunt on the site called Red Bull Stash. It involves hunting for treasure around the US. Create a competition on Facebook that reflects the concerns of your magazine and the interests of readers.

What’s on the wall?
The wall is filled with news and updates about Facebook. The fact that you’re looking at Facebook’s Facebook page with your Facebook account means that you’re already engaged with Facebook.

What’s special?
It tells you a lot about the Facebook team – who runs it, how they run it and their story behind each application. Watch them and you’d be impressed.

In a sentence:
Facebook’s Facebook page.

Idea for publishers: Use Facebook to introduce your team and encourage interaction between readers and journalists.

What about magazine brands on Facebook?

From my observations, few magazine brands use Facebook very well. Here are some examples of how it is being used.

How the content shapes up: Posts are very short one liners with usually no links to further info. If they announce a video they don’t always link to it.
eg Free echo and Bunnymen download announced but no link to it
Few links, if any, to take you to the NME website. This could be a rich resource with a comprehensive guide to music news, gigs, new releases and discussion between fans. It’s very far from that.

How the content shapes up: Don’t Panic is an events marketing company that began by distributing flyers and then grew into an online magazine, relying heavily on Facebook and other social networking sites to become established.

It became famous a few weeks ago for its video of Tory MP Alan Duncan and his comments on the expenses scandal.

On Facebook, Don’t Panic avoids the heavier content on its ain website and offers competitions, often related to design and advertising with third parties, and there are many links to their website.

How the content shapes up: The tone of voice is refreshing: “We're Farmers Weekly magazine and Farmer Weekly Interactive - the coolest source of information about UK farming and, more importantly (according to some), the home of Farmer Frank.”

They also have a: “Mission: Working for your farming future...and having some fun while doing it.”

The news is light, with an emphasis on the quirky (eg: Sheep abseils down telephone cable). There are photos, many from readers. This is Farmer’s Weekly with it’s boots off: the social aspects of the main site are emphasised

Question: What should your brand’s image be on Facebook?
I'm leaving out my suggestions for a range of magazines whose editors will be attending my next couse, but feel free to contact me with your thoughts on yoru own website/magazine/newspaper/radio/tv show and I shall respond.

Facebook Connect: any good for you?

Facebook Connect is getting a lot of coverage. Essentially, it is a way of linking your website into Facebook. If you do, Facebook members can log into your site using their Facebook id and share information with Facebook friends: a single sign-on authentication solution that websites can use instead of relying on building it for themselves.

Ken Burbary  offers this assessment of its value:

Increased Registration - Data from Facebook states that sites that use Facebook Connect as an alternative to account registration have seen a 30-300% increase in registration on their sites.

Increased Site Traffic - After implementation, immediately begins sending web site traffic your way. Data from Facebook says that for each story published in Facebook, companies see roughly 3 clicks back to the site [but only if your items actually link back to your site]. Nearly half the stories in the News Stream get clicked on. This creates opportunities for the site to encourage more user actions – knowing that each one may result in three new visits to their site.

Increased Engagement – Facebook users are used to being social. They are an active group, participating, sharing, and generating more content. Sites with Facebook Connect see a 15-100% increase in reviews. Connected users create 15-60% more content than users who have not connected with Facebook Connect.

Improved User Experience - Facebook Connect offers users qualitative benefits too. No new site registration is required, simply login using your Facebook credentials. It also makes it easy to share with an existing network of friends or family by publishing activities to the Facebook Newsfeed, with only a couple clicks of the mouse. No typing or emailing required. 

Given the sheer size of Facebook’s active user base, this type of integration with an individual’s personal network could ultimately become the new “email a friend” feature found on websites worldwide.

Access to 250 million online consumers – Companies need to fish where the fish are. And right now, the fish are spending their time on (5 billion minutes a day globally). Opening up a direct pathway from your site to Facebook gives you access, albeit indirectly through your user’s activities, to an entirely new set of people. And for practically no out of pocket cost.

Which all sounds fantastic, but how good is it?
It seems to me (and I’m open to being proved wrong) that Facebook Connect offers no real advantage in terms of ease of posting things to your Facebook account. I can’t see that it’s any easier than with any site where a ‘share on Facebook’ button is present. The advantage is in ease of registration. But if you don’t require registration, there’s no great advantage I can see.

Media example of Facebook Connect integration

The Huffington Post Social lets you merge the site with your Facebook account

Since integrating with Facebook Connect, they say, more than 33% of their new registrations come through Facebook.

There is a link on the site that makes it very easy to post Huff Post content to your Facebook profile, comment on it and share it.

As a lot of Huff content comes from third parties – such as trad media companies – Facebook gives them a new distribution channel. Huff Post users find – for example BusinessWeek – when they may have had no idea there was anything interesting there for them. If they comment on or share it they make it part of their friend-group or shared information cloud.

There is more on how Huffington Post social works here.

Online Journalism Blog comments on the benefits of it as follows. I've bolded up some of the key points in a very perceptive post:

“It comes close to the concept of integrating online identities and bringing them to one place: the universal sign-in and network portability that many Internet pundits have insisted should be implemented in order to allow cross-interaction among various social media platforms.

“Most personalized news features allow readers to search for their Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but they don’t offer a way to actually integrate the two networks. 

“Consequently, this involves exclusively spending time on the newspaper’s web site to form a community or interact with fellow users. Now, if you had a choice between spending a few hours on MyWashingtonPost or Facebook, which would you choose? 

“And how many different media sites do you want to sign into at the start of your day? Hell, I’m just glad TweetDeck allows me to keep track of Facebook and Twitter in one place. And the number of new visitors a page would gain from linking to Facebook would probably offset the time spent by a single user on the site itself.

“TimesPeople does allow users to sync up to their Facebook profiles, but in keeping with the NYT’s prioritization of “information” over social networking, the site does not allow users to have much more on their profiles than a name and a location.

“HuffPost Social news is also quite a leap from news organizations generating non-interactive Facebook pages that merely feed fans with links to their latest stories (the same counterproductive way in which many use Twitter), with readers occasionally discussing stories of interest to them on discussion boards.

“Of course, as with anything else, there are two schools of thought about such personalization, customization, individualization of news consumption. Some believe that it might fragment an already fragmented audience in the new media world.

“But, if anything, integrating web site audiences with social networks should help consolidate these virtual and real communities. Chances are, many of your Facebook friends are people you know and have known – in real life, in contrast to the exclusively online people you interact with on blogs and discussion forums. 

This is a way to bring those groups together, defragment the so-called “online-offline” divide. Many of the causes I’ve signed up for on Facebook, for instance, are tangible ones, to save the libraries in the city I live in or promote gay rights at a rally: offline events that can make a difference to the community.”