From IPO to email: Reflections on social, community and content in 2013

I gave a guest lecture earlier this week in DCU to final year and masters’ multimedia students . For the lecture, I decided to take a look back over 2013 and pick out some of the key things that happened in social, community and content and how they have affected, or might affect, media companies. Thought I’d share some of them here also:

Video-slide-edit
2013 was another huge year for video. Media companies with any sense made it a large part of their strategies. I could easily write a half-dozen posts just on video and the major developments, but here I’m only going to talk about the trend towards shorter videos.

Vine was introduced to iOS users in January with an upward limit of six seconds. Its simple format uncomplicated video, making it easy to shoot and even easier to upload. Soon after it launched, media organisations started to try it out as a distribution platform. One company that has been using it well is Ireland’s RTÉ, which has been leveraging the platform to showcase its archives. Archive material can be inaccessible but using Vine brings it to a new audience. Here’s an example: buying the Christmas turkey in Ireland, 1964. A month after its iOS launch Vine was used to cover a news event when reporter Tulin Daloglu used it after the bombing of the US embassy in Ankara, Turkey. In many senses Vine was just the catalyst as it was Instagram that took the ball and really ran with it.

In June, Instagram added video to its product, enabling users to create clips of up to 15 seconds. Smartly, Instagram allowed users to upload videos shot outside the confines of the app, which meant media organisations could edit and produce content before uploading. I really like what mobile news start-up NowThis News has done with Instagram as a distribution platform in recent months. Here are a few examples: Syria, the UN and chemical weapons, ice rink opening in Tehran, photos of winter storm Dion from the community.

On the news gathering side, Storyful’s Malachy Browne recently wrote a good blogpost on Instagram as a source of news video, it’s worth a read.

slide2-IPO
We really began to experience the impact of Facebook’s 2012 IPO this year. A week didn’t go by without a new headline about a possible or confirmed change to the social networking site’s ad platform or its News Feed (this week it was auto play videos in the News Feed). Facebook is clearly pushing hard to generate revenues and keep investors happy. A lot of page managers had anecdotally talked about organic post reach falling, but Ad Ages’s story earlier this month seems to have confirmed this. This change certainly affects brands marketing products, but it is likely to also have an impact on news sites that built large audience numbers on their Facebook pages (often spending to do so) as a way to drive traffic to their sites. Facebook wants pages owners to pay to reach the audiences they have built. This is definitely something to watch in 2014 as Facebook continues its experiments with the News Feed.

2013 brought Twitter’s IPO. Like Facebook, we’ve been hearing a lot about changes to Twitter’s ad platform with users receiving emails every week encouraging them to advertise to build audience. It’s early day yet, but it’s inevitable that the public nature of the company will mean an increased focus on revenue-driving measures in 2014, which will have knock-on effects on users, brands and media.

It is worth noting that both platforms invested in reaching out to big media companies this year.

Slide3-social
Content created with social in mind (like Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Distractify, ViralNova) boomed in 2013. Upworthy, which launched in 2012, had a huge impact this year. According to Newswhip, which analyses and ranks publishers in terms of social sharing, Upworthy didn’t feature in the top 40 social sharing websites in 2012, but by 2013 this year it had charged into the number 5 spot above The New York Times, the Daily Mail and the Guardian. It’s a feat that is even more interesting when you consider that, on average, Upworthy only publishes 250 stories a month, substantially less than its social-sharing-focused competitors. There are some good practices within Upworthy – most notably that staff members write 25 headlines for each piece of content they post (good explainer on this here). I also think its tagline is so simple: ‘Things that matter. Pass ’em on.’ In just six words Upworthy tells users what it is and what it would like users to do. I’m not sure exactly how long the Upworthy formula can sustain but we’ll continue to keep an eye on it.

Buzzfeed’s announcement that its partner sites received a huge boost in referral traffic from Facebook is significant. Traffic from Facebook referrals to Buzzfeed’s 200 partner network sites are up 69% from August to October of this year. Facebook is placing a premium on, and rewarding content that is entertaining, funny and valuable.

There are some drawbacks, of course, to this. Firstly, let’s not forget what happened with content farm Demand Media, which is now valued at a quarter of its peak value. Demand Media created content to appear in multi-word searches. However, Google’s shift in its algorithms made content from websites like Demand Media’s a lower priority, drastically reducing traffic to its site. I think it’s a cautionary tale for sites that hitch their wagons to platforms like Facebook relying on them for almost all their traffic. Bryan Goldberg wrote an interesting piece on why viral content is a bad business model, it’s a must read.

With Facebook’s algorithms placing an emphasis on content created for a social audience it’s likely going to lead to smaller markets becoming even more competitive and it will become more challenging for straight news sites to get traction on these platforms.

slide4-email

Email newsletters have, of course, been around for a very long time, but for a lot of news organisations they were farmed out to someone very junior to write or pulled direct from the RSS feed. I don’t know why organisations bother sending these mails, they are so ineffective.

However this year there have been some changes to the once humble email newsletter with the likes of Quartz, Circa and recently-launched Ampp3d leading the charge. This is mostly for two reasons they’re writing emails with mobile users in mind and secondly the mails sound like they’ve been written by a human (a simple thing really, but how many email newsletters do you get that feel like they’ve been written with you in mind?).

Quartz sends its email in the morning (it has three regions for users to select from), emails are around 800 words long and are perfect for a commuter, containing links not only to Quartz stories, but other links to stories on other sites that people should watch for, things that happened while readers were sleeping, matters for debate, Quartz’s obsession interlude and surprising discoveries. I also like that the emails tell me to have a productive day – it’s a nice sign-off for a business-focused website. The email is good set-up, digest for the day and one that is clearly worth reading. A recent column from the Monday Note shared an insight that Quartz’s daily mail goes through four people, including two editors, before it is sent.

Circa sends only one email a week on a Friday evening with a pick of its stories curated from the week. The most important point about the Circa mail is that it’s designed (like everything Circa does) with mobile in mind. Ampp3d, the new data-driven spin-out from the Trinity Mirror group, also has a very nice email, it’s probably the most ‘human’ of the three examples.

slide5-collaboration

Organisations and their audiences have been working collaboratively now for some time. User generated content projects from the BBC and CNN are seven/eight years old. However, I think this year we saw some interesting steps towards proper collaboration between news orgs and audience.

In particular, I think Storyful’s Open Newsroom project is a great example of collaboration between a news org and the wider community. There are more than 460 confirmed members so far. Anyone can watch the process, but only verified members can contribute – thus keeping it open but reducing excessive noise and confusion. In August, the Open Newsroom played a key role helping Storyful to verify videos emerging from fresh protests taking place in Cairo. This project has shown great potential for how organised collaboration can produce really good results, especially considering the other conversations we have had this year and the backlash that happened following the Boston Bombings.

I thought BBC News Director James Harding’s remarks earlier this month were interesting and telling about where big news orgs are at when it comes to audience: ‘When we talk about “our stories”, I hope that will mean not just the work of the 8,000 people who work for the BBC, but the information and ideas of the 300 million people who use it.’

Hopefully 2014 will prove to be a more collaborative year.

Slide6-Private

Finally, for this post, I’d like to talk about the growing importance of private. Of course when I talk about private I mean privacy in a non-private sphere. Most people will have noticed the trend of teenagers and people in their early 20s making their Twitter and Instagram accounts private – some even deactivating their Facebook accounts for short periods to avoid being tagged in photos or checked in to a location. The rising popularity of photo messaging service Snapchat with its 350m photo messages a day has lit a fire under both Twitter and Instagram (don’t forget Facebook offered $3bn to acquire Snapchat, which it turned down) with both announcing significant changes to their platforms to include a private photo messaging element in the last few weeks. Twitter users can now send photos in direct messages, while Instagram offers its users the option to send photos to one follower or a small group of up to 15 people.

News orgs (and brands) are already trying to find their feet in this new environment. I’ve started to receive Snapchat messages from Ampp3d in the last week. It’s early days but it’s definitely a space to be experimenting in! When it comes to private vs open I don’t think it’s a competition – we’re always transitioning and this is another part of the transition both are going to be a part of our lives in 2014, that’s for sure.

*****

This is not a definitive list of the major things that happened this year, but it’s my reflection on some of the interesting changes, events and trends. I think we’re heading into somewhat uncertain waters with Facebook and also with Twitter. However, that said, there are lots of opportunities ahead for 2014. It’s shaping up to be another interesting one.

Here’s to a good 2014!

Blathnaid

Image credits: clasesdeperiodismoclasesdeperiodismoGuudmorning!, Grizdavecroland 

Media 2020 Conference – Twitter Stream Highlights

I wasn’t at the Media 2020 conference in Croke Park, Dublin, today.  But using the Twitter hashtag #Med2020 I could follow many of the main points, which were highlighted by tweeting conference attendees as they were made by the speakers.

Here is the summary of points I have picked out from the stream, which I think are relevant for journalists and content producers.

I’ve broken it down by speaker (not all speakers are included) and used one tweeter per speaker to avoid confusion (each point is an individual tweet from the stream). Thanks to all the tweeters for keeping everyone updated!

First off, some overview points that seem to be coming back a lot from the #Med2020 twitter stream:

1) Experiment, cheaply, quickly, if you fail do it fast and learn from it
2) Mobile is going to be massive
3) Revenue models are not clear yet

By speaker:

Maeve Donovan, Former Managing Director, The Irish Times
Tweeter: Niamh Smith (@niamhsmith)

-Can newspapers make the necessary changes? Maeve believes they can based on her 30 yrs experience in the industry

-Roles of newspapers to make the most of the immense opportunities offered by emerging technologies

-Digital revolution has much broader implications than its effect on newspapers or tv

-Hardest words to say are ‘I don’t know’ – and she doesn’t know for sure the future of newspapers

Jonathon Moore, Guardian News & Media
Tweeter: Hugh Linehan (@hlinehan)

-Guardian Eyewitness iPad app: very simple app publishing one photo a day. Video: Jobs sings its praises

-You live or die by user recommendations on the app store

-Big traffic spike on Guardian app at 10.30pm. Technology changing how and when people consume content

-Moore: We expected migration to our app would cause fall-off in use of web browser. Hasn’t been the case

Mark Little, Storyful
Tweeter: Gareth O’Connor (@garethoconnor)

-#Med202 hears from @marklittlenews that basic reporting skills still needed by curators and super-users in new age

-New business opportunities for storytelling @marklittlenews tells #med2020

-@marklittlenews tells #med2020 that 2010 marks turning point in journalism

Ronan Higgins, Local, mobile social software start-up
Tweeter: Niamh Smith (@niamhsmith)

-Apps store – a new walled garden. iTunes-simplicity, quality, speed-applied this ethos to iPhone

Matt Locke – C4 Commissioning Editor, New Media & Education
Tweeter: Hugh Linehan (@hlinehan)

-Facebook picks up tiny snippets of attention and rolls them up into something gargantuan

-Very intelligent stuff – but a bit depressing that the experimental groundbreaker cited is Embarrassing Bodies. Blecchh

-Bingeing on cult content – four or five episodes at a time (I think I recognise myself in this presentation)

-Cult content. The Wire first TV series passed around like a 1970s rock album from friend to friend. User content around Lost

-Events-driven initiatives like ITV’s election debate worm – broadcasters comfortable with that

-What broadcast does well is events. So we’re seeing the eventisation of TV, from talent shows to Lambing Live (!)

-Locke: broadcasters used to own the audience. But with new technology, old platforms have to learn what it is they really do well

Múirne Laffan – Executive Director, RTÉ Publishing
Tweeter: Eoin Purcell (@eoinpurcell)

-Laffan: 3.5 million uniques a month for rte.ie and 1 million of those are overseas!

-Laffan: RTE has a hub and spoke model. Create content in hub and reuse as much as possible

-Laffan: Boundaries to entry are very low. Global opportunities. But getting to market quickly is important. Mobile is huge

-Laffan see every tv connected to the internet in Ireland in 10 yrs!

-Laffan: Consumer expectations are through the roof

Note: Compiling this post this evening has reinforced my feeling that Twitter streams are much easier to follow live and are hard work to use as an archive – looking forward to some journalists’ and bloggers’ analysis of the conference.

**Update – Two good pieces about yesterday’s conference: The Irish Times’ Hugh Linehan (including video of Minister Eamon Ryan) and Fin O’Reilly.**

-B

Mark Little Sets out Stall for Storyful

A former journalist and presenter with Ireland’s public service broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Mark Little is spearheading a new digital news initiative called Storyful.

Due to launch this summer, we have already been given a glimpse of the type of offering we can expect from Storyful through its link-up earlier this year with RTE.ie for the Portraits of the Global Irish series.

In a blog post today, Little outlines his vision for Storyful.

I wanted to find a way to fish the useful stories about our lives from that unholy torrent of internet debris.

He talks about ‘filter failure’ and how users have shifted away from personalised news towards searching to discover or find stories.

What lies behind the shift from search to discovery is the emotional charge that comes with an unexpected find. You know that feeling, that distinct jolt, when you come across an image or idea in all the clutter that speaks to you.

A word you hear bandied about a lot by news pioneers these days is serendipity. Expect to hear a lot more of it as we try and resolve ‘filter failure’.

Little says the companies who guide their users to unexpected places are the ones who will survive.

As I’ve mentioned here before there is a lot we can learn from existing platforms to help us with future ones like Google suggested with Fast Flip.

Digital media companies have something to learn from newspapers in how they organise and categorise discovery.

But the parallels with newspapers may end there as Little says we must also learn from the mistake made by ‘old’ media.

We should model our solutions on how real people talk about information that matters to them. They don’t spend alloted times of the day discussing politics and sport. They don’t schedule gossip for half an hour in between a chat about money and a debate on the arts.

Instead, they tell stories about many things, at the very same time. This is how they consume information relevant to their lives. This is how they will consume useful and relevant digital journalism.

This is the clearest indication of how Storyful is going to unfold:

The ultimate responsibility for discovering useful information now lies in the hands of real people not appointed gatekeepers.

Journalists will ultimately lose control over the flow, direction and timing of the news. Instead, they will guide their communities on a voyage of discovery and curate the stories that resonate along the way.

Some of that sounds similar to work being done out in Honolulu by former Rocky Mountain News’ editor/publisher John Temple (backed by Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar) with Civil Beat (see my post from the weekend), except that project is more locally focused than I think we can expect from Storyful.

It’s an interesting blog post from Little – sounds like it could be the Storyful manifesto? The one missing thing is revenue – where is it going to come from?

Intrigued,

B