Snapchat and storytelling

I was at the BBC College of Journalism in Bristol recently where I was participating in a CIRCOM Training the Trainers course. As part of it I had to deliver a complete training session to a group of 11 people who work in media organisations across Europe, the challenge … it had to be done in 30 minutes. In the past I’ve trained people mostly in social media and web publishing and for people with limited skills in these areas you need more than 30 minutes to get up and running on most platforms.

It’s a good challenge to see what skills you can transfer in just 30 minutes. I decided to train the group on Snapchat Stories. For the unfamiliar, Snapchat is a photo messaging app especially popular with people under 23 years of age. Users send each other ‘snaps’ (photos or short video clips) either to one or multiple recipients. The photo or video clip can only be viewed for ten seconds or under, the duration is set by the sender, before it is deleted both from the recipient’s phone and Snapchat’s servers. Where it gets interesting for media companies is Snapchat Stories, introduced late last year. I wrote about it in my review of 2013 and suggested it and other messaging services are going to be a growth area for media orgs. Snapchat stories stay on the platform for 24 hours and they’re visible to everyone following you. Each new snap you add to your story is included in the sequence of snaps that followers see.

By the end of the 30-minute training session, working in groups everyone had learned about Snapchat, they were on the platform and had uploaded a snap. It’s such a straightforward platform. Moreover, after showing them some of the ways it’s currently being used (NowThisNews, Washington Post Politics, Mashable etc), the group were thinking about Snapchat as a really interesting storytelling platform even for hard news.

In particular, I love what NowThisNews is doing with Snapchat (in general, NowThisNews, which is focused on storytelling, does interesting things with platforms, especially Instagram). Here’s NowThisNews’ Snapchat Stories output for 24 hours:

Snapchat-Blog-image.001

It was the day after the Oscars, so naturally there is a lot of Oscar-related coverage. The entire sequence is 40 seconds long and aside from the Oscars (and Oscar-related news) it covers six other stories: a 65-foot crack in a Washington dam, the ongoing cold weather in the North East, the death of a US Marine Corps pilot in Nevada, a Gold Fix study on bank manipulation, Google’s plans to give free bus passes to San Francisco kids and a deal that enable LGBT groups being allowed to march in the Boston St Patrick’s Day parade. It’s the news, but delivered like Perez Hilton had a hand in it.

There are drawbacks. You have to work for every Snapchat-er, this is not a viral platform. Also, if you’re not creating your Snapchat using the platform itself you’ll have a problem with screen sizes. I’ve screengrabbed the above images from an iPhone 4s, but I’d say they were made with a 5 (or larger screen) in mind.

The most important thing with Snapchat is not to treat it as a lesser platform. It would be easy for news organisations to treat it more casually than some of their other channels, but NowThisNews and others have set the current benchmark for Snapchat as a storytelling platform. There is a lot more news organisations can do with the messaging app,  especially if Snapchat enables users to create Stories with other tools or makes more complex tools available for news orgs and brands. There are also opportunities  around audience-created content.

In some ways this type of storytelling reminds me of scanning the headlines and photographs in a newspaper, I think we underestimated how much news we ‘absorbed’ scanning across a page. Snapchat is quite passive, all the user needs to do is hold a finger on the screen and watch, but unlike scanning a paper it’s a mobile messaging platform and it feels a lot more personal.

If you’re on Snapchat, add me, username:  blathnaidh

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Buzzfeed, Foreign Policy and storytelling

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did a double take at Foreign Policy’s list post that compared 14 photos of Vladimir Putin to 14 photos of hairless cats – in some the resemblance was uncanny. It was part of a series of posts the magazine’s staff carried on Foreign Policy’s website yesterday after they decided to ‘look at the world through BuzzFeed’s eyes for a day’. Jihadi rap and North Korea also received the Buzzfeed treatment. The short series followed an op-ed written by Buzzfeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith where he suggested that the viral web isn’t just for cats and Ryan Gosling, but instead the same techniques could be used to report on more complex issues such as the topics regularly covered by Foreign Policy.

Buzzfeed is the current wonder kid with 40 million monthly users who enjoy a mix of irreverent pop-culture lists, recipes, celebrity news, gifs and some pretty darn good political reporting. Its influence is stretching far and wide as other publishers rapidly adopt scrolling, photo-heavy, light text lists that add up to some, preferably quirky, number.

The Buzzfeed list format makes for a pleasant user experience. It’s scrollable (good for most devices), there are no click-through-page-impression-gathering galleries, minimal text means it’s perfect for weary brains and crucially the over-arching voice/tone is familiar sounding – like something your most hilarious friend might say.

I don’t think I’ve seen any format spread quite as fast as the Buzzfeed list. Of course lists existed before Buzzfeed, but it took the list and put the user first. Whether it was just a one-day experiment or not at Foreign Policy the Buzzfeed format has now truly crossed the line from the viral funny web of bunnies and childhood nostalgia to telling stories about serious topics.

There are two subtle points here. The first that serious people are using the Buzzfeed format to tell serious stories, yes as an experiment, but if it drives traffic and makes complex issues easily digestible you can be sure they’ll use it again (who doesn’t want to appeal to the demographic that gives your stories the greatest viral bounce?). The second is that with copycats (some good, some bad) springing up everywhere, how long can Buzzfeed keep its edge?

Buzzfeed, because it looked at online storytelling in a radical and different way, has perfected a powerful storytelling format, but for how long can you keep something, which is ultimately formulaic, fresh? If it can apply that different perspective again and find other new ways to tell stories and engage readers as competition heats up (as it always does on the web, and the spread of the Buzzfeed list is a great example of) they might just be able to stay ahead.

30th Annual Circom Regional Conference Embraces Digital


I attended the 30th annual Circom Regional conference, hosted by SVT in Malmo, Sweden, last week and was amazed by how openly it embraced all things social, web and tech. From Mans Adler’s (Bambuser) session on live video broadcasting to Glen Mulcahy’s mobile journalism tour de force and SVT’s group of innovative News Lab journalists, the event was firmly rooted in media 2012.

Granted, I’m biased (I was invited to present and participate in a panel discussion) but there was something for most digital-minded people in the television industry – a massive shift from last year’s mainly broadcast-focused conference.

Nick Simons (NRK, Ex New Media Head BBC Scotland) and I co-presented a session work-shopping (both inside and outside the room) the question ‘how can social media improve storytelling?’ We had excellent participation and here’s a taste of the contributions from inside the room in Malmo (and from outside including: Romania, Ireland, UK …):

If you missed the session you can look at the slides here:

Or you can watch the full stream back here via Bambuser.

If you have any thoughts on the topic, please leave a comment below!

-Blathnaid

How can social media improve storytelling

Tomorrow (Thursday, 17 May) I’m co-presenting a session at the Circom Regional Conference being hosted by SVT in Malmo.

As the title of this post suggests, we’re asking: how can social media improve storytelling?

Nick Simons (NRK, ex Head of New Media BBC Scotland) and I will be asking a roomful of broadcasters from across Europe to look at that question.

However, we are keen to bring the discussion beyond the room. What are your views on the subject? Please feel free to share in the comments below or join in the conversation, live, tomorrow (2pm CET, 1pm Irish Time).

You can follow the discussion via #circom on Twitter or through this group on Facebook

Good storytelling links, 6 May 2010

Boston.com has a very powerful selection of more than 30 photographs on its ‘Big Picture’ feature that show the devastation caused by floods in Tennessee. The series of images convey the destruction and loss clearer than most articles or videos could. Take time to look through them if you can.

Boston.com's The Big Picture

Some Irish users could complain about the time it takes to load these large images. But bear in mind most people in the US have faster connections. (Must return to examine how slow connections could be holding back certain forms of storytelling in Ireland).

The New York Times featured a great infographic showing the inter-linking of European debt. To explain this in  written form would have been taxing for the reader but this, quite simple, graphic tells the story so well.

NYT Inforgraphic; Europe's Web Of Debt

Third example comes from The Guardian’s web coverage of the elections. It has a nice feature where it’s asking voters to tweet when they have voted and tag their tweet with their postcode so that it can be represented on a map to illustrate voter turnout. Good interactive way to tell the story even though it’s limited to Twitter users. (When I checked it out it didn’t seem to include Northern Ireland)


Have you seen any good storytelling this week?

B