What is scary for the news business is that traditional media is losing not just the battles for social media territory, but the entire war. Many are not even in the fight. The focus is wrong and the decisions required are difficult. The fact is that social media is not a revolution, it's an evolution. It will never be over. But, for many content suppliers and advertisers, it has barely begun. “Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter” has become the sell line of choice for everything from TSN to fast food and radio news. But, what’s in it for the news consumer?
The speed of change is blinding
The new flat screens connect to the internet giving you choices like never before. The big networks now offer their hit shows on line and new web services like Netflix give you thousands of movies and TV shows for pennies. The new smartphones, tablets, laptops and TV’s hook up to whatever you want, whenever you want it. And then, social media makes it simple to share insights, feelings and content with friends and contacts in social networks. There are more than 800 million Facebook users worldwide. YouTube and Twitter aren't far behind. How many "likes" and followers do you have in your social media communities?
A social media truth
There have always been leaders and followers. A social media leader is someone you like and trust, someone you relate to, someone whose opinions you value or a name you want to drop in casual conversation. Social media leaders make things easier for you and often give you a feeling of belonging, a feeling of tribe. Some are like a backstage pass, allowing you membership in their community.
Followers want to be on the inside. They use social media to stay informed and entertained. They subscribe to RSS feeds of blogs and news sources or follow a celebrity on Twitter. They “like” on Facebook, retweet, email, post to Google+ and the myriad of other sharing sites available in the social world. The words “blog” and “tweet” have become verbs. Twitter and the comments sections below most stories and blogs have become mini talk shows affording the “audience” yet another method to enter the discussion.
Here’s the challenge
Traditional news organizations achieved success because of their people. Reporters and anchors are expensive, especially the truly great storytellers. The economy has struggled. Ad revenues have declined. Jobs have been eliminated. Faced with declining markets and fewer dollars to invest, how does a traditional news organization leverage social media and build a reliable new business?
With content and a plan
- Switch your priorities - This is the critical decision.
- Radio news must make social media and website content the first job followed by radio reporting, not the other way around.
- Too many radio newsrooms post on line only when they have the time.
- Radio refuses to believe that listeners are spending less and less time consuming what they offer over the air.
- Breaking news was once the exclusive domain of radio, now it's Twitter. Radio still has a role in breaking news but social media has become its rival.
- Most of us check our smartphones whenever the little red light flashes. If a story or blog post grabs our attention, we will find a way to read it as soon as possible.
- Social Media is custom made for stations engaged in news and opinion.
- The first rule of content is simple - You must be relevant, timely and accessible. Your stories and blogs must strike a chord with your audience.
- The second rule - Use social media to drive your audience to your website for more.
- Think of social media as channels – These are 2-way opportunities for opinion, discussion and storytelling, direct connections to your fans and supporters.
- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ among others, can make or break your business and your reputation instantly.
- Respect them and use them.
- Radio is a headline service, online is different - If you as my trusted leader don’t give me the choice of more, I will go to another source.
- No story should be posted without a photo or a graphic.
- Important or highly emotional stories should have video.
- Where relevant, stories should have links for background and perspective.
- Think of your website as the local portal – local content, local perspective, the place to go several times a day, from anywhere in the world, to remain connected to the stories that matter in your neighbourhood.
- All on air presentation elements must also direct listeners to the website for more - You must work to develop followers. If listeners hear about a story while driving, give them reasons to check your website as soon as they can.
- More people or a better system – The answer is a better system.
- You may eventually need more people but that’s a cart and horse thing.
- Manage existing resources to maximize website usage and revenue.
- Time is your currency. The job of management is to establish the time required to create and deliver the content. Do what is required.
- Train and retrain your people - They must become great multimedia communicators.
- Stories written and presented to inspire two way conversations.
- You want your reader/viewer to react.
- You want them to leave a comment and share with their networks of friends and connections.
- Stories are now presented in audio, video and print. Announcers are also videographers and writers.
- Video, video, video - Never forget that YouTube is the second largest social network in the world, behind only Facebook. There are predictions that within the next 5 years, more than 80% of on line content will be video.
- Begin now by outfitting your reporting team with video capability in addition to audio and insist that they use it.
- If a listener can eyewitness a breaking news event and send you photos and video from a smartphone, why can’t you?
- Share tools - Most news organizations offer Facebook, Twitter and email buttons. Many though make sharing complicated with a drop down menu of connections most of which you’ve never heard of and don’t use. .
- Do some research
- If you have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email and now Google+, do you need any more.
- Share buttons should be large and prominent.
- No RSS button means missed opportunity - Be sure your website includes the opportunity to subscribe to an RSS feed so that all stories arrive in your followers in-boxes, if that's what they want.
- Set up your social media accounts with attention to detail – Engage your website designer to give you a consistent, attractive style on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc.
- Encourage your fans to “like” and “follow” you and then give them quality content in return.
- Your social media channels are one big loop, always leading back to your website.
- Learn how your website works – including;
- Search engine optimization, keywords and descriptions in order to be found for the content and services you provide.
- Posting of stories, pictures, graphics and videos must be easy.
- Connections to social media channels must be accomplished with a key stroke.
- Make sure you have analytics in place in order to chart user response.
- Armed with the data, give your fans more of what they want.
- Insist that your website be compatible with mobile devices – It’s one thing to see and experience your content on a laptop and quite another to experience your product on a smartphone or a tablet.
- Design everything you do and say to result in eyeballs on your website - And then figure out creative ways to sell it.
- Don’t get greedy or impatient.
- Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads once said, and I paraphrase, in today’s economy, companies have to get small, accept a lower return on investment, in order to grow again.
- Invest profit into more relevant and accessible content – The more you understand what your fans and supporters want from you, the more relevant your content will become. The more man hours you have at your disposal, the more creative and consistent your solutions will be when you recognize opportunity.
- Design and technology updates – While you don’t have to lead the pack, you do need to stay close enough to evolve your vision.
The success of community portals such as Kelowna’s Castanet.net, suggests there are followers to be had and there are dollars to be made. Castanet is as an off-shoot of a standalone Soft Adult Contemporary radio station known as SILK FM. When the decision was made to sell the station to one of the big corporations, the owner kept the web portal. It now has a content staff and sales team, just like a radio station. Knowing the owner as I do, if it wasn’t making money, he would find a buyer or would close the doors. In addition to print stories with photos, graphics and the occasional video, Castanet recently began to offer radio style podcast news updates for its users.