Look beyond the byline

In my final week of emerging media and the market, one part of our lesson detailed steps that would help someone demonstrate to the cautious and the naysayers that social media is a valuable tool in the arsenal.

It’s a serious job, and a serious investment. It’s not something to take lightly.

Throughout my time in the IMC program at West Virginia University, my classmates and I have discussed some epic social media mishaps.One mishap that sticks out in my mind occurred last year. Kenneth Cole decided to weigh in on possible military action in Syria by mocking the phrase “boots on the ground,” which had been used by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry with regard to sending in ground troops.

He tweeted: “’Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear.”

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Ouch. That was bad.

In a statement to CNBC, Cole said that he uses his platform in “provocative ways” in order to start dialogues about important issues like HIV, war and homelessness.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news here Kenneth, but that’s not provocative. It’s just in poor taste.

One major consideration in budgeting a social media program is content development.

Content takes professionalism in design, writing skills, video production, photography, webcast production, audio development, and more. It will also require someone skilled in social media management, to ensure that all content is engaging and supports your online brand position.

At the Herald-Standard, it seems like almost everyone on the editorial staff understands the importance of social media. And it seems as if we all take it pretty seriously. However, we don’t really have a social media strategy (at least, as far as I’m aware), and I think it’s paramount that we develop one.

The Economist likes to run “editorial events” on social platforms, from Q&A discussions on Twitter to monthly Google+ Hangouts, both bringing together the newspaper’s journalists and readers for valuable conversation.

I think this is something that I could see us doing. My friend, and former co-worker hit the nail on the head when she said, “blogging makes journalists seem more human and less like names in the paper.” I could see these “editorial events” having a similar effect.

And I would also argue that having a presence on social media makes us appear more human. I have a personality, and I definitely try to show it on social media.

Here’s an example of a Facebook post I shared recently about an important story:

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I don’t know what the future holds for the newspaper industry, but if social media is another tool in our arsenal that we can use to connect with our readers, I’m more than happy to oblige.

Reaping rewards from SEO

A few months ago, a reporter-driven weekly column debuted in the community section of the Herald-Standard.

At first, I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea because I don’t particularly enjoy writing columns.

But after completing week 8 of my Emerging Media and the Market class, my perception has changed.

In week 8, we talked about search engine optimization (SEO), which means using ‘free’ techniques including refining website content to achieve a higher ranking in search engine results pages.

What I learned this week is that a company blog can really help improve organic search results.

Active blogging can help you:

  • Incite more crawling – the more you publish, the more your site gets crawled
  • Penetrate more keyword verticals
  • Attract links – provided you’re promoting your content; passive link acquisition is difficult if not impossible for most sites
  • Generate social signals
  • Drive more organic traffic

So how does this relate to journalism?

It’s not a surprise that the newspaper industry is facing some challenges. We really have to work hard to get people interested enough in our content that they open Safari and search for us.

But blogging may make our jobs a little easier, and provide more traffic to our website. In addition, the collaboration that can be experienced with blogging becomes a form of crowdsourcing.

Blogging has never been my thing, just like column writing is not my forte, but I think blogging is something I, and the Herald-Standard, should more seriously consider.

The New York Times has so many blogs, that they have a blog directory.

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Last week, I said brands should take a page from newspapers.

But this week, I’m saying that newspapers should take a page from marketers.

Brands: Avoid native advertising, become expert storytellers

On my blog last week, I discussed native advertising.

And I’m going to do so again this week because I think it’s an important topic.

In 1963, David Ogilvy wrote: “There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 percent more readers. You might think that the public would resent this trick, but there is no evidence to suggest that they do.”

That was more than 50 years ago. Yet it’s something to consider today as native advertising is becoming more prevalent. EMarketer projects marketers will spend nearly $2.3 billion on sponsored content this year, up more than 20 percent over last year.

Does the public resent ads that look like editorial content? And if so, do they resent the news organization or the marketer? My belief is that the public will resent the news organization over the marketer. Therefore, I think news organizations need to distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two as it states in Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

Last week I talked about news organizations like USA Today and the New York Times. What about TV programs?

National news programs have garnered news of their own recently for adopting native advertising as a source of income. “Good Morning America” recently aired interviews with the new Under Armour spokespeople, Lindsay Vonn and Gisele Bundchen, but only those who waited until the very end of the segment witnessed the “brought to you by” disclaimer.

Some social media pundits called out GMA for not making this disclaimer apparent enough.

Like I mentioned last week, it’s possible that someone reading sponsored content on the New York Times website wouldn’t even notice the “sponsored by” disclaimer. What if you didn’t wait around to watch the entire segment or program on GMA? There’s no way you could know that that interview was sponsored by Under Armour.

So is that ethical?

I think not.

In the end, brands obviously recognize the power of editorial content – it tells a story, it doesn’t sell something. Therefore, brands should channel that knowledge into telling their own brand stories, but not as sponsored content.

My advice is that brands should take a page from the awesome brand storytellers out there like Red Bull and charity: water. They don’t need native advertising to connect with their audiences.

This news report is paid for and sponsored by …

Native advertising is a hot topic right now.

It’s an online advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which they are placed.

While native ads have received some criticism in the past, and have been referred to as the “ugly cousin” of the banner ad, they’ve been widely adopted in the past year.

This is probably a result of the fact that more than half of consumers who click on native ads do so with the intention of purchasing something, compared with just 34 percent who click on banner ads.

While native advertising may be a viable option for marketers looking to reach their consumers, I’m not sure how I feel about it when it comes to journalism.

But it’s here. And we saw a lot of news organizations using native ads in 2014, including the New York Times.

The article was titled, “Will Millennials ever completely shun the office?” and looked like an actual news report, with “The New York Times” centered at the top of the page. However, directly above the headline were the words (in about 14-point or 16-point font) “Paid for and posted by Dell.”

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I was specifically looking for this, so those words jumped out at me. But what if you were just perusing the web and stumbled upon this article. Would you even notice the “paid for and posted by” text?

I would argue that it’s possible that you wouldn’t even notice that little disclaimer.

And does that make this piece of advertising deceptive?

From my experience working in journalism, the advertising and news departments are separated from one another. Lately, however, I’ve seen that demarcation in the sand grow fainter and fainter. As an example, I’ve seen a series of stories written by editorial staff with a “sponsored by” disclaimer, and an advertisement printed underneath the content.

Native advertising is so appealing to publishers because of money. Native attracts significantly higher rates than most other forms of digital advertising.

But even if the line between advertising and editorial continues to blur, how I go about my job as a journalist won’t ever blur, or change.

I will continue to follow the code of ethics that I subscribed to when I first began my studies in journalism. News should always be distinguished from advertising – that should never change.

“Friend” us on Facebook; we want to hear from you

The Herald-Standard’s Facebook page has 7,640 likes. For a small, hometown newspaper, I think that’s pretty impressive.

We use our Facebook to engage with our readers, by posing questions to our audience about local, regional, national and international news. We also post photos and links to interesting stories. Although we have a paywall for our online content, every now and then we will unlock a story, and post it our Facebook wall. A recent story and video garnered 15 shares, and 91 likes. Again, for a small paper, I think that’s pretty impressive.

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As I mentioned before, we have 7,640 likes, and I would equate “likes” to “friending” someone on Facebook.

I think a lot of this success has to do with the fact that people want to be heard.

I view our Facebook account as somewhat of a “Letter to the Editor” section – a section that can be found in our daily print product.

This is a place for people to offer their opinions. And as much as I detest some of the negative answers people write to the questions we pose, they are still coming to our page because they obviously see some value in it.

WPP’s Geometry Global found that 40% of Internet users across the world don’t see any point in “friending” a brand online. There’s evidence, however, that they want to engage with a brand online so long as they get something out of it. For example, the majority of shoppers in the study said they are open to receiving an ad or promotion from a brand on their mobile device that’s tied to their location.

I think our readers take satisfaction in the fact that they can allow their voices to be heard. And while that isn’t a coupon, it’s still valuable. I would actually argue it’s even more valuable.

How many times do you hear about people turning to emerging media after a brand failed to live up to their standards? A lot. And that’s because they want to be heard.

News organizations have also been using Facebook to power their website comments. The Herald-Standard doesn’t, but I think it’s something we should consider.

News organizations say they see a higher quality of discussion and a significant increase in referral traffic. According to Sonderman, by tying a real name to every comment, it reduces the endemic name-calling.

In the end, we welcome comments from our readers, whether its through the traditional print product or emerging media platforms. In the end, we hope our writing impacts people and fosters discussion.

Promotional Pinning: Gone Girl marketed via Pinterest

Ok everyone. This is genius.

I’ve seen the official trailer for the upcoming thriller.
I’ve read the book reviews.
I’ve also heard good reviews about the book from my friends.

But I was blown away when I saw the Pinterest account.

In addition to the everyday promotions you see for a movie, the movie Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, is being promoted on Pinterest in the coolest way.

Just a few days ago, an account associated with the movie, tweeted, “Discover who Amy Dunne was before she went missing through the pins she’s left behind at Pinterest.com/GoneGirlMovie.”

So. Cool.

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Many of the Pins are adorned with excerpts from the diary entries that make up part of Flynn’s book. Readers are supposed to analyze Amy’s words in relation to her husband’s accounts of events surrounding her disappearance. The Pinterest asks audiences to do the same thing: construct a picture of Amy’s life—or at least the way Amy would have wanted her life presented.

I haven’t read the book (but I plan to), so I wouldn’t recognize the excerpts from the book. But I appreciate it because it’s an ingenious way to use emerging media to promote the upcoming movie.

This got me thinking. How can I use Pinterest as a news reporter?

I dabbled with it a couple years ago by creating my own “Herald-Standard” board on my Pinterest page, to post stories I had written. I stopped doing it because I didn’t think it was very effective.

I may be a little behind the curve here, because Pinterest introduced last year new article pins; links to articles you’ve pinned can include a story’s headline and byline, plus a description as well as a link. Pinterest says its users share more than 5 million articles each day.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said in his interview for the “Riptide” project that Pinterest sends more traffic to his site than Twitter does.

It looks like there is some untapped potential in Pinterest, at least for me.

So I think it may be worth it for me, along with my coworkers, to start pinning our stories to Pinterest – at least ones that lend themselves to Pinterest, especially health, food and real estate articles. Here’s a list of tips for writers and media organizations on Pinterest.

When it comes to emerging media, in the end, I think it’s about finding what works best for your organization. Not every platform is the same, and not every platform will work for you.

While the Gone Girl Pinterest account works well for the movie Gone Girl, it wouldn’t work well, for, let’s say, the next installment of the Hunger Games trilogy.

For some reason, I don’t see Katniss Everdeen creating a Pinterest account.

An easy breakup: Cutting the cord on cable

I cut the cord on cable nearly two years ago and haven’t looked back.

I am a subscriber to Netflix and HuluPlus, and I get to watch all of my favorite shows on my own time for $7.99 a month compared to the hundreds of dollars I spent on cable in one year. For a grad student with limited funds, cable just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

I just read today that people 50 to 64 years old are watching more digital video as well, which is somewhat surprising to me. But, nonetheless, it’s an indication of how our viewing habits are changing.

This age group watched an average of 19 minutes a day of digital video during the second quarter of 2014, up from 11 minutes a day during the same period last year, according to a Nielsen report. The jump in online video viewing comes as adults in that age group have cut back the time they spend in front of television screens by six minutes, to 6 hours and 12 minutes a day.

“Today we are challenged with an important transition in how media is consumed,” Dounia Turrill, senior vice president for insights at Nielsen, wrote in the report. “Yet, it’s not just a young versus ‘older’ story.”

She goes on to say that, “The overarching data suggests that the growth of media consumption is and will continue to be in digital for all consumers. We can surmise that having tasted the freedom of choice, the American consumer will not go back to old ways.”

Consumers’ changing habits presents an opportunity for marketers and news organizations alike.

While digital video advertising amounts to just a small piece 9.7 percent of all digital ad revenue – an estimated $4.15 billion, digital video advertising is growing rapidly at 43.5 percent year over year. By 2017, eMarketer projects that digital video advertising will make up 15% of the total digital advertising market.

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At the company I work for, some of our sister papers are investing heavily in providing content for their very own Roku channels. The newspaper I work for is building up to that point, and trying to get some of our reporters comfortable with the idea of producing videos, and going on camera.

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Larger news organizations are making headway in the digital video space as well.

Some developments that occurred last year, include:

  • HuffPost Live: In August 2013, HuffPost Live – one of the more ambitious digital-only news video efforts built around hosts chatting with guests – celebrated its anniversary. According to The Huffington Post, 2 million viewers a month watch the live stream of the channel and 13 million more watch video content on HuffPost Live on demand.
  • Bloomberg TV: In December 2013, Bloomberg further expanded its digital reach with the introduction of an app for Apple TV that enables access to financial programming via both a live feed and on-demand videos.
  • Vice Media: In February, the company launched a news portal on its website – in beta – that, according the news reports, will include 50 posts a day in various formats, including live streaming and edited video.

I can only imagine that developments such as these will continue for news organizations everywhere.

User-generated content: Giving the people a voice

At the newspaper I work for, we have been encouraging community members to become more engaged with our product by submitting photos for our “community camera” section. If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my journalism career, it’s that people like to see themselves in the newspaper, especially if it’s associated with positive news. Grandmothers and grandfathers, especially, ogle over photos of their grandchildren that appear in the newspaper. And, there are many grandmothers and grandfathers in our readership.

This somewhat reminds me of the user-generated content that brands seek from consumers. And I’m very impressed with what some brands are doing.

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola rolled out its first TV spot made completely with user-generated content. The brand invited teens to submit short video clips sharing what it feels like when they take a sip of Coke. The best clips, they were told, would be featured in a national Coca-Cola TV ad.

How cool is that?

Miller Lite also recently took a stab at soliciting user-generated content for an advertisement. In May, the beer brand launched an #ItsMillerTime campaign, in which it used packaging, promoted tweets and its social channels to ask people for their best summer photos—with cameos by the retro-cool Miller Lite cans. The brand says nearly 180,000 photos were submitted. The brand liked seven of the fan photos in particular and featured them prominently in a new national TV spot.

User-generated content will continue to play a major role for brands in the future, especially when you consider how much word-of-mouth is trusted over other forms of advertising. According to a recent survey, 92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust word-of-mouth above all other forms of advertising.

This means that people want to hear from other consumers like them. So, let’s allow them to have a voice.

Emerging media is transforming newsrooms

I’ll admit it.

Even though I work at a newspaper, the Twitter app on my iPhone is one of the first things I peruse in the mornings to look for local, regional, national and international headlines.

Even though I work at a newspaper, which is the most traditional medium out there (the first newspaper — Publick Occurrences – was published in Boston on Sept. 25, 1690 and is often identified as America’s first newspaper), I interact with emerging media daily. I tweet from the scene of an accident, I post a story I wrote to Facebook, and I create news videos on my iPhone, which are then uploaded to YouTube.

Does this mean that the end of newspapers is in sight – when a journalist, like myself, interacts with emerging media? No, it doesn’t. It just means that traditional (old) media (newspapers, magazines, radio and television) must integrate with emerging media (social media, websites, email, videos, streaming media, mobile technologies) if they want to survive, and ultimately, thrive, which, might I add, is the end goal.

At my newspaper, all reporters have been asked to participate in social media. According to the American Journalism Review, other newspapers across the country are mandating participation in social media as well: http://ajr.org/2014/06/03/newspapers-staff-social-media-isnt-optional-mandatory/.

As part of our duties, we have also been asked to use our iPhones to create news videos. Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times let go it’s entire photography department and began mandatory training on iPhone photography basics: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/214954/sun-times-will-train-reporters-on-iphone-photography-basics/.

What other changes concerning emerging media are coming down the pipeline? Are these guidelines going to prove fruitful for us and other newspapers?

Only time will tell.