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Rules are for squares

4 Social Media Rules Journalists Should Break

It’s strange to think there are actually rules for using social media when it’s typically seen as something people use during their down time.  Obviously there are certain practices that work better than others, but you can post whatever, whenever and however you want.  In a way you are compromising your autonomy as a journalist if you are following rules that have no journalistic base.  Anyway let’s examine these one at a time.

The first rule seems like a no-brainer to break.  The whole point of using social media is to attract as broad a following as possible, so why would you gimp your readership by selectively posting to some sites but not others?  Granted there are things you can only  do on Facebook that you can’t do with Twitter, but all the same readers are most likely interested in the bulk of what you are posting.

Another no-brainer.  Journalists’ days are structured around deadlines and there will be times when you cannot post, like when you are up against deadline, so scheduling content ahead of time is convenient.  Also using the same post or tweet multiple times can be useful when hyping a big, upcoming story.  If you are planning to post something about it regularly before you release the full-version, why not do it automatically and have one less thing to remember that day?

I’m starting to think these are more general guidelines than rules.  Of course no one is going to follow everyone who follows them.  To be straight forward about it, not everyone will be interesting or useful to you.  If there is little to no chance someone will ever be able to provide you with useful information don’t follow them.  If you have thousands of followers it will be incredibly time-consuming to sift through all of those tweets and posts.  Be selective.

Kind of addressed this already.  If you are previewing a story or are searching for leads there’s nothing wrong with repeating yourself.  If someone is really worried about breaking this one, repeat yourself but make the posts slightly different from each other.

Well, I broke every rule they had, but then again I enjoy breaking rules and setting my own precedents.  Some people enjoy structure and are afraid to stray from the beaten-path.  I think if journalists decide to use social media professionally they need to be transparent, insightful and most importantly consistent.  The results matter more than the methods.


Games Are Fun

Why Gamification Can’t Be Stopped

Video games have been around for decades but have only become, “useful,” in the last several years.  Companies discovered that by turning ordinary tasks into games that people not only completed them better, but were more engaged than they would be otherwise.  This is where companies like Bunchball come in.  They see opportunities others don’t and capitalize on them by gamifying existing websites.

One example is the site Bunchball made for NBC back in 2007, which convinced people to do actual work for fake money.  Just look at Facebook’s Farm Ville.  Social games like that are proof that people are willing to put in hours of work on something, however pointless, if they feel there is some intrinsic value to it.

This is why the professional world is interested.  Companies want to find a way to make boring office tasks bearable and to create addictive, engaging content on websites that people will spend hours using.  Athletes and soldiers use games as training simulations and some teachers have worked games into their curriculum.  It just makes sense that the business world, which is always trying to maximize everything, would look at an idea that can give employees hands-on experience and increase retention.  Who knows where this field will be in five years, but hopefully it continues to expand.  Not because time wasters like Farm Ville are fun, but because I’d love an engaging way to do paperwork or check my email.

Purging Trolls From Worthwhile Discussions

Expel Trolls, Racists and Promote Good User Comments on News Sites

It’s a shame that people publish articles like this.  Any more and people might become educated enough to weed out trolls and racists and move forward as a community. If this trend continues how will the scum of the Internet spend its time?

In all seriousness, this really is a topic that desperately needs to be addressed.  There’s nothing worse than reading a well written or well researched piece and then scrolling down to the comments to see people arguing or exchanging obscenities instead of reviewing the work.  The suggestions proposed by the article were basically: reward people for posting worthwhile comments, actively respond to posts and ban others who are a distraction.  To be honest that’s about all you can really do is moderate the site and hope the community is mature enough to ignore or exile people who are there for the wrong reasons.

Of course you can also take things a step further and require identification of some kind before allowing people to post, which is probably the best way to limit harmful comments.  Once the veil of anonymity has been lifted most trolls lose their nerve and suddenly don’t know as much as they once did.  My suggestion to further this idea would be to only allow subscribers to post on a news site.  Whether they receive the print or online editions they must be paying in order to have access to posting.  People can still view the content and the comments but don’t let them post if they are not subscribed or cannot be easily identified.  The best way to discourage trolling is to make it so people have something to lose by engaging in disgraceful behavior.

Each newsroom will handle this situation differently and will use different levels of moderation to keep conversations civil.  Unfortunately, I believe the problem will never be entirely solved.  Some people just love bullying too much and others are just deconstructionists who enjoy pointing out the flaws in what people do.  All you can do is alienate the ass holes and commend the intellectuals.  Just remember not to feed the trolls.

Yay Booze

How Booze Goes Social for Saint Patrick’s Day

This was a short post on Mashable about St. Patrick’s day, but I think it was very insightful piece in terms of gauging readers’ interests.  Everyone who is willing and able drinks on St. Patty’s Day so it’s no surprise that companies that produce alcohol are interested in squeezing all they can out of the weekend.

Posting drink recipes and running promotions is nothing new, but the concept of having enormous parties that link people together via the Internet and streaming live events is bold.  The concept makes sense though because people are tired of traditional news.  It’s likely that most readers would rather listen to the Jameson broadcasts or tour the Guinness facilities then read about any of the parades the next day.  Of course if people had their own plans on St. Patrick’s Day they might not use any of the features the companies made available, but if they didn’t they can see how other people are celebrating.  This is an advantage that digital platforms have over print is the ability to add more depth to a story.  A newspaper can tell you about an event, but a live stream can allow you to be there and even chat with other people.

The best part about the entire campaign is that nearly everything that was released or posted was made sharable so readership was international.  St. Patrick’s Day is all about getting together with other people and having a good time, and it’s simple to connect people with the Internet.  One thing I think the companies might have missed were video tutorials.  Showing people how to make decorations or how to mix drinks is infinitely more helpful than just handing them a list.

Hopefully journalists examine the steps these companies took on St. Patrick’s Day because finding innovative ways to involve people in stories gives content much more value than basic reporting.  If they can manage to produce content like that on a regular basis, readers might even ignore things like pay walls because they are getting more for their dollar.

The Pay Wall: Leveling the Playing Field or Breaking All of the Rules

New York Times Pay wall

Paper Erects Pay wall

Why Can’t Newspapers Make Money Online

In a world where money talks and profits are the preferred vernacular, it’s no surprise that newspapers are attempting to stem the bleeding caused by their ever-declining revenue streams.  Print mediums have been on the decline initially with the creation of the Internet, but more recently with the expansion and mastery of the Internet.  With so many different things fighting for consumers’ attention, how can newspapers offer content in a way that both allows them to turn a profit and protect the integrity of their work?  Two words, pay walls.

Several newsrooms have erected pay walls for their online editions.  These make it so that readers can either view a select amount of content before being prompted to subscribe, or are unable to view anything other than headlines without a subscription.  The idea of paying for content on the web, when there is an incredible amount that is free, has caused many to ask why put them in place at all?  Is forcing people to pay for something when equivalences are freely available industry suicide?  So far the experiment has seen mixed results and the answer for the moment is yes and no.

The largest news group to make use of a pay wall is the New York Times, which has tried and failed with this idea once already.  The Times makes use of a soft pay wall, meaning they allow users to access a certain amount of content, roughly 20 pages, before they are forced to pay for it.  Although the website has succeeded in obtaining subscribers, people have already found ways around the safeguard.  The simplest of which is to max out the free page views on one device and then switch to another thereby resetting the counter.  Since the pay wall identifies readers using their IP address, all someone has to do is use a different computer to continue reading, which is relatively simple if someone is browsing in a campus computer lab or at a public library.

Another paper, the Augusta Chronicle, has also put a pay wall in place and has reported a 5 percent increase in page views in a three-month period.  A possible reason for the Time’s and Chronicle’s success, is that they are both using soft or porous pay walls that allow limited previews by readers .  Unlike the Greenville News, which is very close to the Chronicle geographically and recently installed a hard pay wall which prevents any viewership until a subscription has been purchased, and is most likely one of the reasons the Chronicle has seen an increase in traffic.

The idea of a hard pay wall is a bold move that can either net more revenue than its softer counterpart, or can push even more readers away.  Like in this article from Mashable, the author says point-blank that they stopped following their local newspaper, as well as the blogs it hosted, online because they installed a hard pay wall.  They went on to say that replacements with the same information were found in no time with no subscription fees.  This is the biggest hurdle newsrooms will face when installing pay walls.  If readers are not convinced that the content in front of them is worth paying for, then not only will they seek replacement content from another source but they might never use the original site again.

The pros for newspapers making this move are obvious.  There is the possibility for them to make money, an attractive idea since newspapers are for-profit organizations.  There is the potential to attach value to journalism and separate the professionals from the amateurs again.  Finally and perhaps most importantly, newsrooms might be able to use this new revenue source to stem the trend of downsizing that has crippled far too many staffs already.

The cons though entail a substantial amount of risk.  For example, there is the chance that readers who run into a pay wall will try to counteract it and siphon news without paying for it, or might leave the website forever and diminish page views and traffic, which is something advertisers will take note of.  Also, newspapers run the risk of looking stupid or greedy if they install a pay wall but none of their largest competitors do so, which would drive their readership to places that offer free content.

This is an aggressive and ambitious experiment and I can’t pretend to know how this will all turn out, but I do think it’s what online publications must do.  A website cannot release premium or professional-grade content without charging for it because they are for-profit entities that will not survive working pro bono.  With that in mind, I think the institution of a pay wall can only be done under certain circumstances.  For example, I would recommend that only mid to large-sized newspapers attempt to use pay walls because a small publication will just drive readers away to other local sources of information that don’t cost anything, like newsletters.  It would also be a bad idea for a newsgroup that is making money to jeopardize their situation by trying to make a little extra.  Most importantly, I think any pay wall installed must be a soft pay wall that allows for limited previews of the content in question.  Unless a publication has a stranglehold on its audience and runs no risk of forcing itself out of contention in the market, such as the Wall Street Journal and ESPN.

The biggest problem with an idea like the pay wall is that companies just throw them up and expect people to pay when they fail to realize that the people of the Internet are greedy and feel self-entitled because they are exposed to so much that is free.  If the content is of high quality and the information is credible and useful then most publications will be fine and will hold on to a majority of their readers.  However, if they are lazy and inconsistent they will gain nothing and stand to lose everything.

Should Small Businesses Use Twitter?

To Follow or not to Follow?

It makes sense for small businesses to follow people who follow them.  The only reason many small businesses can operate is because people prefer the feeling of familiarity you can have with a mom and pop shop that you can’t get with a corporate chain.  Some people are probably indifferent if after following a business they don’t return the favor I mean it’s not a real person they can’t get to know them, but I don’t know why they wouldn’t return the favor.  If someone likes you enough to include you in their social media circle use that to your advantage.  One of the advantages small businesses usually over chains is that brand loyalty from their consumers.  Have promotions encouraging people to follow your business, or examine people’s tweets and the other things they follow for marketing research.  The best part is the advertisement and crowd sourcing that can be done with Twitter is all free.

I think making the choice to follow customers is also very dependent on the size of the business itself and its consumer base.  Like the article said, at one point the president was following more than 700,000 people.  I’m sure somewhere in the thousands of tweets per day that account received every day there was some worthwhile thoughts or questions, but there was probably also a fair amount of extraneous material.  Twitter should be used as a business tool.  Businesses should try to appear genuine, but if they start posting random tweets about nothing like most people do then their consumers might drop them from their feed to cut down on the stream of useless tweets.


The Internet improving the Internet

Top 10 Pro Tips and Tools for Budding Web Developers and Designers

In my opinion, this is article is what the Internet does best.  Taking tons of information and consolidating it to a single place to potentially benefit an infinite amount of users.  The invention of the Internet opened the door for an endless stream of user generated content, with much of being poorly done, but by making use of resources like this the potential for people to create respectable content increases.  I mean skim the article.  There are  so many hyperlinks to sources or applications that supply designers with exactly what they need. This is accomplished online much quicker than in the real world, and for the most part with little to no cost.

For some, like critic Andrew Keen, the web has seemingly perpetuated the spread of amateurism.  The Internet is nothing more than an infinite well of terribly designed websites, opinionated blogs and pointless social media posts.  A testament to the mediocrity of novices everywhere.  What closed minded people like that fail to realize though, is that the Internet is the solution to terrible content on the Internet.  By using the knowledge of the small percentage of successful developers and designers on the Internet as a guide, the everyday person can construct functional websites, write compelling blogs and disseminate useful information.

The ability to create respectable, digital content seems to fall under the category of simple to learn but difficult to master.  It’s great to see people who have reached the master level though because content we find appealing can often be consumed for free.  The Internet offers great opportunities for aspiring thinkers, and if nothing else supplies people with an endless source of content to enjoy in their free time.