After years of frustration with TypePad, this blog has moved. It’s still here, though, in that you don’t actually need to do anything. The URL is the same. Thanks.
I was directed to this excellent piece, A Victim Treats His Mugger Right : NPR, via Facebook last night. And it made me realise how publishers don’t make the most of that kind of referral.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that nowadays we tend to get more and more of our reading from peer suggestions like this. Navigating News Online from the Project for Excellence in Journalism estimates that while Google still accounts for 30% of traffic to the main U.S. news sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. And yet all news sites do to respond to that is put a Facebook like button on their stories and cross their fingers.
What they should be doing is create what I would call “corners”, but might also be called “series” or “seasons”. The same PEJ report notes that casual visitors to a news website account for the vast majority of visitors–USAToday, for example, a third of users spent between one and five minutes on the paper’s website each month. Power users–those that return more than 10 times a month and spend more than an hour there–account for an average of 7% of total users for the top 25 news sites.
This represents a huge failure on the part of websites to get users back, and spend more time there.
And I don’t see a lot of websites doing much about it. Which is a shame, because it’s relatively easy. You just need to think of your publication as a TV network, and your content as individual brands. Or, to continue the analogy, seasons.
If I start watching Archer, or Secret Millionaire and I enjoy it, chances are I’ll set my TV to record each episode. I like one bite; I want take the whole season. It may not be smart television, but it’s smart branding. But apart from columnists and a few other regular features, we don’t think the same when it comes to our content.
Take the NPR piece. It’s about a New York social worker called Julio Diaz who is mugged. He gives him his wallet, and then, invites the mugger to dinner. It’s a touching tale, and has been tweeted 635 times, shared on Facebook more than 200,000 times and has 92 comments. And, get this: It was published on March 28, 2008. More than three years ago. I didn’t even notice that when I was pointed to the story by a friend on Facebook. And I wouldn’t have cared: Once I started reading the story I was hooked, and listened to the recording all the way through.
This piece comes from a series called StoryCorps, a magnificent oral history project for which NPR is one of the national partners. Through three permanent StoryBooths and a traveling MobileBooth it has recorded more than 35,000 interviews since 2003. It has its own StoryCorps Facebook page, with more than 25,000 followers and a lively feel to it. (I recommend watching some of the animated accounts; they’re very moving.)
My point is this: StoryCorps is like a TV series, Loyalty is built around the brand itself: People know that if they like one item, they’re sure to like the next. And yet we do so little in our media products to make the most of this human desire to hear/read/watch more of something we like. Because we are news people, we think news is enough of a brand, we forget that for most people news is not in itself a reason to visit a news website. We are instead looking for more of what we may have liked before, and if we can’t find it, we won’t come back again.
Hence the dreadful statistics mentioned above.
So how to change this? Well, looking at the NPR page of the Julio Diaz story, we see a lot of the usual efforts to retain interest. There’s the most popular slot on the right, the related stories below, and then below that More From This Series. There are also links to subscribe to the podcast of the series, and to the RSS feed for this series.
This is all good. But it’s just the start. Let’s break down what these elements are:
- The twitter/facebook like buttons are fine. But these are just ways of driving non-users to to the same individual piece of content–in other words, this page.
- The related links are ways of driving casual users to other internal content.
- The podcast/RSS are ways of converting casual users to regular users of the content.
By defining them like this, it’s clear that only the last one really has any long-term objective to it. If we can get a user to subscribe to the podcast or the RSS feed, then we have actually got a loyal user–someone who is likely to spend more than a few minutes a month on our site, and to actually demonstrate some loyalty to our brand.
(Included in this last section is the Facebook page for a publication too, but I’m not going to go into that here.)
Now it’s probably no accident that RSS and podcasts are in steep decline. (Evidence for the decline is anecdotal, because usage of readers like Google Reader are still rising, but the rate of increase is falling, according to this piece on Quora; besides, a lot of other RSS readers have died off: Bloglines was closed down last September and NetNewsWire was sold earlier this month.)
Searches for the term RSS on Google have been falling steadily since 2006:
And podcasts haven’t fared much better. Their hey day was 2005 and 2006:
I think it’s no accident that both peaked around five years ago. That was the era of Web 2.0, and now we’re into the era of Social Media, which is dominated by Facebook and Twitter. Again, no accident that both use RSS, or used, but have since moved on, or tried to move on.
The bottom line with both RSS and podcasts is that both have had their day. Both are a little too nerdy for most people: RSS is still way too tricky for ordinary users to master, and podcasts may be relatively easy to grab from iTunes, but still require a degree of managing that clearly doesn’t sit well.
Web 2.0 has moved on, and as social media has become more popular, and the tools for using it more user-friendly, podcasts and RSS have been left behind.
But, and here is the key point, Facebook and Twitter haven’t replaced them. RSS was/is a way for me to get your content to come to me. Facebook doesn’t really offer that, and neither, if you think about it, does Twitter.
For me to see your content I have to go to your Facebook page, or, alternatively, wait for it to pop up in my user feed. The latter is true of Twitter.
RSS allowed me to decide which of your content I liked–assuming you offered more than a single feed–and then to be able to access that on any device I liked. Podcasts were similar, but for audio and video. Now both are more or less dead, and, at least in terms of building loyalty to media channels, we’re not only back at square one, we’ve allowed other platforms–Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+–to place themselves between us and our reader.
I think this illustrates the weak thinking that media has tolerated. We need, somehow, to develop successor tools to RSS and podcasts that help us to build pipes direct to our readers/users.
Some people are trying this with iPhone/iPad/Android apps. It’s a start. But it doesn’t scale particularly well: The more apps there are, the less time people will spend on them.
And, more important, it’s still making a fundamental mistake by assuming that our readers are interested in us as a brand. They’re not. They’re interested in the channels we offer–thinking of them as seasons, I hope makes more sense, because we don’t just watch anything on a channel, we watch shows we like.
So we need to break down our content in this way, and then develop tools–apps, if you like–which cater to this desire and interest in content that is directly related (not automatically selected, or ‘may be related’) to the content that a user is interested in.
This is not that hard. NPR could build an app which helps to make it easier for anyone interested in the StoryCorps series to get all that content in a more straightforward way than RSS or podcast.
But it shouldn’t stop there. Measuring interest in a series should spur imaginative regeneration, repurposing and forking of content. The piece I mentioned, for example, had clearly resonated with the audience and should be paired with follow-up stories. Indeed, the StoryCorps corner of the NPR website should be a brand in itself, a community where editors regularly interact with readers and find ways to turn those casual users into regulars.
This is not rocket science. It’s simple math. At the moment we’re allowing other platforms to determine what people read on our website, and when they do drop by, we rely on HTML code, widgets and buttons to try to keep them.
Worst, we think merely about ‘keeping’ in terms of ‘sticky’: distracting the reader by luring other stories in front of their nose until eventually they get bored, or go home, or die, or something. I use the same tricks to entertain my 9-month-old. We need to be smarter than this.
Thinking our content in terms of ‘series’ might be a good place to start.
Despite some competition, Evernote still owns the space where we save stuff we might need for ourselves. But is it up to the task of our increasingly collaborative world? I’ve gotten a bit confused about what can and can’t be synced and shared and with whom so I asked them. This is what I think I learned: (some corrections made after checking with Evernote)
Syncing between devices
- If you’re a free user, anything you add on any device can be viewed (and edited) on any other device.
- If you’re a premium user then you’ll be able to download and store offline all notes to your Android or iPhone.
Notes can be emailed to other users.
As of today it’s possible to share a note with anyone via the web app (desktop apps soon) via the share button:
which allows you to share via Facebook (and later Twitter etc) as well as via a link which can be pasted elsewhere. Others will not be able to edit this shared link, but any changes you make to the original note will update the shared page.
(this is where I might be off the mark. Expect corrections)
- Any notebook can be shared with any other user via any app.
- One of you needs to be a premium user for others to be able to add to the notebook.
- If you’re on the web app (just redesigned; very nice) and/or a Mac, any additions or edits any shared user makes will sync to the others’ devices. (Other platforms coming soon; the pre-release version of Windows includes this feature already.)
- Any imported files or watched folders will also be synced between users if one of the users is premium. (Free users are limited to to text, audio, images, and PDFs. If the contents of the shared notebook/watched folders are limited to those file types, then any user can share them. If the file types go beyond that, or if the sharer wants recipients to edit the content, then the individual that’s sharing the notebook must be Premium.)
Three things I asked Evernote if they might work on:
- Drag and drop doesn’t seem to work for copied text and images. Just copy some text from a page and drag it over into Evernote. It used to. Evernote answer: fair point. We’ll look into it.
- I feel Evernote has fallen behind on the ability to extract the relevant content from a web page and copy that, without all the extraneous stuff. Readability and Thinkery.me do this very well (the latter, brilliantly; a Chrome plugin lets you merely right click a link for Thinkery to rush off and grab the salient text and save it.) Evernote answer: fair point. We’ll look into it.
- Revive the timeband. I loved that thing. Evernote answer: any 3rd party developers interested in doing it?
By Jeremy Wagstaff
(this is my weekly syndicated column, hence lack of links. BBC podcast is here.)
It’s an odd world where a word like “unfriending” becomes so common that we all know what it means. And we’re not thinking of unfriending in the old sense of hostile where Walter de la Mare would say
Sighed not the unfriending wind,
Chill with nocturnal dew,
‘Pause, pause, in thy haste,
O thou distraught! I too
Tryst with the Atlantic waste.
By Atlantic waste, here, he’s not referring to the stream of Facebook updates that come your way. But he might have been, because it transpires that Facebook–now one of the biggest nations on the planet, even if it is virtual–is full of unfriending people who will unfriend people for the most trivial of things. Like the cyber equivalent of talking too much.
To unfriend someone on Facebook, by the way, is to remove them from your contact list so they can no longer see what you’re up to. To ‘unfriend’ someone is to banish them from your Facebook world: Where once they could see your photos, read your wall of musing and generally be part of your life, they will find only a blank space, accompanied by a message that says something like:
People who aren’t friends with Bob only see some of his profile information.
There is none of the fakery and social nuance of real life here: You once were in, and now you’re out. Unless of course you’re so embarrassed when the person complains that you pretend you didn’t unfriend them at all, but that Facebook deleted your account. Technology’s an easy whipping boy.
The New Oxford American English dictionary last year made ‘unfriend’ its word of the year. We like to think that our social networking world closely mirrors our offline world. But it doesn’t. There’s no real-world parallel for something like unfriending–excising someone from your real life isn’t as easy as clicking on a blue “remove from friends” button.
So why do people unfriend people? A survey by a student at University of Colorado Denver Business School has revealed that most people unfriend other people, not because they don’t like them, but because they give them bad information. After surveying more than 1,500 Facebookers, Christopher Sibona found the number-one reason for unfriending is frequent, unimportant posts.
In other words, you can be a good friend to someone on Facebook by giving them good, but not too much, information. Most people, Sibona found out, unfriend people, not because they’ve been nasty to them or because they stole their iPod, but because of the stream of consciousness they tend to throw onto Facebook. In short: I’ll be your friend if you don’t talk too much.
(I have a slight problem with this research: Sibona used Twitter, not Facebook, to reach his audience, which I suspect tilts his findings. Twitter is an information network, and while his questions are about Facebook the responses will inevitably be only from those Facebook users who are also Twitter users. While I’m sure many people use Twitter and Facebook differently, there’s an inevitable bias towards those people who use them similarly. The other problem I have is that Sibona does not appear to be a major user of Twitter–he follows only five people, nor of social networks in general: His LinkedIn page, for example, lists only 33 connections. For someone to research social networks to this degree, once needs to have extensive experience of them. I’m yet to be persuaded Sibona has these credentials.)
What’s interesting about all this is a point that I’ve been making for some time: all social networks use information as their currency. Joining Facebook is not enough: You need to be seen to be on Facebook, and, most importantly, to be seen to be useful on Facebook. This means, at the very least, that you provide entertainment for your friends.
If we believe this research it would seem to suggest that Facebook is not, actually, what it seems. We thought Facebook was a place where we were able to maintain, create and expand friendships. But instead it’s an information exchange. True, some of that information is about our lives, and so could be the stuff of letters we might in the past have stuffed in our end of year update cards to friends and family, but it’s also a place where we catch up on things.
Indeed, other research has shown that a lot of the time what we read online–in other words, where we get our news–is based on what people recommend we read. On places like Facebook.
So it makes absolute sense that some people on Facebook choose their friends the way we might in the past have chosen what newspapers to read: read the most informative; throw out the fluff.
This detachment, this pragmatism and ruthlessness can be seen in other surveys. A study by Nielsen found that half of 500 youngsters it surveyed didn’t personally know all of their Facebook friends. And kids, it turns out, don’t like being friends with their parents on Facebook: nearly a third of teens surveyed would prefer to unfriend their parents–particularly their mothers–if they could.
But it’s also a reflection of the fact that we don’t yet quite understand what the reciprocal obligations are of accepting someone’s friendship on Facebook. It’s virtually impossible to reject an invitation to be buddies on Facebook if you’ve ever met that person, however long ago and however fleeting the connection. But now you’re friends, what’s expected of you?
I offer a case in point.
One evening I searched for some schoolyard chums on Facebook and connected to them. No harm done; after all, they’re probably thousands of miles away so the commitment is negligible. But one wasn’t: He makes frequent trips to my neck of the woods, and I occasionally to his. We failed to meet up a couple of times, until I realised that we never would.
One weekend I found myself in his town and he was enthusiastic about meeting up, but then blew me off three times pleading work–while openly organizing a poker game with his buddies on Facebook.
I decided enough was enough. So I hit the unfriend button. But from it I learned an important lesson: Just because people are your friends on Facebook doesn’t mean they’re your friends. Even if, once, they used to be.
Being Facebook friends was about all my friend was ready for. I don’t blame him, though I wish there had been a halfway house between removing him from Facebook and letting things go on as they were.
In real life we would just have not gotten in touch again. I suppose if we’re youngsters we would stop sharing our Snickers bars or something. But on Facebook there’s a finality there. No going back. Unless of course he realises I’ve unfriended him and asks what happened, in which case I’ll blame Facebook.
A client asked me the other day what the difference was between social media, new media, digital media and Web 2.0. I told him: time.
To see what I mean look at the following timeline from Google Trends:
The blue line is searches of “social media” since 2004, orange is ”new media”, red “web 2.0” and green is “digital media”.
Of course digital media can also include things like games, Flash and things where media is defined not so much as a means of delivering information but of a platform of expression. I guess the same could be said of new media.
But what’s telling for me is how social media has overtaken web 2.0 as the favored way to capture all the various elements of the revolution that began back in 1999. I noticed I started using it more than Web 2.0 in late 2008, which seems to be about the time that other people did—to the point that in late 2009 it overtook Web 2.0, at least according to the Google chart above.
Indeed, at that point it also overtook new media and digital media in popularity (or at least in what people were searching for.)
This is natural, and reflects the fact that Web 2.0 really describes the engine, the machinery, the working parts of the revolution we’ve witnessed in the past 10 years. This is not just the code, but the principles that underpin the code.
Now we all use it, we don’t need to call it anything. Instead we describe the world that it’s created: social media where everything is by default set to sharing the process of creating, commenting, editing and working.
Social media for most of us now are things like Twitter (2 billion tweets) and Facebook (500 million users). They may not look much like social media as we recall it back in the day, but they are: Facebook provides all the tools one needs to create, comment on and share content online, while Twitter is the natural conclusion of all that thinking back in the early 2000s: Simple tools, evolved as much by the users as the creators, built on the implicit principle that it’s better to share stuff than hoard it.
We might have called it Web 2.0 back in the day, but now it’s mainstream, and it’s social media.
By Jeremy Wagstaff
(this is a copy of my column for newspapers)
If The Wall Street Journal is to be believed—and as a former contributor I’ve no reason to doubt it—the best way to get decent hotel service these days is to tweet about how bad it is.
And reading the piece made me realize that, when it comes to an industry like the leisure industry, social media can only be a disaster for your brand.
An article by Sarah Nassauer says that “hotels and resorts are amassing a growing army of sleuths whose job it is to monitor what is said about them online—and protect the hotels’ reputations.” It also offers a handy list of eight tips on how to “snare better service”, including:
Before you check-in: Post a comment on the hotel’s Facebook page or send a tweet saying you’re looking forward to your stay. A savvy hotel will put you on its radar and may dole out perks or give specialized service.
or this one:
Have a lot of online friends or followers. Hotels will pay more attention to your requests.
Now I’m a big fan of social media. And hotels. And the Journal. But this kind of advice is WRONG.
Basically, what the paper is suggesting is that you abuse social media, and the hotel’s check-in system, to snag yourself better service. Unfortunately it betrays a distinct lack of understanding of how things like Twitter work.
First off, you don’t just “have” a lot of online followers or friends. Followers and friends are earned through providing interesting commentary, in the case of Twitter, or being there for them, in the case of friends. OK, you can buy both, but that’s not the point.
Although I suppose you could calculate your savings through free hotel upgrades and offset that against the purchase off Twitter followers through services like usocial (“become an overnight rock star on twitter!”).
Now I’m not averse to hotels and other companies using Twitter and Facebook to keep an eye on what people are saying about them. That’s good, and, frankly, it should have happened a long time ago. I’m frankly amazed that companies measure their footprint on social media quantitatively rather than qualitatively: in other words, they count the number of followers they have, rather than look closely at who those followers are, learn about them and recruit them as unpaid evangelists.
As the piece mentions, hotels and resorts are setting up their own social media monitoring centers which sound like Churchill in the bowels of London in the middle of the blitz, but is probably more likely some overworked drone monitoring a laptop in the hotel kitchen or a workaholic F&B manager checking TripAdvisor his BlackBerry while his wife is delivering their 4th baby.
The problem is this: Social media is social. If I grumble about my hotel on Twitter, it’s presumably because the other options open to me aren’t working. And those options usually involve something other than boring all my friends about the state of the bath, or the shortage of Mountain Dew in my minibar.
These are things that I should be bringing up with room service, or the front desk, or the F&B guy. If I’ve started twittering about it, it’s proof the system doesn’t work.
So, unless I’ve got really patient followers and friends, using them as a platform for my grumbles isn’t only an abuse of social media, it’s an abuse of my friends.
The problem with the Journal piece is that it assumes that social media is merely a public platform for self-promotion: either for getting better deals, or for getting better service.
But it’s not. Social media only works because we’re interested in what other people are saying. Those people who tell the world they’re about to have coffee don’t have many followers, unless they’re someone famous.
The value in social media—in any network—is the information it’s carrying. Whines about the view from one’s room isn’t information. It’s a whine. (Unless of course it’s me, in which case I’m being wittily ironic in a post-modernist sort of way.)
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and a recent case in point: hotel guest complains about the quality and price of Internet in their hotel on Twitter, including the hotel’s twitter name. Hotel responds within seven minutes, asking guest to direct message them—in other words, to send a message that can’t be viewed by anyone else.
So, now the conversation goes offline. No more tweets that anyone can read. In short, guest is basically saying to his followers: I’ve got what I wanted, thanks to all of you for helping me get my way. Hotel is saying: We’ll solve this problem privately, thank you, and leave no-one the wiser about whether this was a one-off complaint or something other guests may have to worry about.
Neither respects the audience on social media who have to watch this public face-off and miss the private make-up.
The upshot: Guests learn that twittering gets results. Hotels learn that twitter guests can be bought off as easily as non-social media guests. And the followers of that particular twitterer come away none the wiser and feeling slightly used.
For sure, it makes sense to use social media as a platform to air your grievances–if other paths have failed. If you want to warn others. Just like writing a letter to the editor back in the old days.
But hotels and other companies that scour social media to buy off bad-mouthers will do terrible damage to themselves, and to social media, if they seek to reward anti-social behavior. If you broadcast to social media that bad-mouthing your brand pays dividends, expect to get lots of bad-mouthing on social media.
If you then try to solve the problem in private, all you leave is a paper-trail of bad-mouthing, and no happy ending.
So the solution is simple: Social media should be monitored. Grievances should be addressed. But rather than setting up time-consuming twitter monitoring teams money would be better spent on developing rapid responses internally—a instant messaging service only accessible to guests, say, or a texting service so guests don’t have to listen to jingly jangly phone music while they’re being connected to reception.
It comes back to an old adage: Social media is not another broadcast platform. It’s a very public forum. So having a twitter feed is a life-time commitment to allowing every customer grumble to be seen by everyone on the planet. Don’t go there unless you have to.
Instead, keep those private channels with your guests as free of friction as possible. Don’t encourage them to go public, because however it works out, it won’t be pretty.
Oh, and provide a decent service. That always works.
This week’s podcast is from my weekly slot on Radio Australia Today with Phil Kafcaloudes and Adelaine Ng. This week we discuss privacy in the light of Facebook’s changes, the sale of Friendster, and one guy’s battle to delete his online past.
To listen to the podcast, click on the button below. To subscribe, click here.
Each social network has its quirk. I want to fix them. Here’s how.
Skype, for example, won’t let you be invisible to certain people. You’re either visible to all your buddies, or none at all. So if you have a contact who thinks a Skype connection is an open invitation to call you up out of the blue, there’s no way to discourage them other than by blocking. Which seems kinda harsh.
Solution: A fake online button that takes calls but never quite connects them due to ‘network difficulties.’
Facebook has its quirks too. One is that it fails to recognise the vagaries of real-world networks. Just because I am friends with 30 friends of someone, doesn’t mean I am friends with him/her. Maybe I was; maybe we just never hit it off. Who knows? I just don’t want to let that person into my Facebook life.
But Facebook, like that overeager Skype caller, doesn’t get the hint. Back these people come into my right hand column of suggested friends. The more you ignore them, the more Facebook bugs you, and the more obvious your mutual indifference/loathing is. Because you assume they’re getting the same messages you are.
Solution: a ‘Mutual Strangers’ button. You hit it and neither of you will ever see or hear anything to do with the other person again. They won’t appear in friends’ buddy lists, in groups, their faces will be airbrushed out of friends’ photos. Just like real life, you need never have to think of them again.
Twitter has a similar quirk: If you find the tweets of a friend/colleague/boss irritating or inane, and the idea of them seeing your tweets somewhat creepy, there’s no way to unfollow—let alone block—without them finding out at some point.
Solution: ‘Pretend follow’ where it looks like you’re following them but actually everything they write goes into the twitter bin, while twitter generates bland, fake tweets from you for them, like ‘in Starbucks’ or ‘interesting story about polar bears eating glacier mints’.
Have I missed anything?