The media has been going through a difficult spell in the past few years, and many of those problems it has to be said, have been caused by those working in the industry; just look at the recent phone hacking scandal in the UK for one prime example. Another factor, meanwhile, has been the development of what is being called ‘new media’ meaning it’s a case of out with the old and in with the new as new formats and platforms have opened doors for a new breed of ‘journalist’ to step up and make a name for themselves with the content they have to offer – whatever form that may take.
Traditional journalists such as those working on daily newspapers have found their job roles changing dramatically over the past few years, and many have had these changes forced upon them by digital developments making their daily print publications seem like some kind of prehistoric form of consuming the news. Instead, the public are now turning their attentions to the web and the various news and media platforms that are open 24/7, 365 days a year.
These daily newspaper journalists have been forced to adapt everything they know about traditional print media, and take their experiences and ability online with many papers closing their print outlets and releasing online-only versions of their papers that are updated in real-time as reporters send in stories using their smartphones or tablets wherever they are – which, it must be said, is a far better way for the general public to stay on top of current events that may (or may not), affect them.
A lot of journalists have been forced out of the industry with closures of their local papers, with weekly publications requiring fewer members of staff in order to cut costs due to decreasing sales, but many have taken on new roles in recent years, such as online community or social media managers. Rather than heading out in search of a story, following up leads and obtaining interviews, the new role involves monitoring the various social media platforms to stay abreast of what the general public are uploading to their Facebook accounts, Tweeting or posting on photo-sharing platforms like Instagram.
The social network
Social networks have exploded around the world, and all within the space of a decade. Just this week, on Tuesday 4th February, Facebook celebrated its tenth birthday and what started out as a network created in a University bedroom is now used by more than a billion people around the world, and while some skeptics are saying that it is on a decline with some demographics opting to close their accounts in favour of the more modern or trending (to use a social media buzz word) platforms, others are arguing that Facebook is only just beginning and the changes that are likely to come in the next ten years will leave the current platform looking almost unrecognisable when it turns 20, a bit like Google when it first opened the doors to its search engine.
Today, billions of people around the world are woken up by the alarms on their smartphones and rather than reaching for the remote control to turn on the news channel on the television, they’re opening social media apps to find out what’s going on in the world. These platforms give people the opportunity to tell their own stories – some more interesting to us than others of course – about current events, and many of the biggest global events have been shared with the rest of the world over Facebook or Twitter accounts before they make it to our television screens, and way before they make it into the newspapers.
Community or social media managers, whatever they’re called, are therefore faced with a huge task to stay on top of all events that might affect them, their company or their clients and customers and it’s certainly not just a traditional 9-to-5 job. You need to be at the forefront of literally everything that is going on that relates to your profession, meaning there is no room to be a specific business journalist or sports journalist, you need to learning and as well-informed as possible at all times so that you can give the people, and your customers or clients, what they’re looking for.
The public have an insatiable demand for the latest news, wherever they are and whatever time it may be, whether it’s a product release or further information as to just what’s happened in a “police incident” near them. This is enough of a challenge, trying to produce not just the right content but something unique so that people will go away and say they read it on your account first or that your account provided the best and most detailed coverage; now think about how they’re going to handle the people that are critical of their reports or products. You really do have to take the rough with the smooth.
There is a fine line between getting a piece of digital content right – making it go viral with thousands of likes and shares and and influx of new followers or readers – and getting it catastrophically wrong. To see this, you have to look back to traditional media methods where journalists would go the extra mile, rightly or wrongly, to produce the very best news story. With digital media, however, it’s not just the reputation of the journalist that is at stake, it’s the whole company as many social or community managers are producing content under the company’s name and brand reputation comes into effect.
We’ve seen over the past few years that more and more people are taking to social networks to find information, and also to complain about goods and services, and it’s the job of the social or community manager to deal with these complaints on behalf of the company in an attempt to calm the aggrieved customer or follower, and to try and maintain or even enhance the reputation of the company before it is damaged beyond repair. To do this, it isn’t just important, but it is essential that you react in the right way and that could be by a personal response to the person or people who are feeling aggrieved or by responding in a way that calms the situation and turns it from chaos where you risk a damaged reputation and a decline in followers or subscribers, to one where engagement, likes and retweets actually go in the right direction.
Some brands have managed to get this right time and time again, responding to complaints in a light-hearted way and even having a laugh at themselves or at the expense of others to try and put a smile on people’s faces – like the smoothie brand Innocent, who produced this graphic that they shared on Twitter, helping the people of London to deal with the Tube strike; while others have taken too long to respond and the damage is beyond repair. As mentioned earlier, it’s a very fine line between successfully managing an online presence, and disaster.
So where do I start?
To successfully master the world of online content, either as digital journalist producing blog or news content, or by working on social media platforms; you need to take a step back and evaluate the market before you do anything at all. Consider who you’re working for, the market place, the competition and the audience and then get all of this onto a piece of paper. You might be working online where pens and paper are a thing of the past, but there’s nothing like having the information you need there in front of you – ask anybody working on content creation from authors to those writing for websites professionally, if you have everything you need, writing is much simpler.
One of your most important considerations will be over the platforms you use to share your content. It’s all well and good saying that “everyone is on Facebook these days, even my parents!” but if Facebook isn’t the right place to share your content, you’re wasting your time. The various different platforms all have their own demographics, pros and cons and times and places.
Twitter has become one of the most valuable assets to any business, helping them to see news snippets and share their own content quickly and easily, but when you only have 140 characters to get your message across, creating Twitter-specific content becomes more of a skill than you might imagine. It’s a bit like a traditional journalist trying to get their headline or opening paragraph right to capture their audience for the remainder of the article – get it right, and you’ve got them hooked. get it wrong, and you lose them before they get started. If you’re trying to tell a story on Twitter, you need to stop right now. It’s not going to happen. You can tease your audience in 140 characters and add a link for them to read or watch what you’ve produced, bringing them to your websites and increasing traffic – even sales, depending on what you’re producing and why of course – but this will all be determined by the goals you set yourself before you start your digital campaign.
In the past twelve months, the necessity for short-form content has exploded. While Facebook provides the platform to share both written, visual and audio content; short-form content has forced people to be more creative, and it’s certainly worked. Instagram started out as a photo-sharing platform where users could upload their images, edit them using a series of filters and sharpening tools and then letting their friends see them.
Then, Facebook came along, handed over a cheque to acquire the platform, and added video to the application – but these videos were restricted to just fifteen seconds in duration. Why did they do this – because Vine had stolen a march on them with their six-second video sharing platform that would run on a constant loop and users were able to post these on their own Vine accounts, or even share them on other social platforms, such as Twitter.
Today, an even shorter form of short-form content is a must-have among the younger generations, Snapchat. Users are able to take photographs or videos, share them with their friends who also use the platform, and set a time limit for how long they can see the content. Once the timer runs out, the image or video is lost forever. At the moment, it’s more of a platform that is used between groups of friends, but it’s only a matter of time before businesses start to take advantage and share certain forms of content with their audience. It may be that a University promotes an upcoming event by sharing a video of a live music act playing to a packed audience, or a car manufacturer showing a sneak-preview of their next model. Only time will tell on that one, but considering the owners of Snapchat turned down a reported $3billion from, you guessed it, Facebook, they think it’s going to pretty big in the coming years.
So how can businesses take advantage?
From a business perspective, it is vital that you remember the word ‘social’ in social media, and use the networks to maintain your relationship with your audience and customers. If you stop responding to their questions or complaints, you’re essentially ignoring them in your store; but you need to get the context and format of your response just right. You also need to make sure that you set your account up the right way, providing people with all of the information they’re looking for including contact details, website links and the kind of details that will help you to be found online.
Buffer recently produced a guide to writing social media biographies, showing you exactly what you should include for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ profiles and it really is worth a look before you get started.
Once you’re up and running, you need to think about how you’re going to reply to your fans and followers. Some networks will require detailed responses, like Facebook where you’re not restricted in terms of characters, while others may require a shorter response, such as a helpful link for people to find the answer to their dilemma. If you’re using Instagram, for example, you’re likely to receive responses in the form of likes or comments below the image or video you’ve posted. It’s then down to you to respond in the most appropriate way, coming up with a written response that comes from the heart of the brand, or by posting another image to smooth the situation over or to repair the mistake you made.
You need to choose the right response, for the right platform. Sticking with Instagram, you aren’t likely to produce an essay-style response because the majority of users go on, look at an image, add a comment or click the like button and move on. If they wanted a full-on response, then a retraction-style blog post on your own website, or a private message on Facebook would be the best place for it, essentially taking the situation away from the eyes of the public to speak one-to-one with the aggrieved person and protect the reputation of the brand before it turns into a blazing row before your thousands of followers or fans.
To summarise, social media has presented a world of opportunities for content creators to develop into multi-format writers, adding not just one but multiple strings to their bows. As microblogging sites continue to increase in popularity – Twitter just revealed that they had 9million new users in the final quarter of 2013 for example – the audience gets larger, and so does their appetite for information and quality content.
It doesn’t matter if you’re producing a news article or a video clip, the digital world is changing and changing for the better and it’s down to us, as content writers, to continue to evolve with the industry. Digital – or ‘new’ – media, is here to stay and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we take advantage of what it has to offer in order to satisfy that demand.
If nothing else, the modern technologies and the various platforms available to showcase our skills, are too cool to ignore!
I’d love to hear your views on how you think ‘new media’ has transformed the media as we know it, and how both modern and traditional journalists could survive going forwards. Are roles as ‘community managers’ likely to get bigger or, like some social networks, could they be here for a short period only to be heard of in ten years time when people say “do you remember…”? Let me know what you think, or follow me at @ChrisWhite46 on Twitter.