Posted By Meg / 20th April 2011
I’m speaking at Fundació Escacc (Fundació Espai Català de Cultura i Comunicació) in Barcelona next week, as part of their series of ten lectures on digital communication and new challenges for journalists, covering everything from “Writing techniques on the Internet” (Ramón Salaverría), through to “Monetization of personal branding” (Ben Hammersley) via “Management of corporate digital identity” – that’s mine.
I did an interview with the organisers the other day, which is now up on their site. But for those of you who don’t speak Catalan and may struggle with Google’s rather hit-and-miss translation, here are the questions/answers in English (the questions are as sent to me by the organisers, with my emailed response below each one):
Q: The corporate identity of a digital media is directly related to strategic planning and can not be based solely on knowledge of different media channels and technology. What are the guidelines of your digital presence?
A: The guidelines of our digital presence are actually based firmly in our overall editorial guidelines and ethical code. Digital is a different publishing and engagement platform, but we need to act consistently across all platforms. We try and ensure that staff understand that digital (and especially social media) presence doesn’t mean we can let standards drop (though of course we may use a different tone or approach, appropriate to a particular platform).
Q: How does the Guardian manage the involvement of its employees? Do you have a style manual?
A: As already mentioned, we have editorial codes which govern the production and publishing of content. But in terms of social media, we think it’s better to educate, inform, inspire and support staff, rather than telling them exactly how to tweet. To this end, we have an extensive social media intranet site of resources, best practice and guidelines for the use of different platforms and approaches. We regularly train and refresh training in social media activities. And we have clear guidelines for staff participation, which are very rarely required – by educating and helping people to understand the culture and norms (and what is appropriate) for each social medium, they tend to make more appropriate choices.
Q: Knowing the audience is key. How can one assess the perception the audience have of a media?
A: Our Research and Customer Insight department are very good at helping staff understand the makeup and movements of our audience on site. But on external social media platforms – like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and so on – there’s no substitute for spending time with the communities, talking and listening to them, in order to understand them better. Anthropologists might call this “participant observation”. Journalists may call it “networking”. But it’s basically just hanging out, meeting people, and paying attention. It never hurts!
Q: The Guardian has over 50 Twitter accounts. What is the purpose of this diversity, what is the approach?
A: There are two reasons why we have so many official accounts: accident, and design. The accident is really a reflection that our journalists are often early adopters in social media spaces, and several Twitter accounts were created separately by different desks (technology media, and so on) back before Twitter got popular. I’m delighted that our journalists like to experiment with emerging technologies and platforms to see whether there’s anything which might help further or enhance our journalism in them. We also noticed through this that journalists were able to engage more directly with interest groups (and vice versa), so the initial somewhat random approach was followed up by a purposeful strategy – to create a Twitter presence for every desk or section, powered by them, and engaging with a specific audience. Because that’s important to remember, too – on Twitter, people don’t have to limit the number of accounts they follow, and user feedback indicated that by following a number of relevant Guardian Twitter accounts, a user could customise the signal they were receiving, rather than having a single brand account spitting out stories so fast it clogged up their Twitterstream.
Q: “Communities must not distract people, but empower them”, you said in an interview. How can a community of readers of any media be empowered?
A: When I said that in an interview, I meant that communities already exist and have ideas, motivations and ways of working. Any media organisation (actually, any company) hoping to engage with communities would be wise to think about how it can work with those established communities, and help them do what they want to do, act as a platform or a way of extending and enhancing their activities rather than trying to get them to do something else – usually, something which suits the business, and not the individuals who make up the communities. That’s why we talk about engaging in contexts of mutual interest, for mutual benefit.
Q: Some months ago, you published that guardian.co.uk has half a million comments a month added to the website, more than 2 millions followers across all your Twitter accounts and that a study puts The Guardian top of a list of news organisations that engage readers. What is your main advice to an online media which wishes to strengthen the engagement of its readers?
A: Social media is two-way, and often companies embark on a social media strategy which puts emphasis on marketing *to* a community rather then engaging *with* it. So listen more than you talk, be prepared to learn from your audience and community members – and let that change what you do in future. That’s mutualised media.