Are you in a newsroom right now? Take a look at your social media team. What are they doing Most likely, they’re posting stories from your staff on Twitter and Facebook. They’re checking Google Analytics or Parse.ly or Chartbeat to see if those links are successfully penetrating the fickle social media universe. They’re explaining to another young reporter why she needs to change the name on her Twitter account to, well, anything else but @FoxyGrrrl15.
Previous research has shown that researchers’ active participation on Twitter can be a powerful way of promoting and disseminating academic outputs and improving the prospects of increased citations. But does the same hold true for the presence of academic journals on Twitter? José Luis Ortega examined the role of 350 scholarly journals, analysing how their articles were tweeted and cited. Findings reveal that articles from those journals that have their own individual Twitter handle are more tweeted about than articles from journals whose only Twitter presence is through a scientific society or publisher account. Articles published in journals with any sort of Twitter presence also receive more citations than those published in journals with no Twitter presence.
Across all 9 countries, 40% say that the news media does a good job in helping them distinguish fact from fiction, but just 24% say the same of social media. See chart for most common reasons given for each attitude.
About 15 years ago, a social media network called “Friendster” launched. It was a forum where people of similar interests could communicate and share ideas. Since then, networking sites have blossomed. In 2003, “LinkedIn” launched and now it has nearly 300 million members. During that same period, other social media sites, such as “Facebook” and “Twitter,”…
Listening to audiences is a practice that’s gotten lost in the crush of heavy workloads and small staffs. From the American Press Institute’s Manager study: “Notably, only one-fifth said that ‘news is a two-way conversation.’ This may reflect a lack of enthusiasm towards comments on news sites, or other forms of audience interaction, such as through social media. Or perhaps it simply ranks as a lesser benefit in the eyes of media workers, even as news organizations and philanthropic foundations emphasize its importance. Continue reading “Engaging your audiences (even the difficult ones): More ideas from the experts”
First, our definition of the “social media team.” The people handling social media in newsrooms might not strictly be a “team” and might be called something else — “social engagement” or “audience development,” for instance. These teams might be comprised of one full-time person or a number of people who also have other newsroom duties. For expediency, we’re using the term “social media team” generically in this report. Continue reading “Social media teams today: A summary of what we learned”
Facebook is testing radically different Explore Feed in six countries than in the rest of the world.
Facebook Explore Feed is rolling out globally this week. Most people around the world can see it in their bookmarks and they can discover new content here. But in Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia it works differently: all posts by pages are moved from newsfeed to Explore Feed. In main newsfeed are now just friend and sponsored posts. Yes, you log into Facebook and you can see only posts from your friends and ads. You have to click on Explore Feed to see posts from pages you follow.
Facebook kicked off a test in six countries where it moved all Facebook Page posts from the News Feed to its new Explore Feed. It showed us that there are some things the media need not fear. When you post something on your Facebook Page and you see that it has achieved a reach of 10,000, 50,000 or 500,000, you feel like something big is happening. But it’s not necessarily true. And when something on Facebook changes and all your numbers fall by 50% the next day, you feel like something terrible is happening. But this is also not necessarily true. In recent days, the Slovak media have had a unique experience, which journalists in the rest of the world haven’t. They know what it feels like to see their reach and interactions on their Facebook Pages fall dramatically. They had a feeling that this day would come and were apprehensive, but they’re finding out that there was no reason to be afraid.
Our editors reveal how they crunch smart analysis for a young audience
Printed copies of The Economist have been landing on doormats every week since 1843. For the past year, our sharp analysis has been appearing on a certain yellow smartphone app once a week too.
Having launched on Snapchat Discover in October 2016, we have published more than 50 editions, on everything from the threat posed by North Korea to the possibility of alien life to the legalisation of drugs.
Snapchat gives The Economist something most publishers are hungry for in today’s media environment: an audience of young, mobile-first consumers of news and analysis. The Snapchat audience is also large: each month an average of 7.1m users visit The Economist’s Snapchat channel.
The most popular edition so far, “How Well Do You Know Your Presidents?”, which coincided with Donald Trump’s inauguration, reached more readers in a week than Economist.com does in a month. Overall, launching on Snapchat has resulted in “the biggest step-change in the audience of The Economist since 1843,” says Tom Standage, deputy editor and head of digital strategy.
The edition pegged to Trump’s inauguration embodied much of what The Economist’s Snapchat team hopes to achieve, says Lucy Rohr, the paper’s Snapchat editor. One aim is to be what Ms Rohr calls a “trusted filter” that provides analysis and context around a news event. The edition on the inauguration focused not so much on Trump, but on the institution of the presidency and on previous holders of the office.
Choosing a topic for the weekly edition requires careful consideration as Ms Rohr has to be sure that The Economist has enough analysis on a subject to be able to fill an edition — and smartly. “Plenty of what we do can’t be readily translated into a ‘Snappy’ format. We have to take the time to really think about each edition and each snap and how to do it best,” says Ms Rohr. That can also mean creating original content, specifically for the platform.
Striking the right tone is one of the most difficult tasks for the Snapchat team, whose five members are on both sides of the Atlantic. “It’s something we think about in every edition,” says Ms Rohr. Balancing the rigorous analysis of The Economist with the playfulness of Snapchat takes time and is “definitely a challenge”, according to Ms Rohr. Her team must condense large amounts of reporting from the paper into a medium that is not only finishable, concise and elegant — like the paper — but also fun and interactive.
Once the topic is chosen, how does a Snapchat edition come together? After gathering material from the archives and doing more research where needed, a script is written. A Snapchat script is broken down into at least 14 snaps, with words and visual ideas for each, plus links to the articles that might be added as content that the user swipes up to read. Editors, designers and animators then build all the visuals to produce the edition. Articles are fact-checked by the research department and updated where necessary, consulting with other editors when needed to ensure consistency with the paper’s editorial line.
Snapchat’s audience is young. But the idea of giving young people what we think they want is not the guiding philosophy of Ms Rohr’s team. Publishers who talk down to the audience, she says, will be punished by poor engagement. “The readers are smart, they are interested and they always want to know more, so it’s a really amazing opportunity as a producer and journalist to serve this group,” she says.
People familiar with The Economist are often surprised to hear that the paper is on Snapchat. But is it really so surprising? The team has found its audience to be forward-looking, globally curious and highly engaged with liberal causes. “So The Economist is actually pretty well aligned,” says Ms Rohr.
Matteo Moschella is a social media fellow at The Economist.
What The Economist learned in its first year on Snapchat Discover was originally published in The Economist on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
The relationship between media outlets and social platforms like Twitter has always been tense. On some level, publishers know they have to be on social media, because that’s where the news happens, and it’s also where content gets shared—but at the same time, they are afraid of what might happen if reporters and editors speak […]
The session started with a presentation from Brett Butliere, who asked: Are more tweeted papers and topics also more contradicted? Brett and his collaborators had conducted a study of over 160,000 tweets about research outputs to determine whether or not research that promoted controversy resulted in more attention – a trend that he noted could potentially be seen in the Altmetric Top 100 lists every year. Amongst the topics most often Tweeted about were things like the dinosaurs and obesity – certainly areas that many people have opinions on. The research team concluded that there was some statistical evidence of their hypothesis, but noted that more research would need to be done and that different methods could also be explored.
Next up was Zohreh Zahedi, who was presenting her research that looks at the imbalanced use of social media across different countries. Zohreh conducted a cross-country analysis of Twitter uses to see whether tweeting about research was ore prevalent in certain countries, and the extent to which people tweeted about authors with affiliations in the same country as the tweeter themselves. Zohreh found some fairly significant differences: although an increasing amount of research comes from China, Russia, South America and India, the majority of twitter activity still takes place in the US and UK, and focuses on research from those countries. She summarized by highlighting that we need to be careful to bear these differences in mid when considering what constitutes ‘high’ vs. ‘low’ amounts of attention, and questioned whether we are in danger of creating an ‘altmetrics divide’.
Fereshteh Didegah then shared some really interesting results from a study which looked at the quality of interactions and engagement around research articles on Twitter. Using 250 articles and their 8,000 associated Tweets, Fereshteh and her team classified engagement into 3 categories: dissemination, consultation and evaluation.
The research team also explored issues of false popularity, including harassment and clone accounts, in detail – trying to understand some of the causes behind them and the resulting effect. Overall, the research found that there are a broad array of people involved in discussions about science on Twitter – and that the majority of it focuses on simply sharing rather than adding any meaningful commentary.
‘Making piracy fun’ became the (perhaps unintended) tag-line of the next talk, where Tim Bowman discussed the results that came from analyzing the use of the #icanhazpdf hashtag. The study aimed to understand what percentage of tweets were requesting documents that were behind a paywall, and what other conversations were taking place around that. By pulling in and matching data from a variety of sources, Tim was able to identify some interesting interactions – including a relatively substantial number of people requesting papers that were in fact already open access. Further digging into the data revealed people using the hashtag to advertise their access to full text content as a service to others, and many librarians seeking to find alternative ways to deliver to the needs of the researchers. Use of the hasthag has become so widespread, Tim noted, that social ‘norms’ have emerged – such as deleting the request Tweet as soon as the paper had been received. These norms provide a ‘frame’ for people to normalize their subversive sharing activity.
Last up was Rodrigo Costas, who has been doing some really exciting work to improve the way we identify scholars on Twitter. Rodrigo matched article records from Web of Science with attention data from Altmetric to identify researcher Twitter accounts (pointing out the limitations of this along the way – there are many researchers on Twitter who have never shared a paper and therefore do not appear in the Altmetric database) and then cross-referencing those accounts with ORCID records to validate the identify of each Tweeter. Rodrigo found over 387,000 scholars with a Twitter account, and was confident of a 94% accuracy amongst those based on the ORCID validation. What makes this research so exciting, Rodrigo posed, is not necessarily what has been done so far but the potential to expand from here: if we are able to better identify researchers in social spaces then we can start to look in more depth at not just how they share papers, but how they communicate and engage on social networks in general, and what that might mean for their field.
This was a brilliant session brimming with insights and ideas for further investigation – do get in touch with the authors if you have more to discuss (via Twitter, of course ;))
Media agenda-setting theory assumes the public receive news from a limited set of sources and that this encourages a shared agenda. In the digital age, however, there are now multiple channels and sources, allowing individuals to construct their own, personalised agenda.
The growing number of information channels, each with fewer readers, is dividing audiences.
Increasing fragmentation has been compounded by the way individuals access news: as the number of news sources increases, audiences use technologies to filter and customise access to information, according to personal likes and interests.
So, who sets the agenda in the digital age? The audience or the media?
Just over 20 years ago, Nicholas Negroponte, MIT Media Lab founder, suggested the concept of ‘Daily Me’: a computer screen with news and a button that, like a volume control, would allow the user to increase or decrease personalisation. Other controls could include a slider that moves both literally and politically from left to right to modify stories about public affairs.
The same idea gives the critical tone to the recent Republic.com 2.0, a book in which Cass R. Sunstein assumes that technology has greatly increased people’s ability to ‘filter’ what they want to read, see and hear.
With the help of the internet, we are able to design our own newspapers and magazines. We can make our own schedule, featuring the movies, games, sports, shopping and news programmes of our choice. We mix and match. When the power to filter is unlimited, people can decide, in advance and with perfect precision, what they will and will not find.
Many examples demonstrate that the media market follows this direction.
Digital newspapers encourage levels of personalisation that result in the creation of the reader’s own, individualised version of the newspaper, with the promise that it will contain exactly what concerns him and exclude everything that does not.
Other applications enable sites to automatically display information which, based on observation of the user’s previous habits, seems to be the most relevant. The same logic goes through television recording devices or radio subscription systems in RSS – the idea of control and personalisation of the agenda.
… or the media?
Another line of understanding continues giving the mainstream media a determining power in setting the agenda. Some of the arguments supporting this interpretation start from one of the promoters of the classical hypothesis of agenda-setting. In 2005, at a time when the impact of the internet was beginning to be felt, Maxwell McCombs, of the University of Texas, made the implementation of the previous proposals depend on two conditions, yet to be empirically validated.
The first refers to the number of people who frequent sites searching for information. If the classic media agenda-setting function tends to be diluted as the audience begins to distribute attention through the vast array of subjects available on the internet, the question is whether an audience so wide and fragmented can be said to exist at all.
The second condition is perhaps more difficult to achieve: online information agendas would need to be quite different from each other, as opposed to the relatively redundant agendas of traditional media.
Studies comparing the audience of the most-read paper journals with the most-consulted information sites showed that attention on the Web is even more concentrated than in the printed world. They also showed that many online sources are subsidiaries of traditional media sources, resulting in redundancy between the agendas of the two environments.
The citizen’s agenda?
Let us consider social media. Through the involvement of a large number of users, it is possible to create an agenda of themes alternative to those selected by mainstream media editors. The agenda-setting role played by YouTube, Facebook and Twitter has often been described in recent years, especially after the protests following the Iranian elections in 2009, (also dubbed the Twitter Revolution). In most cases, those are stories first brought by new media, then contextualized and validated by mainstream media.
In any case, imposing the re-evaluation of the agenda-setting concept.
This re-evaluation needs to consider that the gatekeeping function is now largely shared with media users, who furthermore aggregate and curate the information they consume. In Jim Hall‘s expression, they construct their own informative “diet”.
The result of this process has (or rather shares) the risks associated with much of the communication through the new media. Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of the digital news portal BuzzFeed, recently denounced our tendency to live in filter bubbles, especially through our activities on social media. Anyone who works with information, he says, has spent the past year observing how social media affect people’s opinions about the world, and how they can close this world to dissenting opinions.
The return to the necessary social glue
The past clearly reveals the damage caused by the old agenda-setting operators, relentless in refusing arguments they considered outside the mainstream or political consensus. It is possible today to notice how the absence of a minimum standard of discursive order hinders, in a different way, the inter-comprehension and the understanding of questions of common interest. Diversity and plurality are conditions for the proper functioning of the civic life. They were precisely two of the values socially institutionalised by journalism, which social media seems to be threatening.
A multiplicity of fragmented agendas will not result in a platform for political discussion.
Without common experiences and concerns, a heterogeneous society will have much more difficulty identifying and responding to social problems. As Sunstein points out, it is these shared experiences, including those made possible by the media, which provide the social glue. As a result, a communication system that radically reduces the number of such experiences will create the conditions for the emergence of all the problems that result from social fragmentation.
In recent times, we have heard a lot about them. At stake is the emergence of a virtual pseudo-community that replaces the real community. Whether such dangers will materialise will ultimately depend on the aspirations that, on democratic terms, organise our practices.
Pic credit: Evan, The Beginning, Flickr CC licence
How we’ve changed our approach over the past two years
Anyone who reads Severe Contest will notice that our social-media team has evolved over the past two years.
Our overarching goal of increasing awareness and ultimately paid readership among globally curious people has not fundamentally changed. But how we achieve this mission has — and continues to do so.
The main reason is because the platforms where we distribute our content are also rapidly changing. Whether it’s a tweak to their complex algorithms or slower user growth, we have to respond accordingly.
Does this mean that we dive enthusiastically into every new product launch or platform? Quite the opposite; we strive to be disciplined about saying “yes” only to the ideas we believe will help us achieve our goals and asking “why?” to help us stay focused on the right things. That means being open to experimentation, but setting a hard deadline and killing a project if it fails to meet expectations.
There’s another reason we constantly fine-tune our approach: tactics that worked yesterday may no longer be as effective today. For example, we have realised that focusing solely on social media distribution — and expanding our reach — is not the most optimal use of our time.
We need to strike a healthy balance between striving to reach more readers across platforms over which we have zero control, with bringing them back onto the platforms over which we do have control, such as our apps and website.
To that end, here’s how we’ve changed our approach over the past year:
We’re diversifying our sources of traffic
When we expanded the social media team in the summer of 2015, our short-term goal was to post more, catch up with rivals and remind the world that we exist. However, we ended up devoting too much time to churning tweets that few people read.
So we focused instead on producing high-quality social-media content, such as “vimages”, shareable video and other new formats, as well as resurfacing evergreens and coordinating across departments to give important events a big push.
We’ve achieved huge success so far, with social media helping to drive record engagements and traffic to economist.com this year.
Yet an over-reliance on social media can leave us particularly vulnerable to sudden changes by platforms. Ultimately, we want people who find us on social media to come back to our website and apps, and to spend more time there.
That’s why we’ve diversified our sources of traffic by focusing more on app push notifications and newsletters. Since January, our team has been experimenting with different types of push notifications to figure out what works. We’re also beta-testing and preparing to launch a new newsletter later this year. (Details to come!)
We’re interacting more with readers
For some time, our team focused mostly on reaching new audiences across social media platforms by publishing as much content as possible. Over the past year, we’ve invested more time and resources into engaging with readers on economist.com and elsewhere, because these are the types of activities we believe will help build loyalty and hopefully encourage readers to subscribe.
On Medium, we launched Inside The Economist and Correspondent’s Notebook to help readers understand the people and processes behind the red and white logo. At a time when Americans’ trust in mainstream media has fallen to an all-time low, we think that these series can help improve transparency and bring us closer to readers.
Similarly, Quora has proven to be an effective way of connecting our biggest fans with The Economist’s correspondents and editors — and at a much deeper level than on other social media platforms. The breadth and specificity of questions suggest that readers want to better understand how we do journalism. Our Quora Q&A with Idrees Kahloon, a data journalist, generated more than 4m views.
Building on these initiatives, we’ve also just launched a Facebook group for readers who want to debate American politics in a civil environment. My colleague Adam Smith outlines how it works here.
On Economist.com, work is under way to apply some of the lessons we’ve gathered on Medium and Quora, with the ultimate goal of creating a space for the kind of high-quality conversations The Economist is famous for.
We’re aligning our efforts with the marketing teams to get more readers to subscribe
No longer do editorial and commercial folks avoid talking to each other. We now work with the marketing teams daily to identify the types of content and formats that resonate with our most engaged social-media fans, and to target them with subscription messages.
We supplement these efforts with campaigns around a particular topic (e.g. Oceans, Future of Work and Pride & Prejudice) to raise awareness of the stories readers may not know we covered.
We’re thinking more holistically about metrics and shifting away from vanity ones
The Economist has more than 40m social media followers, but what does that actually mean in terms of their propensity to engage with and subscribe to our publication? Not much.
We’re more interested in driving high-quality engagements and traffic, and trying to hone in on the behaviours — bounce rate, articles read, retention and time spent — that lead people to ultimately become loyal fans and subscribers. For us, reach is a meaningless metric if it does not translate into anything concrete.
These are the questions we ask daily:
What is the most common journey from social media to becoming a subscriber? What are the characteristics of a reader who is likely to subscribe? What types of content do they engage with most?
What’s next? You tell us
For the rest of this year, we plan to double-down on some of these initiatives. As usual, we’re keen to hear our readers’ thoughts: where do you think we should take our team? What are some ideas (beyond social media) we should explore? How might we create more meaningful relationships with readers? Let us know in the comments below.
Denise Law is community editor at The Economist.
The evolution of The Economist’s social media team was originally published in Severe Contest on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.