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Coverage of SMW12: Socializing the News


Who

Moderated by Peter Himler – President — Publicity Club of New York
With Panelists:
Anthony De Rosa — Social Media Editor, Thomson Reuters
Craig Kanalley — Social Media Editor, NBC News
Elizabeth Heron — Social Media Editor, The New York Times
Jake Porway — Data Scientist, The New York Times
Mat Yurow — Social Media Producer, Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek
Steve Krakauer– Senior Digital Producer, CNN/U.S

What

The Socializing the News luncheon began with Publicity Club of New York’s President, Peter Himler introducing Jake Porway, the Data Scientist at The New York Times’ Research & Development Labs to demonstrate his company’s Cascade app, which I must say is likely the most *beautiful* tool presented during Social Media Week 2012.

Project Cascade goes beyond the two dimensional graphs most companies currently use. It’s a three dimensional representation of how news is shared and how it spreads. The app uses data from the New York Times website and Twitter, well-worn territory but and it adds a key element: information from bit.ly, the URL shortener. By working with bit.ly, staff were able to see when New York Times links were shortened or expanded. Altogether, a full tapestry is exposed: Read; Share; Engage.

Person 1 browses the NYT site, reads an article of interest, uses bit.ly to shorten the URL, shares on Twitter; Person 2 clicks on the  bit.ly link, expands the URL to read the story; Engagement via returning to the NYT website, retweets and conversation. A very powerful data set emerges from these actions. Using the tool developed at the NYT, researchers can see the cascade of events which happens whenever someone tweets one of their news stories.

Project Cascade shows all the sharing behavior based on a tweet. All the layers of retweets. The echo effect across Twitter. The degrees of separation from the original tweeter. Analysts can see the reach of an article by seeing how tall the graph gets, built by layers of retweets. They can also see when others enter and leave a conversation, streaming over time. Consequently, they can also pinpoint influence by large spikes in the data. Who are key players and what are they saying? The app allows analysts to understand the nature of a tweet and how it spreads by looking at the backbone of influential people. Does it help when someone asks a question or adds their thoughts? Do they use a certain hashtag? How does conversation evolve? On which branch do people enter the tapestry? How do things change over time? Using the tool, analysts have quantifiable data to ask questions like “When is the best time to tweet?” They can test the hypothesis and see what works best. They can see who are consistently bringing people back to the site. Which articles are likely to spread and why. What are the sections which affect the flow of conversation? How do journalists become a part of the conversation? Should we retweet ourselves? Should stories be managed or should they be allowed to grow organically? Now, all these questions can be looked at because Project Cascade offers a lens into what is happening in social media.

But Socializing the News wasn’t all apps. Steve Krakauer shared on how social media has a real impact on what companies do. What happens on the digital space translates into more viewers on CNN. Now, the question is how to harness that. Piers Morgan is a great example of how Twitter can build a brand. He is a personality with a strong following. And it really is Piers who tweets. Google+ doesn’t have a good metric or analytics system, yet, and it hasn’t opened up the same way Facebook and Twitter have. For those reasons, people hesitate.  For big organizations to consider Google+, it will have to show more of the back end data. With Facebook and Twitter, you can have a community where you can hit people with what they are interested in. Cultivating a community that already exists is almost as important as reaching out to new people. But most important is people clicking on links, replying, retweeting and commenting, more so than follower numbers or likes.

Mat Yurow joined the dialogue, offering his perspective from Bloomberg. Bloomberg‘s wire service is its main source of revenue. In a world where Twitter is becoming the source for breaking news, how does a company balance service offerings which are free v. charged? Mobile apps have been optimized for sharing and discussion and that is where the organic growth will happen. At the moment, it’s about building a following. Each social network has its own strengths, and those strengths are primed to be taken advantage of.

His company has found that it gets much more traffic from Facebook and people spend three times as much time reading articles on the site, as opposed to the traffic from Twitter, while LinkedIn is used by reporters to find leads. Play the slow game and build relationships. There are few tools better at relationship building than Twitter. Social media editors are responsible for building their credibility and clout to make people listen to what is being said; PR people are responsible for checking-in periodically even when they are not pushing or selling a story. Become a familiar face on a journalist’s timeline, and journalists will be much more willing to respond.

Yurow instructed attendees to find a way to add value to your followers, and play to the vanity of people. Mention them in a newsletter, and then let them know they have been included. Send out tweets at different times, depending on when people read. Understand your audience and find out when you can offer most value.  Consider scheduling tweets to post at night or on the weekends because social sites may be blocked at your followers’ workplace. Don’t lose your audience because they are not able to be at a desk when you are.

Then the New York Times’ Elizabeth Heron offered her views. On Twitter, the company uses the main @NYT account to break news. However, each desk has its own account and is responsible for its own social media strategy, so things don’t need to be completely centralized. “Hashtag Science” is used to create short hashtags which clearly identify the story and invite people to contribute. For example, #iEconomy to discuss how Apple is affecting the economy; how does Apple differ from other major companies that manufacture in China; do factory conditions affect people’s choice to buy iPhones?

To give readers access to journalists, the New York Times also holds live chats on Facebook, as well as on Google+ hangouts. The company likes to give direct access to reporters who work on series. And this international contingent of reporters is great for crowdsourcing. NYT considers the journalistic value of social media. It’s difficult to quantify, but if the company finds sources it would not have found otherwise or it’s able to cover breaking news more comprehensively, then it is significant. On the business side, the company cares about referral traffic. Engagement metrics are much more important than number of followers.

Craig Kanalley expounded on the role of the social media editor: to tell stories. Carve a niche and innovate to use social media creatively. There are endless possibilities. It’s also part of the employee’s responsibility to break out of a Twitter Monkey role. Engage journalists on Twitter by offering timely information.

Keep in mind that Pinterest is sustainable because it appeals to the mainstream audience, not the tech-geeky crowd. Finally, it’s better to post in real time in possible. Scheduling tweets can make you look outdated if not done correctly, so be careful.

The panel concluded with Anthony De Rosa. He stated that in order to be the place where people go for news, you should be the beacon for all news – it makes you valuable. You shouldn’t feel like you can only report those stories coming from your newsroom. However, make sure to validate; due diligence is necessary. Be a megaphone for your own content, but also act as a curator so you’re the central source for everything. The difference between social media and headlines is that you don’t have to be as literal with the former. Social media writers are aiming to grab attention rather than gain the SEO system. Ride the line of interesting and engaging, but don’t mislead.

Pinterest popped up again as a great distribution channel for videos, and LinkedIn was positioned as good for gathering information because it allows users to filter others by who people are: which companies do they work for and which positions do they hold? Listen on LinkedIn. This function doesn’t exist natively on Twitter, but can be maximized on LinkedIn.

Peter Himler helped us end the event by pointing us to MuckRack, which tracks thousands of journalists on Twitter and social media.

At the end of the event, I walked away feeling like I had a great sense of the myriad ways the news can get social and how companies are doing it.

 


Lisa Chau
 has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. In 2012, she launched GothamGreen212 to pursue social media strategy projects. You can follow her on twitter.

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