Live Journalism 101: Driving Audience in the Age of Web Now

Spend Your Time Where Your Audience Is

It may seem obvious, but when you’re scrambling to report on breaking news, it is easy to forget about your audience. In the age of Facebook and Twitter where you make a post, and your number of followers has a bunch of zeroes at the end, it really feels like when you say something, people listen.

Of course, the reality is that everyone thinks that and the signal-to-noise ratio swallows a lot of signal. Say you have 5,000 followers when you make a tweet about a breaking news story. How many of those 5,000 are online right then (especially if you have followers in other time zones), with TweetDeck open, and not in the middle of something? That 5,000 can dwindle down to dozens. Now compare the reach of that 140 character message (minus 20 for the link), to a typical news site with thousands of actively engaged visitors a minute. It’s clear where the time should be spent.

Web 2.0 is Dead. Long live Web Now.

A story’s breaking. You’ve gotten into your live journalism platform. You’ve posted the greatest content of all-time. But did anyone see it?

In the Web 2.0 world, when you wrote an article, a complex system of connections between companies would take care of promoting it for you. Google would index it. Your RSS feeds would send it to peoples’ readers. It would be Dugg and Redditted and delished. It worked like a charm, but how long did it take?

The most important part of live journalism is the first part: live. The story is breaking, you have the news that people want, and you need to get it out immediately. Live journalism is about Web Now. It’s the type of journalism that the new generation of visitors are looking for. There may be spelling mistakes and there may be corrections later on, but it’s live and it’s engaging.

Promoting your live article is all about making sure you have the distribution channels ready to go ahead of time, and they are ones that you control. You can’t be scrambling to find the password to a Twitter account when your audience is out there looking for your story. The most successful live articles I have ever seen on ScribbleLive find their audience within the first 10 minutes of their event. And for all the social media seeding tools out there, the best ways to drive an audience are the most old fashion: put a call-out on your home page, tell your friends via the social networks, and throw to the URL on-air. There’s no magic to it; if your content is engaging, your audience will follow the path and stick around. But if you don’t give them the path to follow, they’ll wander somewhere else.

Don’t Overdo It

If you’ve gone to all the trouble of getting people to bookmark your home page, follow you on Twitter, or subscribe to your RSS feed, you don’t want to tick-them-off by bombarding them with an event they don’t care about.

The worst example is probably “live tweeting.” We’ve all had a friend or co-worker that went to their first conference/music festival/vacation/etc. after getting Twitter, and you heard about it every 5 minutes for days. Imagine what your followers’ timeline would look like with Twitter. Facebook just gives up after a while and starts hiding all but the first status update. Either way, after the first few messages everyone who would be the least bit interested would have clicked on your link (you are promoting something, right?) and would have tuned-out.

A much better way is to only post your best stuff to the social networks; the most engaging content you have. Make one post to tell people you are covering the event, with a link back to your live article. When something big happens, post again. It could breaking news, or just a great quote. Either way, as you send out pieces of great content to your followers, even the people who weren’t interested initially will start to take notice, instead of being annoyed. In the end, less posts can mean more traffic on your site (and more revenue).

Be Realistic

At the end of the day, it comes down to being realistic about your audience. In the age of social media, I often hear that success cannot be measured. Although it’s true that metrics like page-views are increasingly becoming obsolete with live journalism platforms that don’t refresh your page, we have to be realistic about the reach of a social media account versus a website. If you are running a news property, your words will almost always reach the greatest audience on your website because that is where the audience already is. If you make sure they know your great content is there (without overdoing it), you can drive a new level of engagement with your readers, and establish your presence in the live journalism media landscape.

(Photo by Christian Beirle González)

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