Firstly I have a confession, I am also a big-headed hack and despite my provocative title I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. For hundreds of years journalists (unless they’re undercover) have relied on being big personalities to get by. Even now if you think of a news brand (i.e. The Guardian) you’ll think of their specific commentators (Charlie Brooker, Lucy Mangan). Writers and broadcasters are associated with particular ideals, the readers see them in a certain light because of the publications they work for and we consider a publication in terms of the writers it employs. It’s obvious that personal brands are incredibly influential! But it doesn’t always work in their favour.
Have you ever watched a press conference? You’ll hear a lot of this:
“Charlotte Clark here from the Essex Times”
To an outsider it sounds a little big-headed. Great your someone important, why is it relevant when you’re asking a question? Of course by saying their name they’re raising their own profile, allowing the interviewee to contact them later and it may even influence some respondents to give the journo a better response. You’re not likely to hear a journalist advocating someone elses work. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. You’ve got to provide amazing content as quickly and as on spec as possible. You’ve got to beat everyone else.
If you go to a social media conference you’re more likely to hear:
“Hi, what do you think about…”
People who work in social media understand the power of community. But now journalisms changing and hacks don’t just need to provide great content, they also need to have an all-round understanding of news and feature writing, photography, blogging and even as one News:Rewired speaker suggested, an understanding of site coding and development. It’s a tall order.
On top of this news brands are beginning to understand the power of community. According to their staff, The Times paywall for example has created a smaller but far more loyal fanbase who are willing to pay for the privilege of reading it and presumably they’re far more vocal now the brand ‘belongs’ to them. The Guardian’s community ‘Comment is free’ allows regular commentators write for them and get involved with articles. This is very clever, people share things that they’re involved with, and those who comment are more likely to have blogs and belong to social networks.
How to build a community
Like traditional journalism, building a community is partly about being the face of a brand. People respond better to people. I’ve found this in my own experiments at work, and it’s obvious with countless brands on Twitter (The Guardian’s Comment is Free account is run by the lovely Jessica Reed), no-one wants to talk to a logo. But community is also about being at the mercy of your audience. If your audience don’t like you or what you’ve got to say then you have no use.
People like to be promoted, they want to be praised and they want to feel like their contribution towards the brand they advocate is valid. Now the big-headed hacks generally don’t want to share other people’s content. They want to be top dog. But if you’re not willing to collaborate and advocate you won’t build loyalty.
As a Community Editor by trade, I’ve put together some top tips to building your own community:
- Find your niche, more specific topics draw more passionate individuals.
- It’s all about personality, both yours and that of your audience. Be nice!
- Stick to your promises. Take onboard what your audience wants and roll with the punches.
- Guest posts from real people work wonders for new reader numbers. People will bring their friends.
- Don’t replicate what’s already working out there, if you can’t come up with a new concept then support your audience wherever they already are.
- Ask your community what they want to see.
- Talk about local issues that are important to them, even if they seem trivial.
- Ask permission before using anyones comments or content, it’s only polite.
But community editors sometimes make errors too.
- Don’t publish crap content! CONTENT IS KING!
Community editors need to be great journalists too!
Ultimately it’s no good being a nice person and connecting with lots of people if they don’t engage with your content. And it’s about more than just making it appropriate for your audience. These days lots of brands are forgetting the importance of creating great content. Press releases are just rehashed sales pitched being posted all over the web. Every day I see hundreds of pre-written automated Insurance tweets that nobody is ever going to enjoy, and we all know if you don’t enjoy something you’ll definitely not share it.
Great content is now seen as that which uses appropriate ways of presenting information. A writer can use polls, photographs, infographics, videos, timelines, slideshows and interactive applications to keep the readers attention and get them involved. But great content is also well written it still needs to answer at least some of Kipling’s questions; how,who, what,where,when and why.
With so many new ways of sharing articles and news, there’s been lots of talk this year about the publishing context now being more important than content.
“We’ve arrived in a world where everyone is a content creator. And quality content is determined by context. Finding, sorting, endorsing, sharing — it’s the beginning of a new chapter.”
-Steve Rosenbaum, Content is King no longer
Publishing is now hugely accessible. I can write a blog post in minutes and instantly show it to an audience of hundreds. Popular blogs have audiences of thousands and may not even be monetised. There’s lots of crap content out there that is clouding up social networks and simply advertises brands. But some people are writing quality content simply for the love of it and what they’re getting back isn’t just money:
“The value of content has never been ethereal. It has always been directly tied to what owners could “get” for it, either through advertisers or subscribers. For content to have a value, it could never be free.”
In the noughties great content started to be spread all over the net, newspaper audiences also started dropping because the new web context made it so easier for people to access and read. Now, understanding the problem the industry faces, newspapers, like The Times are now approaching a more closed approach to compensate. They’re writing great content and providing it through channels that are accessible to a select few. But as I explained earlier, like the best bloggers what they’re getting back is loyalty, and return custom.
The Times is creating a closed niche community. They’re also creating big groups of dictators. The community has them by the balls. If the audience doesn’t like what the big-headed hacks have to say then they’ll stop subscribing. So now to be successful as well as continuing to write awesome content, every journo has to consider the community their building when they write.
Job roles have combined. It benefits community editors to write quality content like good journalists and it benefits journalists to treat their audiences like good community editors.