Author: vhuth

No need to keep secrets: Engagement trumps page views

I would call it the age-old debate, but quite frankly it’s rather modern: What’s the more desirable result of social media, obtaining an audience through page views or engaging with that audience? If you think about it, we can make more in advertising revenue with more page views, and we aren’t necessarily obtaining page views simply by engaging with our followers.

If it sounds like I tried to set you up there, it’s because I did. Please allow me to make a brief tangent:

I used to hold a job in which one of my secondary duties was to manage the organization’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. It had established itself on social media shortly before I took the position, and I was encouraged to boost our following. Therefore, I used Google Analytics to strategize the best times to post our content or relevant news stories, with the ultimate goal being to drive traffic to the website.

Well, that was pretty dumb.

Toward the end of my tenure I took some J-school classes that emphasized social media, and I really started reading up on the medium. I soon discovered the importance of engaging with an audience across social media platforms; in addition to raising brand awareness, you’re going to fall behind your competitors if you don’t seek engagement.

(Humble brag: The website actually saw a 33 percent increase in page views. I’m sure there was some benefit to this, but the true value, of course, comes from audience engagement.)

However, we can track a number of different interactive metrics, far beyond page views and engagement. A couple examples include return rates and conversion success, i.e. the number of visitors who buy your company’s T-shirt.

But what about traditional journalists? They don’t sell clothing! As Meena Thiruvengadam notes, page views are certainly important, but (in addition to social shares) journalists should be more concerned with how many of those visits turn into comments on the story.

Gregory Galant does a nice job offering both perspectives on the matter, bringing up reasons why the share is perhaps overrated, such as the uncertainty as to whether someone actually read the article before sharing and, on a related note, the potential that friends/followers of the initial sharer will follow suit—it’s the domino effect. However, Galant counters with a handful of arguments in favor of the social share, one of which I believe to be the strongest in validating the share:

We do it on purpose!

That’s right, regardless of whether we mindlessly read the article or pored over every word, when we share a link we’re enabling all of our friends/followers the opportunity to engage with the material.

Page views are absolutely a valuable metric for companies, journalists and the like; however, a social share is simply worth so much more. In a way, we could think of it as a debate of quantity versus quality.

Huh, maybe it is the age-old debate after all.

Content curation: Put your own stamp on it

Storify, perhaps better than any other social media tool, allows for content curation. But given the way the service works—users gather tweets, Facebook posts and other web content to tell their stories—it begs the question: Is curation journalism?

While most content on the Internet is indeed publicly available, that does not mean all content may be used freely. Despite the fact “private” content may be uncovered, not all information legally falls within the Internet’s public domain.

I’m going to stick to Twitter for the sake of this blog post, as it’s the social media platform I see most often on Storify and the one I think offers the most to the medium.

It would not be useful limit curation to verified accounts, as that takes away one of the most unique elements of Twitter: Everyone has a voice; an Average Joe could break a story before a national reporter.

However, if you’re using a non-verified public source, be a journalist and do some digging. Check out the user’s bio and tweets to make sure it’s a real account. Staci Baird would offer the same advice.

Robert Quigley, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, compiled a series of Billy Baker’s tweets and turned them into a Storify. Here’s the thing: Save for one tweet from a boy named George, all of these tweets could be found on Baker’s timeline. The only context Quigley adds—the only “storytelling” done on his behalf, other than compiling the tweets—include a note to the fact Baker’s tweets are a follow-up to a Boston Globe story by Baker, and the link to that story.

Quigley presumably made the Storify simply to make Baker’s tweet-series story readily available in the future. I remember sitting in the library a couple months back when tweets about Baker’s story began to fill my timeline. All of them gave the same instruction: Go read the @billy_baker timeline.

So I did, and it was well worth my time. Among a number of far more meaningful takeaways, it gave me the perspective and motivation I needed to buckle down and crank out a term paper.

My academic achievement, however, is not the subject of this blog post.

Back to content curation: It is not necessarily journalism. Quigley’s Storify, as thankful as I am that he made it, is not journalism—not in my view, at least. There simply isn’t enough of Quigley’s own creation on the page for me to consider it journalism. Again, Baird’s first rule in using Storify is to offer context (http://storify.com/girljournalist/stacis-rules-for-storify).

Steve Fox’s Storify, on the other hand, features both commentary and tweets from Fox himself; the Storify provides a critique on how to report during breaking news situations.

That’s my take, but maybe I’m being too hard on Quigley. What do you think?

Obtain unique access for viral content

Viral news stories don’t do much for me. Don’t get me wrong, I feel the excitement of breaking news and the subsequent hours following developments on Twitter, but all too often it seems like these stories inevitably would have “blown up.” I don’t view them as “viral,” but simply as breaking news.

In my judgment, a viral news story is almost an accident; it wasn’t planned. Take, for example, Ylvis, who recorded their top hit, “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).” with comedic intentions.

I’d like to recall two “viral” stories—one of which occurred just last weekend—and explain why, in my judgment, only one of them is truly viral.

Marcus Smart, one of college basketball’s top players and a thought-to-be genuine guy—check out this profile of Smart, one of my favorite athlete profiles—recently shoved a front-row spectator in response to the spectator’s heckling. Naturally, the story blew up. Reporters at the arena tweeted about it, and it was immediately “SportsCenter”’s breaking news item and dominant storyline.

CJ Leslie and Will Privette, on the other hand, found themselves at the center of a truly viral story. Privette, an NC State communications student who uses a wheelchair because of leg deformities, joined his fellow classmates in storming the court after the Wolfpack knocked off top-ranked Duke in a game last January. Amid the chaos, Privette was hit and knocked out of his wheelchair.

Despite being bombarded by fans, Leslie—NC State’s star player—saw Privette on the floor. He demanded those in his path to Privette move aside, and he scooped Privette to avoid him being tampled like Mufasa in “The Lion King.”

Leslie held onto Privette—“like how you’d hold a baby”—until his wheelchair was returned and he could leave the court safely.

The difference between a truly viral story and a breaking news item depends on the storyteller’s access. Think about Brian Morrissey, whose carousel photo during the peak of Hurricane Sandy was picked up by CNN.

With the Smart story, not only were there more than 10,000 in attendance at United Spirit Arena, but the game was also televised on ESPN. Anyone watching the game, excluding the reporters whose job it is to disseminate such an event, could have contributed to the story going “viral.”

Much of the same can be said about Privette’s story in regard to the game’s attendance and its televised nature. However, perhaps only a dozen people in the student scrum saw Leslie save Privette, and even fewer captured the moment. Heck, Sholder’s photo from above didn’t even surface until two days after the game.

In order for a story to be viral, the storyteller must have unique access. It certainly helps if the story’s subject, as with Ylvis, already has a following. And the plethora of social media outlets competing for users’ content certainly helps in these sharing efforts. But without unique access, it’s just breaking news.

Social media and storytelling: navigating through the drawbacks

From the fact-gathering process to the dissemination of stories, social media has profoundly transformed journalism. We have more eyes in more places to find stories, and we have a real-time outlet through which to tell them. However, that is not to suggest these platforms do not come without drawbacks.

As Jeff Jarvis argues, no one truly owns journalists; it’s not an industry but rather an activity. While social media platforms give everyone a voice in the journalism process, they do not guarantee that all information will be true; they do not guarantee that all journalism on social media will be done “the right way.”

That does not mean only journalists may report accurate information, nor does it mean all verified Twitter accounts produce completely accurate information 100 percent of the time. For example, I spend an inordinate amount of time checking NBA trade rumors—and every now and then, the rumored trade becomes a reality—but I certainly am not shocked when a sensible rumor does not come to fruition.

Social media consumers are of course entitled to believe what they wish, but perhaps it would be smart to hold off on holding reports and rumors as legitimate until the information is verified.

(And it is the job of journalists, to whom the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics applies, to verify the facts.)

Social media has been especially useful during breaking-news situations, with slews of 140-character dispatches being sent out—often times—as the events are occurring. Reporters have an intense incentive to be the first to break the news, and ethical issues can easily arise because of this approach.

Steve Fox documented a Storify in which he and CNN’s Jake Tapper tussled during the immediate aftermath of a shooting at LAX Airport. While Fox largely is correct in his insistence for Tapper to name his source, it is important to keep in mind that these “sources” often times only exist because their identities are not divulged.

In this sense, perhaps Tapper has a legitimate reason to hide his source.

In Tapper’s situation, however, he reveals his source was an LAPD officer, which suggests this officer wasn’t some secret “source” he needed to protect. It was a shortcoming on his part not to name his source, especially after Fox brings up the issue.