Tuesday, 13 October 2009

How journalists and publishers must adapt for social media and Web 3.0

I’m delivering a course tomorrow on social media and Web 3.0 strategies for magazine brands called Developing the story, and wanted to get clear in my head the framework within which journalists and publishers must now operate.

Developing the story is about how, having created the initial story, in whatever medium, it must be developed and moved on to reach as many readers as possible in different channels. It’s about how to package and atomise news for multiple channels, and it takes as one of its starting points the view of the social media generation: “If the news is that important, it will find me”.

The other starting point is the context we are beginning to operate in: that of Web 3.0. First, let’s try to define it.

Web 1.0 was about commerce
Commerce was the driver in the early days of the web. This was the time when online institutions including Amazon and Ebay were created. There has always been content too, but it has rarely been the key driver.

Web 2.0 was about community
Community sites including Myspace and Facebook and hundreds more often niche players drove development.

Web 3.0 will be about joined-up thinking
Actually, no one can yet be entirely sure of what Web 3.0 will be like, but the simplest way of looking at developments that will shape it is to say that they bring things together.

At present you often have to go to one place for content, another for community and another for commerce. But many organisations are trying to knit the three together, and in doing so they are ushering in Web 3.0, the web of connectedness.

Let me quote from an incisive article at, which offers four pictures of the way Web 3.0 could develop. They are:

The Semantic Web
This is a web in which machines can read sites as easily as we can. The simple example PCMag gives is this: “You ask your machine to check your schedule against the schedules of all the dentists and doctors within a 10-mile radius—and it obeys.”

The 3D Web
A web you can enter, by slipping on a suitable headset. So from your armchair you can go shopping, travel geographically or through time.

The Media-Centric Web
A web where you can search not just with words but with all other media. A photograph of a favourite painting entered into a search engine brings you hundreds of similar paintings you may also like. Searches could be done with sound, video, anything.

The Pervasive Web
A Web that's everywhere. So not just your PC is online, every device you use is too. So your fridge orders the food you are running out of from the online supermarket, and checks your diary to ensure it is delivered at a time when you will be at home.

The elements that Web 3.0 brings together
For this I’m quoting from Sramana Mitra, an entrepreneur, strategy consultant and author of the technology business   She sees 3.0 as bringing together and developing everything from Web’s 1.0 and 2.0 -- content, commerce and community, or what she calls the 3Cs, and adding to it a fourth C – Context.

She says it also brings personalisation, plus vertical search. So, if you like equations it looks like this: Web 3.0 = (4C+P+VS)
Personalisation has been limited because of the lack of an appropriate context (the fourth C) within which to develop it.

Mitra says: “In Web 3.0, I predict, we are going to start seeing roll-ups. We will see a trunk that emerges from the Context, be it film (Netflix), music (iTunes), cooking/food, working women, single parents, and assembles the Web 3.0 formula that addresses the whole set of needs of a consumer in that Context.

She gives this example of how it would work:
Context:  I am a petite woman, dark skinned, dark haired, brown eyed. I have a distinct personal style, and only certain designers resonate with it.
Commerce: I want my personal SAKS Fifth Avenue which carries clothes by those designers, in my size.
Content:  I want my personal Vogue, which covers articles about that style, those designers, and other emerging ones like them.
Community: I want to exchange notes with others of my size-shape-style-psychographic and discover what else looks good. I also want the recommendation system to tell me what they’re buying.
Personalisation and vertical search: There are also some basic principles of what looks good based on skin tone, body shape, hair colour, eye colour … I want the search engine to be able to filter and match based on an algorithm that builds in this knowledge base.

What Web 3.0 means for publishers and journalists
Clearly content is still very valuable. High quality, reliable, well informed and trustworthy content will be of great value to an individual, as part of a coherent and rewarding online experience. What is vital is that we get our material into that C-for-content element of the overall package. If it’s not us but a rival, we have been left on the outside of a viable and lucrative collaborative venture. So we must develop the story we create.

Developing the story means using social networking sites and other aggregators
That’s why publishers set up YouTube channels, or Twitter their breaking news headlines. In the future, wisps of our journalism will be spun up with other pieces of information from all over the web into a very highly personalised candy floss made to suit an individual.

If you are buying a car and like Top Gear’s car reviews plus Autocar’s buyer’s guide and need to know about places near you where the car you are interested in is on sale at a discount, that material can be brought together. You could also have finance information, insurance quotes, great drives to take ­– all delivered however you want it, on your phone or PC, and in the appropriate multimedia combination of mapping, video, audio, stills and text.

What this means is that the content we produce as journalists has very many different uses. It can be cut and sliced many different ways. The one piece of information, the one sentence, that matters to an individual user gets to them, the stuff that is not relevant does not.

It means that while we are still creating well-crafted packages – be they in text, audio or video format – we are also creating material that can be broken up and repackaged.

This means our content is becoming more granular. It’s not a sugar lump, it’s grains of sugar. And its not only our material that’s becoming granular, so is the whole publishing process.

Readers are the new distributors and social media the trucks they use

Social media isn’t just a new way to push a message to potential readers via a paper’s Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. It’s also a means by which readers themselves act as distributors – sharing what they like with others.
The development of personalised news streams and how we can get our content onto them

We see the start of that in Facebook and Twitter. For our content to be found, we must get it to where the people are. The user of social media has this attitude: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

We must go to where the people are and not expect the people to come to us. So we must create content that readers want to distribute, and give them the tools that enable sharing, including Tweet this, Share on Facebook, embed this video etc etc etc.

The atomisation of the article

So another great rethink is needed, as succinctly explained in the Reinventing the Newsroom blog:
“Today the article remains the basic unit of newspapers, but the problem of context has utterly changed. Readers do still come to articles through a paper’s internal web navigation, but the much larger audience that’s being pursued finds individual articles through search, or through third-party news aggregators, or through links emailed by friends, shared on social-networking sites, or tweeted as shrunken, transformed URLs.

“The atomisation of the article is now complete...

“When it comes to devices and services, newspapers are realising that they have to go wherever readers want them to be — whether that means Facebook, Twitter or the iPhone.

“And in every case, the newspaper should offer dramatic, in-your-face branding for drive-by readers… I bet in a depressingly large number of cases, the readers won’t even have registered what site they were just on.

“I firmly believe that the long-term strategy for papers adapting to the age of digital news is to rebuild the reader communities online that they once anchored in print. But that strategy has to begin with treating readers properly whenever and however they arrive.”

Where should you go to find your reader?
That depends on your reader. Wherever they are, you must go: Fish where the fish are. You yourself must be findable, and for that you must be in the right places.

The big risk in this approach: social network sites replace search engines as the new robber barons
Jakob Nielsen says: “Websites have already lost much of their value to search engines by making them the entry-point to the web's riches. When people have questions or want to accomplish tasks, they turn to their preferred search engine — which is why search engines collect billions and content sites collect peanuts, despite the fact that they're the ones actually satisfying the users' needs.

“If websites train users to turn to a handful of SNS sites for the next level of Internet activities, history will likely repeat itself, further diluting the value of those sites that actually produce content and services.”   

The conundrum is: how much to share?

Nielsen says: “One possible approach is to feed the outside sites only broadly targeted material that might go viral and/or attract casual browsers, while keeping higher-value specialised content on your own site, including any action-orientated and need-to-know content and discussions. The broad material can then drive traffic to the specialised content, as can email newsletters and other standard tactics that foster loyalty to your own site’s services."

So how does a journalsit or publisher apply all this? Well, that depends on yout title, and your audience. There'll be a tailored solution for you, but for that you need a good tailor.

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