The Social Media Newsroom Part 4: Facilitating Conversation Elsewhere

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This is the fourth instalment in my 5-part series about Social Media Newsrooms – to read more about the series read my introductory article here.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 of this series look at some specific suggestions for things you can do to make your Newsroom social, with some good and bad examples of where other companies have done so. Today I’m having a look at how to use your newsroom to support your social channels and in part 5 I will look at how to make your content more personal.

How to use your Newsroom to encourage conversations elsewhere

Conversations don’t necessarily need to happen on your newsroom as you probably will need to moderate these comments and might not have the resource to do so. You may want, for various reasons, to actually have conversations with people elsewhere. In which case, use your newsroom as a way of directing visitors to the places where they can have a conversation with your business or individuals within it.

Example:  SEB, Erica Blomgren, Twitter

SEB have a nice newsroom (I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a “social media newsroom” though) and one thing I do like about their site is that they are open enough to show contact details for their experts across a range of subjects in the newsroom site. They give direct dials and email addresses opening the way for offline conversations to happen.  They are risking more spam and unwanted sales calls by doing this but they clearly think this is a price worth paying in the name of openness and accessibility. Credit to them for that.

When one of the experts listed is active on twitter they also show a link to their twitter profile. One expert that is using twitter on a daily basis to communicate news and opinion on her area of expertise is Erica Blomgren. What I like about the way she uses twitter is that it’s very focused, so people following her know what to expect, she posts regularly, and she is willing to respond to questions and give people answers online. Overall a great example of how to use twitter in a financial services context. Now SEB just need to encourage some of the other 50 experts to do likewise!

Example: BASF, Facebook

Now check this out for an impressive example of making the effort to respond to people!

BASF, a leading global chemical company based in Germany, has a Facebook page and they use to share stories about concrete in English. You read that right. Concrete on Facebook.

So they share the story and what happens? For a start 32 people ‘like’ the story but three people also post a comment in response. One comment is in English, one in German and one in Malay. What do BASF do?  They respond to each post in the language of poster!  Bravo.

The interesting thing here is the interaction between Facebook and the company’s newsroom. The conversation on Facebook has taken place because they posted an interesting story on their newsroom and people have responded to that. There is the possibility to comment on the article page itself but no-one has chosen to do that, preferring instead to post on Facebook.

What BASF should try and do next is bring some of these channels together more – for a start allowing people to like an article, tweet or share it is a simple win (I’m surprised this feature is missing given how well they’ve done other things) but perhaps they should also use the Facebook social plugin or a tool like Disqus to make it easier for people to respond to their articles? Maybe then they’ll truly deserve the moniker of ‘Social Media Newsroom’ that they’ve given themselves?

Now if a company as “boring” as a chemical company can post interesting content on a regular basis on their Facebook page and engage with people there, your company can probably do so too! Where there’s a will there’s a way.

In the fifth and final part of my series I will be talking about how to make your content more personal and to bring out some of the expertise of your own staff as individuals into your news content.

The Social Media Newsroom Part 3: Comments

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This is the third instalment in my 5-part series about Social Media Newsrooms – to read more about the series read my introductory article here.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 of this series will look at some specific suggestions for things you can do to make your newsroom social, with some good and bad examples of where other companies have done so.  Today I’m having a look at comments, Part 4 will be about using the newsroom to support your social channels and in part 5 I will look at how to make your content more personal.

When looking at how to bring in some two-way dialogue to a company’s newsroom one obvious place to start with is allowing members of the public, or the specific community you are targeting, to post their thoughts, comments and questions on your site in response to your news pieces, blog posts and even press releases.

However, one thing I really don’t like to see on a corporate newsroom or blog is spammy comments!  If you see a blog that has comments that are clearly spam lingering around on their site for days, weeks or even longer what does it say to you?  What it says to me is that there is clearly no-one moderating the site and probably no-one actually bothering to read what people are saying in the comments.

Comments spam and ignored questions – HP blogs

HP has a pretty-looking blog site that is actually a hub pulling together a number of blogs on various topics.

But are they really taking the comments seriously or is this just another gimmick?  Take a look at this post title “Answering your questions”.  Ironically, given the title of the post, no-one has bothered to reply to the people who posted questions in the comments in response to this post.  The last post here from “leo” is clearly spam trying to get some link juice from the HP site (and if you look around other posts you’ll find plenty of spam).  What do you conclude by looking at these comments?  HP isn’t really paying any attention to the community on their site…

Allowing comments and responding to them – Microsoft Hardware Blog

Microsoft have a vast array of blogs on a variety of topics nicely laid out with a summary of the latest posts.  Not all blogs allow comments and you do find the occasional spam but what I like about many of these blogs is that Microsoft does actually respond to the comments people post.

Microsoft Hardware Blog Imagehttp://www.microsofthardwareblog.com/we-want-your-feedback/

This shows a much more genuine attempt to use comments as a way of engaging with people through the site.

How much freedom should people be given to say what they want? Should negative comments be allowed?

This is a tricky question to answer and a lot depends on both the wider culture of a company and also on regulatory requirements.  Aside from preventing abusive posts, spam, blatant self-promotion or links to indecent or illegal content, how far a company goes in allowing people to air their views is really a matter of discretion.

One really interesting example of a company that takes a very tolerant approach to comments on their own site is General Electric.

Take a look at this post about the nuclear meltdown in Japan after the Tsunami and the role that GE played in tackling the crisis.  There are over 111 comments in response to this article, many go beyond negative and are quite damning, it doesn’t really get much worse than being blamed for a nuclear disaster, does it?

The people posting are a broad mix with some people claiming to be engineers and even nuclear experts themselves.  GE have not responded to individual comments but it is interesting to see how commentators with differing views interact with each other.

Do these posts damage GE’s reputation?  GE obviously don’t think so.  Everyone coming to the site first reads GE’s official statement and there are links to other information and posts from GE about the issue on this site.  The community that has developed on this site has also developed a degree of self-correction with individual posters correcting the most blatantly erroneous statements from other posters and there is quite a lively debate about how to tackle the nuclear problems in Japan and the pros and cons of nuclear energy more generally.

There isn’t the usual level of spam, off-topic posts or self-promotion on this site which suggests to me that someone from GE is moderating comments.  Meaning that these negative posts are not there simply because no-one has noticed.

Now the question is, would you let someone say this about your company on your blog?

Comment from a member of the public on GE Reports blog

But look also how the community on the site supply each other with information.  There are a lot of well informed commentators taking part in the discussion.

Comment in GE Reports Blog

I will be interested to hear people’s thoughts on whether such an approach is good for GE but what you can’t deny is that this is ‘social’ in a real sense and also quite ‘brave’ of GE to permit such criticism in a space they control.

In the next part of the series I will be looking at how to use your newsroom to facilitate conversations in other channels.  Thanks for reading!

The Social Media Newsroom Guide Part 2: The Golden Rules of a Social Newsroom

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This is the second instalment in my 5-part series about Social Media Newsrooms – to read more about the series read my introductory article here.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 of this series will look at some specific suggestions for things you can do to make your newsroom social, with some good and bad examples of where other companies have done so.  In Part 3 I’ll look at comments, part 4 will be about using the newsroom to support your social channels and in part 5 I will look at how to make your content more personal.

But first, here are my 3 “golden rules” about what constitutes being social in a corporate communications context:

The 3 Golden Rules of being Social in Corporate Communications

Rule 1 – Conversations must be two-way

You can use as many social media channels as you like but if the mode of communication on each channel is still only one-way broadcast are you really gaining anything?  Just posting on twitter doesn’t mean you are being social any more than being in a gym means you are exercising.

Rule 2 – Communication must be personal

Your business is made up of your people.  Your PR team is a team of people.  Do you always have to communicate behind the mask of your corporate logo?  Bring out the individuals in your business – they will often have their own networks that you can connect with through your site.  Put a name and a face to your communications as often as possible.  In order to be social you have to first of all be human.

Rule 3 – The focus is on the audience

One thing that makes ‘social’ communication distinct from traditional PR is the willingness to share content that isn’t directly aimed at promoting the brand or selling goods or services.   This can involve inviting people from outside the business to create content on your site or sharing links to content not created or related to your business.  The goal here is to create or direct people to content because you think it will be interesting to them not because it’s directly beneficial to you.

I could talk about communicating with an audience where they are but I’m focusing here on things that can make the newsroom social, not more widely on how businesses can be more social in general.

If you want more on the specifics then come back next week when I will be publishing the remaining 3 parts of the series.  Thanks for reading!

The Social Media Newsroom Guide Part 1: How to Fake it

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This is the first instalment in my 5-part series about Social Media Newsrooms – to read more about the series read my introductory article here.

Many companies want to be seen as “social” – there are now numerous case studies showing how social engagement online can be beneficial for business of many types. Certainly, many marketers and PR people want to be seen to be engaging in social media as it’s the latest thing to be seen doing as a marketing/comms professional.

But sometimes the priority can be on “appearing social” rather than actually being social and this can be seen in the way many companies approach communications through their website.  This is most apparent when you look at the company’s newsroom section – i.e. the place where they publish company news and/or press releases.

In terms of what qualifies a newsroom for the additional badge-of-honour prefix “social media” I think the recipe, in the minds of some companies, works as follows:

Step 1
Take one tired looking online press office.

Step 2
Stick in a few Facebook Like/Recommend or Tweet This buttons so people think they can share the story on their social media channel of choice. These buttons don’t actually have to work, just make sure the buttons are clearly visible. Throw in a few other channels for good measure (LinkedIn is popular, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon too and if you are really current try Google’s +1).

Step 3
Instead of hosting your videos on your site host them on YouTube. Everyone knows YouTube is “social” – don’t worry, you can disable comments if you don’t want people saying your videos are boring and your company sucks on a channel you can’t moderate.

Step 4
Make sure you put a few pictures on Flickr. Some people still use Flickr and people will instantly recognise the logo so it will create a warm fuzzy social media feeling inside.

Step 5
Tag clouds! Every web 2.0 site HAS to have one of these. They also make your site look like a blog and blogs are social, right?

Step 6
Show your latest tweets. This may be just a feed showing tweets telling people what’s on the page that they are already on or it may be a stream of tweets to various people apologising that their experience of your company has been bad and telling them to speak to customer services. Either way, twitter is super-social, so just shove it in. It doesn’t matter if the tweets you are displaying offer no information whatsoever to the person on your newsroom that they a) want and b) didn’t have access to already on that page.

Step 7 (optional)
Add some pictures. Podcasts are also funky; if you have them throw them in too. If you have some presentations, why not stick these on Slideshare too?  The more logos of recognised social media channels you can squeeze in to your site the better.

JOB DONE! You now have a “social media newsroom” which you can tell the world about.

“Social” – really?

Don’t get me wrong. Sarcastic comments aside, I’m not saying that any of the things I’ve listed above are bad – in fact many are actually good things that I would recommend. Tag clouds, for example, are a useful way for people to navigate through your content. And there’s certainly no harm in putting videos on YouTube or pictures on Flickr. Many of the self-styled “social media newsrooms” that I’ve seen are actually quite good as far as a corporate newsroom goes and often give a better user experience than newsrooms from other companies in their sector.

What I’m objecting to here is the notion that there is actually anything genuinely “social” about these sites. In my view, the self-applied moniker “social media” is often nothing more than a gimmick – reinforcing some of the more negative stereotypes about PR as a profession in general, i.e. doing something for a headline when the substance doesn’t match up.

But why do it? If a site is genuinely social do you really need to call it ‘social’?  Shouldn’t it be up to the people visiting a newsroom to decide for themselves if the site is social or not?  If they think it is they will ‘vote with their fingers’ by sharing/recommending your content and by taking part in a conversation with you.

Subscribe to our blog or follow me on twitter to get updates on my next posts in this series.

Next in the series: The 3 Golden Rules of Social Engagement in a Newsroom

The Social Media Newsroom – a 5-part Guide

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Last week I came across news of yet another corporate newsroom site launched under the headline of “company X launches social media newsroom” and I found myself again wondering, as I browsed through the site, ‘why have they called this a “social media newsroom” as opposed to just a “newsroom”’.

I’ve seen a number of examples where companies have called their corporate news site a “social media newsroom”. Some of these sites do look rather good and have some nice functionality in them, both for journalists visiting the site and for the public. But when you look through the site it is hard to find anything particularly social about it.

All of this has gotten me thinking about what exactly it is that makes a newsroom social? Are we sometimes confusing what represents best practice, in terms of web design, functionality and usability, with actual social engagement? I think we often do, as I’ve seen a number of these “social media newsrooms” receive praise from some for being groundbreaking when in fact they aren’t really doing anything social at all and it can come across as a bit of a gimmick.

So this an introduction for my guide to building a more social newsroom for your business. I’ve resisted the urge to name and shame the worst offenders when it comes to undeserved “social” badges but I will be mentioning a few examples of companies that I think do a good job of it.

Small Business vs Large Corporations

Some of the best examples of using social media in corporate communications actually come from small businesses, but my experience in working in this area mainly comes from working with large corporations. Bigger businesses have both opportunities and restrictions when it comes to engaging in social media that smaller businesses don’t have – so my focus in this series (as with all my posts) is on the larger organisations. If you have good examples from smaller businesses do please share these though!

Part 1: The Social Media Newsroom – How to Fake it

Online newsrooms of the future – Part 2

Following on from my last post, the evolution of the audience to your newsroom, along with fast growth of influential blogs and use of social media have made it essential for companies to ensure these channels work effectively, side by side.

From press release to blog

Newsrooms of the future will be conversational and more blog like in terms of allowing commenting on the content they hold. This type of conversational approach can give brands the perfect opportunity to engage firsthand with their audiences and can provide instant, valuable insight for product and service development.

Learn how to tell a story in new ways

I listened to Elma Peters, the Corporate Communications Director at GE speak at the European Communication Summit in 2010. She described “360 degree storytelling” and how, as a team, they had to get better at telling stories to help GE engage with the audiences which lie outside mainstream media (including employees past and present).

She also spoke of the challenge laid down to them by their VP of Global Communications “to make one major announcement which doesn’t come from a press release.”

Forward thinking companies like GE have already realised the need to diversify – how often do you watch TV whilst surfing the net or posting to your social media channel of choice?

Give your newsroom some authority in your industry

Newsrooms of the future will pull in news from around their industry to help establish them as hubs of industry knowledge. The ISC Newsroom as quoted on David Henderson’s blog is a great example of this type of authoritative brand positioning.

Make clever use of social media

The exposure brands receive on social media can be leveraged on online newsrooms to enhance user experience. Sony’s Press Centre was redesigned to make better use of the vast exposure which they receive around their products on social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

Bringing in user generated content to their online newsroom really helps Sony to bring their content to life by adding the voice of their consumers and fans to content they created.

What’s important is that you start with your business objectives in mind, then you get creative.

Sam