I’m helping organize a Poynter summit on audience engagement. (It’s Aug. 29 in New York, and you should grab one of the remaining seats!) One of the panels will look at inclusion as it relates to community work. In a planning call this week, the speakers (the amazing Anika Gupta, Andrew Haeg and Michelle Ferrier) asked questions like:
- Who are we engaging with?
- Who do we WISH we were engaging with?
- Why do we think people will want to engage with us? What would their motivation be?
- Does our interest in our communities feel authentic or self-serving?
The conversation has me chewing on some overlaps between community journalism and gaming or other niche communities.
Join me in mulling over this question: How does it feel when newbies (noobs in gaming vernacular) dive into something you know a lot about, overestimate how much they really know, mischaracterize your culture or truth and don’t seem to care or even be aware?
When people ask what I do, I can answer a lot of different ways. Engagement, after all, means a lot of things.
I found myself yesterday morning reverting to what might be my favorite description, though. In a conversation with Brian Ries, engagement editor at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, about strategies his newsroom might try, we discussed how it all comes down to invitations.
What are you inviting your users to do?
The default answer usually comes down to consumption. Most of our communication efforts with readers/listeners/viewers/followers have two things in common:
- The goal is to get as many people as possible to click/read/listen/watch the journalism we have produced.
- They efforts are not specifically targeted but instead are a mass invitation to anyone whose attention we can get.
It’s not hard to move beyond that, but it does take a shift in mindset.
Audience-focused, engaged journalism wants more than consumption. It wants participation. Criticism. Discussion. Collaboration. Empowerment.
In the past few days, I’ve consumed a lot of journalism. Some of it is the kind of information that can be found all over the place, from any number of news outlets. Is Florida in for its first tropical storm of the season? What should I know about Hillary Clinton’s email? How’s Serena doing at the French Open?
When you ask people about “journalism” or “the media” (maybe my least-favorite two words of all time), they often think first about these sorts of stories. But “journalism” and even “news” encompass so much more. People consume a lot of journalism without realizing they’re doing it, and certainly without considering the investment needed to produce it. (I wrote more about perceptions of “news” a couple of weeks ago.)
Journalists are justifiably frustrated that people don’t respect where all that information comes from. But complaining doesn’t fix the problem.
Instead, we need to do a better job communicating our value. What makes us credible sources of information? What do we offer that helps people live their lives? Why are we worth peoples’ investment of time and money? (That’s one of the questions at the core of a project I’m working on to do with using social media to build trust.)
Here’s a look at 8 pieces of journalism I’ve consumed in the last few days. Turns out “the media” have helped me understand my world, my country, my community and my family.
- Maggie Menderski at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote about a huge development being planned for a spot just 10 minutes from my house. She got the scoop at a retail conference in Las Vegas. Sending her to Nevada represents an investment of manpower and dollars on the part of my local newspaper. Don’t we want journalists keeping an eye on projects that shape our communities’ growth?
- Another Herald-Tribune reporter, Shelby Webb, took a deep dive into our local public school district’s rate of expulsions. Sarasota has a higher rate of “expulsion without educational services” than any other district in Florida. That’s a controversial fact that deserves unpacking, and doing so takes massive time. Do you want journalists telling you about how kids in your community are educated?
- Jessica Contrera at The Washington Post goes deep with the screen habits of a 13-year-old girl. I eat stories like this up because I love learning about how other people use technology. It’s vital for anyone who produces things consumed on screens. It’s also important for parents trying to keep tabs on kids’ screen use. Stories like this take so much time — finding the right family to work with, gaining trust, earning access and then spending enough time with them that you can authentically represent their lives/habits. Are you interested in journalism to help you understand other peoples’ lives and how the world is changing? (Also, this companion piece about teen jargon is hilarious.)
- Read the rest of this entry »
This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
Journalism has a marketing problem, and we’re not doing nearly enough to fix it.
What separates the work you’re doing from the rest of “the media” (my least favorite two-word phrase)? And how are you making that clear to your audience?
Over the last few months, I’ve jumped into a project looking at how social media can help journalists enhance their credibility. I’m lining up partner newsrooms to help me test some strategies, and some of those partners will experiment with how to better tell their own stories.
We can’t assume our information speaks for itself. Two recent encounters I’ve had underscored the urgency of this situation.
The first was a conversation with a neighbor. She said until she got to know me a bit, she always thought of journalists as ambulance chasers. She described the local newspaper as biased and said she didn’t really have much use for news.
She then told me how excited she was about a story she saw in the arts section that weekend and how it allowed her to make a meaningful connection with a like-minded person.
But she didn’t see that as “news” or “journalism.” It didn’t register with her that local journalists had concretely enriched her life just in the last few days.
What do we know about how trust and sharing on social media work? We know that people trust their own friends and families. They trust people who are already trusted by people they trust — much more than they trust brands.
We also know that social media is based on a culture of sharing. Users share their own lives, but they also share ideas, products and services that they find some sort of value in.
So, as you look to grow your brand’s network — to increase the number of users who trust you and have a relationship with you — it makes sense to tap into the network you already have.
Let’s explore how you might ask for the help of the people who already trust you. Can you ask them to declare their support for you? Would they be willing to encourage their friends to use you as a resource? Could you teach them to help you correct some of the world’s misinformation?
Why don’t journalists ask users more often to pass along their content? Done badly, that can be intrusive or feel like cheesy self-promotion. But done well, it can speak to a shared desire to make people smarter or an altruistic goal of getting needed information into as many hands as possible. So many informed news consumers cultivate a social identity as someone who helps keep their networks informed. How can we more strategically tap into that user goal? Social capital and influence are often used to contribute to the greater good and can contribute to more informed communities as well.
When we asked how trust is built on social media, we heard some consistent themes in interview after interview with journalists and nonjournalists.
Know who you are, know who your audience is and practice consistent, real interactions between the two parties. Be sure those interactions involve listening, reflecting back what you hear and responding.
We talked to Billy Penn’s Jim Brady while at a conference reception, over drinks and live music. He posed this question: Is your news organization up on stage like the band, or is it down on the floor with the rest of the party? Do you talk like the other partygoers talk? Do you catch on in a way that makes them want to tell their friends about you? Do you respond authentically when they talk to you?
Authenticity is key. So is consistency. Brady says it’s important to “be who you are every time you speak publicly.” (If you’re not sure who you are, revisit the first theme.) As you identify what your brand offers, share that value proposition with users. Maybe your most compelling story is independence from influence. Maybe it’s context and explanation. Maybe it’s action-oriented news.
Whatever that story is, realize you can’t fake it. Don’t sell yourself as an explainer if you’re not consistent at it. Don’t try to talk like the hip youngsters if you just don’t fit in. Like a mom at a party, it just won’t work.