Here in the news business, we tend to work in the realm of reported and verified facts. The news stories on our Digital First Media sites have been reported by local journalists, edited by local editors and placed online according to their immediacy and significance.
On the flip side of this, a lot of our readers are increasingly turning toward social media to find their news, using services like Twitter to surface information they haven’t seen anywhere else yet. This news may or may not be verified, but it is immediate, it spreads fast and it provides the latest info from all corners of our community and the world in one spot.
It’s with that in mind that Digital First Media teamed up with Netherlands-based CrowdyNews to build the Social Media Wire, a tool that allows readers to quickly browse news from a variety of sources, including social media, without leaving our sites. Using the local knowledge of DFM staff, we can provide relevant, near real-time news about our communities to readers regardless of whether they personally use social media.
Since I joined the company last spring, I’ve been passionate about this project. You might say I have a bit of history with the Social Media Wire. It actually started as a product idea at TBD, a local news start-up where I used to work with a few familiar names at DFM (like Jim Brady and Steve Buttry). I was excited to have the opportunity to help build it with CrowdyNews and to help local sites get it off the ground.
Back in August, we first launched the Social Media Wire on the New Haven Register‘s site. The local staff in New Haven compiled the RSS feeds of local news sites and blogs and Twitter and YouTube accounts from a variety of community, news and local institutional sources. These streams of information now flow in to Social Media Wire widgets on their home page, section fronts, article pages and a full-screen version.
In the months that followed, the Wire launched to all daily and weekly Journal Register sites, spanning Connecticut, Pennslyvania, Ohio, Michigan and New York. Last week, it made its first appearance in the MediaNews Group at the San Jose Mercury News. Many more DFM sites across the country are set to launch in the coming months.
In these early months of developing the Social Media Wire for each site, we’ve learned a few things from the page statistics and the observations of our staff:
1. Readers are using this tool to skim the news. They are clicking between the topic areas in each widget to see the latest news and pausing the streams to see more information. While we may have the Twitter accounts and RSS feeds from our competitors in these streams, our readers aren’t leaving our site to read these sources from the Social Media Wire. Click-outs from the social streams seem to be pretty small in number so far, meaning that readers are skimming the news, but are not necessarily leaving to read more about it.
2. The sites who put the most work in at the beginning have the best results. I may travel a lot, but I don’t know every community as well as its local journalists, so I’m not the best person to determine what should go into each site’s Social Media Wire. The journalists who dedicated time to finding and compiling a lot of RSS feeds and social media accounts for local, regional and state-wide news tend to have the best Social Media Wire widgets. Lots of sources mean the stream is always up-to-date, always moving and always has something interesting for the readers.
3. Local topics add local interest. Aside from the usual news, sports, lifestyle, etc. topics, we can build any kind of topic area into a Social Media Wire widget so long as a local site has enough sources to fuel it. Maybe it’s a topic specifically for news from the local university, a staff Twitter list, a specific sporting event, a Left/Right breakdown of politics news or a topic especially for outdoors enthusiasts (coming soon on the Colorado sites). If you have an idea, you can build it in no time.
4. The widgets can use a little tweaking over time. It takes time to know if a local website, blog or Twitter account is really suitable for our streams, sometimes we want to remove accounts or add new ones that pop up. Every site has local control over every stream and widget in the Social Media Wire dashboard to make these edits as they see fit. Also, as CrowdyNews adds new features, we can add new sources to make the streams even more robust.
5. Local feedback matters – a lot. CrowdyNews has been extremely helpful in building in new features and fixes suggested by our local journalists over the past few months. If you have a suggestion as to how this tool could work better, let me know. You might see it in the next edition.
Since the Social Media Wire first launched, there have been a lot of changes to improve the experience for readers and our staff, such as:
- Added support for Instagram and Flickr tags. If your local community uses either of these photo-sharing sites and uses common tags to identify them (like SantaCruz, CMU, Phillies, etc.), we can pull these into our topic streams.
- Added support for YouTube playlists (in addition to Youtube accounts).
- Added support to include Instagram, YouTube and Twitter updates via location. This could be particularly useful for topics or widgets built for breaking news or specific events.
- Ability to add sources in bulk inside the dashboard. Now you can easily add dozens of RSS or social feeds at once. This has been a huge help for me as I have been building each site’s topics. You’ll like it, too.
- New statistics inside the dashboard showing how and how often readers interact with topics, tweets, videos and RSS items on each widget.