Jun 10, 2011

Do you know where your content is?

A weird moment at a media relations workshop I attended yesterday left me feeling as though I had spun backward in time, to the late 90’s or thereabout, before Twitter was a gleam in anyone’s eye, to a time when newspapers still reigned supreme in the information universe.

Three prominent Chicago journalists admitted they didn’t use Twitter – not for research, nor for communication.

Several Chicago PR stalwarts noted their clients only cared about print and broadcast – none of “that internet stuff.”

I sat openmouthed in the back row upon hearing these comments, given in response to a question I asked about the extent to which journalists in the represented newsrooms used social networks to build audience for stories.  (I was told that most do, but these three big leaguers didn’t.)

The conversation devolved into the same one you hear at any meet-up of PR people and journalists.  The journos bemoaned long, irrelevant, attachment-riddled e-mail pitches with stupid subject lines squealing “Check this out!”   The PR pros said a little common courtesy, such as noting whether or not a pitch was received, would be nice.

I snapped my jaw shut and adopted a neutral demeanor when I saw that one of the panelists had noticed my bewildered expression.  But inside, I was really disappointed in the media pros and in the PR reps both, for ignoring  a medium that has become the preferred news source of many, and has fueled some of the biggest stories of the year, from the rise of the Arab Spring to the downfall of indiscreet politicians.

After the panel, one of the journalists sought me out, to double check a web site I had mentioned during the Q&A.  We chatted for a minute and I mentioned my surprise that he wasn’t using Twitter, which I went on to characterize as the most awesome personal newswire a person could imagine.   The journo said he had tried it but didn’t see the value.

I asked him if he had ever set up lists in Twitter, or seen Flipboard and Paper.li. When the answer was no, I told him the story of how I changed my husband’s life forever, by setting him up on Twitter,  creating a list of NFL draft prognosticators, and hooking that into Flipboard, producing a personalized, glossy, user-friendly and up to the minute news magazine focused on the recent draft.  When I handed my husband his iPad, his eyes grew wider and wider.  He sank onto the couch, flipping through the articles and blog posts.  He was thrilled by my 5-minute creation, and proceeded to gorge himself on the latest draft intelligence and speculation.

It’s important to understand how your audience is consuming information, especially if you aren’t familiar with or don’t prefer some of the content aggregation services out there.   Pulling out my iPad, I told the journalist “You need to see this,” and sat him down for a quick tour.

First, I showed him my Twitter feed, which really isn’t pretty, and described how I built lists of people who focused on particular subjects.

A screenshot from Hootsuite, showing a couple of my Twitter lists, including "SocialPRpeeps" - a list of social-media savvy PR pros.

Then, I showed him what that Twitter list looked like in Flipboard, showing him how links are rendered into article summaries, and presented in a glossy magazine format. I handed him my iPad.  Wide eyed, he flipped from page to page, looking at the articles my SocialPRpeeps list members had tweeted.

My SocialPRpeeps Twitter list, as viewed through Flipboard on an iPad. Flipboard renders the links people tweet, and presents the content in a reader-friendly format.

The ah-ha moment came when I showed him how elegantly Flipboard served up access to the articles on their native web sites.

The abstract of an article on Flipboard. Clicking on the arrow at the bottom of the page takes you directly to that piece.

Viewing the original version of the article in Flipboard.

We were both kind of stunned – him by the presentation of content he held in his hands, and me by the fact that a big time media guy didn’t know about Twitter lists, Flipboard, and the myriad other interesting ways people are accessing news content these days.

Moments like these make me fear for the future of journalism.  Readers crave content.  It’s easier and more convenient than ever to stay abreast of the news.  The question, of course, is how to sustain the business of news in this new and fast evolving environment.

Until that big question is answered, my own opinion is that communications pros have some key imperatives, including:

  • Driving ourselves to understand all the different ways people are collecting, reading and sharing news and information.
  • Educating our clients and the C-suite about the value of online visibility and the social layer
  • Help your peers become conversant and confident in social networks.  Gently lead colleagues who don’t use social media into this new communications fray, like I did with the aforementioned journalist.  Share your knowledge freely, because our colleagues need to know this stuff.  It will help them drive more readers to news articles and more results for clients – and this rising tide will help lift everyone’s boat.

I’m glad that journalist sought me out – I hope he takes what he saw back to the newsroom, where more media pros can ponder the new information landscape, and maybe dream up that new model journalism so desperately needs.  Anyone with a vested interest in communicating with audiences really does need to stay on top of how content is consumed.

Related reading:

Using Twitter for Media Relations

Social media press release distribution

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.  Follow her on Twitter: @sarahskerik

Read the article pictured in the blog post (it’s a good one!) here: http://prbreakfastclub.com/2011/06/10/whispergate/

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