How newspaper websites should and should not be using Twitter

Many newspaper websites are beginning to leverage Twitter in some way or are beginning to integrate Twitter onto their sites. The level of integration goes from a light widget type integration to a deeper user experience. However, very few newspapers are using Twitters great service to actually create page views as well as increase the coverage area for their site. In light of this I wanted to do some quick research to hopefully provoke some ideas on how a newspaper website could use Twitter to increase page views and grow their coverage area.

Ideas and examples on how a newspaper website should use Twitter

Aggregating Content from the Web – Tabloid model – Tabloid is an iPad application that turns a Twitter stream into a newspaper. It grabs the links found in the tweets of people you follow and formats them into a tabloid-newspapers style. I’m not suggesting you go out and build an iPad app for this, but just suggesting you look at the model. A model like this would involve a fair amount of work to do, but in the long run could provide your site with additional content that’s relevant to what Twitter users find interesting on the web. It could be a great way to source additional interesting content for your site.

A lighter version of this may use a Twitter list that’s maintained by the newspaper. The newspaper would begin to add the best contributors to their Twitter list. From this list each update is scanned for a link which is then parsed and ingested into a database to be displayed on the newspapers website. The display page would most likely contain thumbnails and teasers to full content but should drive traffic as well as provide you a way to effectively crowd source.

Breaking News

Chron.com I believe has a great model for sourcing breaking news from a strong twitter user base. This model is called the nowNews model which takes a list of trusted local tweeters and scans for the hash tag #hounews. The list of users can be increased at any time and managed using Twitter’s console. This adds supplemental and timely content to the site as well as offers exposure to users who see news happen which in turn gives them a much larger exposure. This also increases the area of news coverage for Chron.com to go beyond that of what’s typically covered by a paid journalist staff. In this example the hash tag is being displayed which let’s the user know the service is done through Twitter functionality however it would work just as well by displaying the tweets with the hash tag removed so the updates appear as breaking news or latest updates and less like Tweets for those who aren’t so Twitter saavy.

Journalist Social Connections

Mashable Contact InfoEach journalist who has a Twitter feed should include the account in their by-line to make the person more accessible to Twitter users off site. This helps create a transparency and trust between the journalist and the viewer as well as drives traffic to the site. Mashable.com does a good job of exposing their journalists social connections from their article pages that I think newspapers can use as an example.

Ex: By: John Smith
City Editor – Chron.com
@jsmithChron OR optionally Follow Me on Twitter

Twitter Links on Your Contact Us Page

The contact us page should contain a visual directory for each staff member that provides a mug shot, contact information as well as any social media presence like Facebook, Twitter, etc.  These linked accounts would need to be owned accounts only however and not personal accounts. An owned account just meaning that the account is a representation of your brand in some form and if the person left you’d most likely retain access to the account.

Ingesting Tweets

In a case like Chron.com’s nowNews mentioned above it may make sense to actually ingest the tweets and display them on an article page. By ingesting the tweets and displaying them on an article page you’re generating one more page view per tweet for your site by taking the user from the front page to the article page to view not only the tweet but information about the author as well as the ability to capture comments on the tweet using your own content management system. This also let’s your non-Twitter users view tweets how they’re used to viewing your articles and let’s them use your sites normal syndication tools like RSS, email, Facebook, ReTweet, etc. Additionally this allows you opportunities to create more pages like a ‘Top contributor’ page to show which Twitter users are posting the most news to your site. Perhaps a ‘More contributions from this author’ page to show a list of tweets with your hash tags that has been contributed by this author. A friend of mine suggested the muckrack.com model as a similar example. However, just imagine a service like this integrated into your newspaper website.

Note: While ingesting Tweets does create quit a few opportunities for page views you would need to make sure that any delay of ingesting a tweet and displaying it on the site is minimized so you don’t lose the immediacy of the tweet.

ReTweet

This is a no brainer. Using tools like the Tweetmeme widget in a prominent place to make your content easy to syndicate to Twitter is just a must do. This button should be placed near whatever your wanting the user to reTweet.

How Newspapers Should Not Be Using Twitter

Duplication

Twitter feeds should never mirror newspaper updates that are appearing on the page they are featured on. For example, let’s say you just broke news about a gorilla that was caught on camera juggling cats. However, the tweet that appears on your homepage next to the article basically says the same thing and links to the same article. There must be a differentiation between the updated Twitter feed and the article feeds.

Staff Only

Combining staff only Twitter feeds for your users as your Twitter presence. This generally leads to duplication, but also limits your reach to your existing reach for content and doesn’t offer a good differentiation for your viewers.

Too much Twitter branding

Everyone knows what Twitter is, but not everyone uses. Likewise not everyone understands how Twitter actually fits into a newspaper website. By focusing too much on the Twitter brand it can appear as though it’s an advertisement or something that’s not native to your site which can lead to less usage or confusion as to what your trying to do with it. I’d recommend removing some of the branding and integrating the updates to look more like your site.

Firehose RSS Feeds To Twitter

While I understand many newspapers are using services like Twitterfeed.com, rss2twitter.com, ping.fm etc to easily push their RSS feeds to Twitter because it’s easy. However, if your doing this your missing a huge opportunity to engage your audience, build trust and a loyal following which could lead to a much bigger return in the long run.

Hope some of this helps and would love to here how your using Twitter or not using Twitter on your newspaper website.

Why are newspaper websites so tall?

Ever notice that just about all newspaper websites are about a country mile long? Why is that? Why does a newspaper website have to be so long? Now I realize newspapers have a ton of content, but I’m wondering if we can either display it differently or possibly get rid of the content that’s not generating impressions or revenue. I look at a few newspaper websites each day as part of my job, but was curious if it was only my company that made really long websites or did others do the same? As it turns out, we’re not the only one. See the list below of 21 newspaper websites showing how tall each site is in terms of pixels.

How tall are newspaper websites anyway?

  1. Latimes.com - 5,545
  2. Huffingtonpost.com – 4,865
  3. Fresnobee.com – 4,862
  4. Chicagotribune.com – 4,513
  5. NYdailynews.com – 4,455
  6. Knoxnews.com – 4,207
  7. SFGate.com – 3,995
  8. Chron.com – 3,995
  9. NYtimes.com – 3,440
  10. Wapo.com - 3,337
  11. DenverPost.com – 3,134
  12. USAToday.com – 3,099
  13. Suntimes.com – 3,019
  14. Philly.com – 2,965
  15. Wsj.com – 2,797
  16. Ajc.com – 2,569
  17. Boston.com – 2,511
  18. Miamiherald.com – 2,333
  19. Statesman.com – 2,324
  20. Newsday.com – 2,077
  21. Mercurynews.com – 1,864

Average height = 3,424 pixels

Experiment, what would Chron.com look like at only 768 pixels high?

While measuring these sites this got me to thinkin… I wonder what Chron.com would look like if it was only 1024 x 768 pixels? Could a newspaper website be condensed down to 768 pixels height? I mean we know users generally don’t scroll more than once so honestly anything below one scroll is really just a waste anyways right? We know people like lot’s of photos but generally most newspaper sites are filled with ton’s of headlines all over the place with very few graphics to entice us. Newspapers have become great at putting tons of content on one page in a hope to blast everything we can at the user to hopefully entice them to just click on something. I call this “news vomit.” Now I’m no designer, but I know my way around photoshop just enough to do a conceptual mock. See what you think of my conceptual mock of Chron.com at 1024 x 768 and tell me what you think.

Front Page Mock

With the site so much shorter you’d really have to make some tough calls on what you want your audience to see. We know people generally don’t scroll more than once so I basically left off anything beyond one scroll. Creating a mock like this can also be a good exercise in forcing you to pay attention to what content works on your site as well as what’s just not getting any traffic. If it’s not getting any traffic then it’s likely not generating any revenue. Since your limited to 1024×768 you really only want to use the good stuff and drop the news vomit.

Dropping a lot of the content was kinda liberating honestly however, this also presented a new problem of what to do with the advertising? Display ads have been slowly decreasing in actual click through’s and the overall value in the last 5 to 6 years. I have a theory as to why this is… My theory is that since we use advertising standards and generally place the ads in the same spot that people have tuned them out altogether. I mean after a while the same thing of anything just get’s boring right?

Advertisement mock

Standards are great for a lot of things like coding, building a house, protocols for passing information etc. However, when it comes to advertising and using standard sizes/shapes and even placement’s get’s kinda boring after a while. Even I’ve learned to subconsciously tune advertisements out mainly because I know where they’ll all be. To work around this theory I borrowed a little advertising methodology from the magazines and a little from video advertising. In the mock let’s assume someone clicked on an article from the homepage. You’d see the image push out from the right side of the homepage mock (shown above) to fill up the entire page similar to a full page color magazine ad. The advertisement would only be there until the destination page loaded or possible 1 to 2 seconds then would collapse on the opposite side. This keeps the advertising out of the way of the user and is only intrusive while the page loads. Once the destination page loads you should see a new advertisement locked to the opposite side of the page now (see article mock below). What you’d end up with are full page ads that bounce from one side to the other as the user navigates from page to page. However, while the user is on the page there would be no advertisements in the way of the content since I’m presuming the user goes there to view the content and not the ads anyways.

Article Page Mock

For the article page I thought it’d be fun to use a little newspaper type presentation mixed with a little web presentation. At the top of the screen you’d have plenty of room to scroll in news promo’s, video content, featured galleries and of course breaking news. I tried to make the breaking news stand out by placing it in a red box. This way you don’t have to be on the homepage to catch breaking news. Also I tried to keep the overall height of the article page to be about double the height of the homepage and not go beyond that.

In the end I think newspaper websites are long simply because no ones really asking if we really need all the news vomit. We should begin to look at every object and piece of content on our sites. Does it generate traffic, revenue, create some kind of efficiency or drive user engagement. If it doesn’t then why is it there?

9 things a newspaper can do to differentiate print from online

Print vs Digital

I’ve seen it too many times; a newspaper focuses solely on producing a newspaper but neglects the website by ignoring the strengths of a digital medium. Often times what the newspaper ends up with is a website that basically mimics the content that runs in print or in their e-Edition. To the subscriber it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why you’d pay for content when you access free.

First let’s walk through a few things that make the web special and worth making a distinction to help understand why anyone would even want to read news online over a newspaper;

Real Time

The web is in real time. Now I’m sure you’ve seen how news can flow live through sites like Twitter or even Facebook. You’ve probably seen a news website update their site as news is happening using blogs, text messages, email etc. The web makes it possible to share news in real time.

Instant Feedback & Engagement

One of the simplest and most powerful tools for a site can be simple commenting. This allows your user to give immediate feedback on your content as well as share it out to the social globe if you’re using tools like Facebook’s Social Plug-ins , TweetMeme, or other content syndication services.

Accessibility

If you’ve got a connection to the internet then you can access news.

Community & Engagement

The web is a community and one of the best things about is that everyone has a voice. Most newspaper websites these days are integrating user blogs, photos, tips, reviews, comments, video and all kinds of other great content that just enhances the overall brand. These tools also provide a great way for your staff engage your audience to build trust and bring your user into the news gathering process.

Here are 9 things you can start doing right away;

1.) Identify your contributors –Who are your local bloggers, tweeters, active facebook groups, site commenter’s or forum communities? You need to make peace with these folks. They are your friend. Begin to identify key voices in your community and give them a place to promote that voice on your site.

2.) Stop the shoveling – Are you just processing content from your newspaper to the web? Stop it! Take some time to comb through your analytics to see what’s working online and what’s not. If certain type of content doesn’t get any traffic then why put it up? For example, is anyone reading those long features that you put all your money into? If not then why put it up. You’d be better off putting out a small promo to the feature for a day or so ahead of time on your site that say’s “hey, if ya want to read this amazing feature come check it out in the newspaper on Sunday”. Some newspapers will hold certain types of content back for a time which is ok, but you’ll just have to be smart about what your holding back to make sure it’s not content that goes against why users came to your site in the first place.

3.) Real Time – Remember the web is real time. Insert yourself into this environment and focus on getting content up first and faster than anyone else. You can use sites like Twitter or common blogging platforms to help with this if you can’t do it from your web content management system. Start building your content first on the web and push it out quickly then write a longer version for your print reader’s right after that. Update the article on the web throughout the day so your site doesn’t look stale.

4.) Aggregate & Curate – Your not the only news source on the block most likely so don’t look at other news sources as competitors. You need to be the source of the news by aggregating all the local news in one spot and curate what’s best for your audience. This way your doing your web audience a service and you become the hub for all local news rather than just one of the steps in the process.

5.) Niche – What’s unique about your area? What can you go in depth on that can make your brand stand out? Is it crime; is it your local school board, city council or town drunk etc? Whatever it is you need to identify it and go in depth on the topic. It can be controversial even it’s ok, but it needs to be something that acts as a topical guide for your community and something they can interact with.

6.) Interact – Interact with your readers wherever the conversation is taking place. If your content or brand is being discussed on Facebook, Twitter, etc then you need to go there and participate wherever your audience is.

7.) Push – Begin to push content to other places like mobile, Facebook, Twitter, email etc. Making your content more accessible can only grow your audience.

8.) Socialize your content – Make use of tools like some of Facebook’s social plug-ins, TweetMeme, to make it easier for users to syndicate your content and create discussions for you on larger sites.

9.) Focus – You’ll have to put some focus on digital if you want any of this to work.

Of course these aren’t the only things you can do, but these should be a few things that you can begin to do right away that will make a difference and have a low impact on your staff.

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Should Newspaper Websites Integrate Facebook’s Open Graph?

What is Open Graph?

There are three things to keep in mind when discussing Facebook integration which may sound a little confusing at first so I’ll do my best to keep it simple. First off you have the Open Graph Protocol. This is the protocol that allows you structure the data that’s being sent from your site to Facebook by your users. This structured data allows your readers to make a lasting connection with your content or brands by adding your links into their news streams and profiles. For example your movie review could be labeled as a “movie” which when “liked” can update the Facebook users profile in their favorite movies area as well as have a permanent link to your review. Next you have the Graph API which provides a very simple way for developers to read and write data from Facebook. For example, this url will return a JSON object of your “likes”. More examples of what info is available using the Graph API can be found here or alternatively at youropenbook.org.  Finally you have the social plug-ins which provides a drop dead simple method for integrating everything mentioned above into your site but without the risk.

Quick Pro’s and Con’s about Facebook integration into a newspaper website.

Pro’s

  • Social Plug-ins makes it dead simple to expose your content to a larger Facebook audience.
  • Possible future opportunity to use the Graph API to personalize your content and advertising to the Facebook users “likes” and profile information. Currently this is being piloted with 3 partners, Yelp, docs.com, and Pandora. That’s another story for later…
  • Users can see what their friends liked and shared on your sites to make more personalized recommendations which could increase page impressions and lengthen the time on site.
  • Offers easy way to integrate recommendations for your site using the social plug-ins in case you don’t have any recommendation already or want an upgrade.
  • Easy for our users to promote your content to Facebook and share which content they like from your site.
  • Can use metadata to better define your content and control how it’s displayed on Facebook as well as make longer lasting connections with users by connecting to their profile.

Con’s

  • Facebook is getting it’s fair share of bad press over privacy concerns. A deep integrate using the Graph API could could have similar negative feedback from users over privacy concerns.
  • Risk of getting too much bad press that it may go the way of “beacon
  • Facebook is the repository of all the user data which makes it a closed system for now. This may change depending on the outcome of Facebook’s instant personalization pilot program.
  • Use of the Graph API has potential for abuse and misuse which could have very negative consequences. See http://www.youropenbook.org

Recommendation

At a very minimum make use of some of Facebook’s social plug-ins. Most are very easy to install with little or no risk. If you’re able to I’d also recommend adding the additional meta data available through the Open Graph Protocol to help define your content. The social plug-ins and meta data are an easy low risk change to your site that let’s your readers associate themselves to your content as well as expose your content to a site that’s about to cross the 500 million user mark. In terms of a deep integration using the Graph API I’d wait a bit to see how things go with the instant personalization pilot program before committing any serious time or resources. There also seems to be opportunities for abuse or misuse of the Graph API which could over expose your users causing some negative consequences. You should be able to measure some early success just using the Social Plug-ins.

Some low risk easy to use social plug-ins you should add today.

Facebook LIke ButtonLike button – Takes a successful piece of functionality from Facebook and makes it available on your site. The like button enables users to make connections on our pages and share content back to their friends on Facebook. If a user is logged into Facebook they can see which of their friends has also “liked” a piece of content from our site making all the more compelling. Since most of our sites feature a variety of content types, this is a great opportunity to identify those content types using the Open Graph Protocol which can create a longer lasting connection to our sites.

Facebook Activity FeedActivity Feed – Handy little plug-in that shows which content is actively being shared from your site to Facebook. If a user is logged in then they will see which content has recently been shared by their friends along with everything else that’s been shared to Facebook.


Facebook Like BoxLike Box – Another social plug-in that simply shows who “likes” your fan page. It also makes it easy to enable more users to “like” your brand and associate your brand into their profiles, news streams as well as expose your brand to their network of friends on Facebook.

These like boxes should be promoted in a prominent spot on your homepages or any page that has a brand attached to Facebook page.

That’s for now, hope this was helpful. Good luck.