Articles about "Engagement"

Washington Post cracks down on bad comments

The Washington Post
Editor for interactivity and community Jon DeNunzio announces a new approach to comment moderation at, aimed at fostering “smarter, livelier and more civil conversations.” The Post will be more aggressive about banning low-quality commenters, deleting any name-calling and insults, and eliminating the trolls who try “to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations.” There is positive reinforcement coming as well: More badges for good commenters and more Post reporters posting comments. || Earlier: New York Times overhauls comment system, grants privileges to trusted readers (Poynter) | How badges help news websites (Poynter) | Browse other coverage of website commenting trends and studies. Read more


New Guardian blog puts readers next to editors as stories unfold

You might remember last year that the Guardian tried publishing its story budgets online to invite feedback and tips from readers. Today the UK newspaper takes the next step toward a transparent, “open” newsroom with a daily live blog from the news desk.

Newsdesk Live is not another bloggy account of today’s top stories like Yahoo News’ The Upshot or The New York Times’ The Lede. Newsdesk Live includes the day’s story budget and conversational updates on what Guardian journalists are seeking and learning. The blog invites readers to contribute by posting comments, emailing or tweeting.

Newsdesk Live is a home for top news updates, newsroom process and reader engagement.

This is a noteworthy experiment in both form and function. Readers can quickly gauge the leading stories of the day, how they’re unfolding and what the public might contribute. The result is a pleasant mix of facts, analysis, process and discussion — an illustration of news as a process, not a product. Read more


The New York Times’ 8 steps for holding engaging live chats on Facebook

Two New York Times reporters behind this week’s in-depth report, “The iEconomy,” took an hour Thursday afternoon to answer questions on the Times’ Facebook page.

Charles Duhigg and David Barboza’s chat about poor working conditions at high-tech device manufacturers was the latest instance of the Times extending Facebook users direct access to its journalists.

The New York Times holds Q&As with journalists through comments on its Facebook page.

Earlier chats included correspondent Jodi Kantor about her book, “The Obamas,” Lydia Polgreen about India and Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal on the redesign of the online opinion section.

Social Media Editor Liz Heron told me she considers Facebook live chats a successful experiment that helps the Times serve its nearly 2 million fans. I’d also add that this has other strategic benefits. Facebook’s news feed is more likely to highlight posts from people or pages a user has engaged with in the past. So getting people to post hundreds of comments on a live chat today makes them more likely to see your breaking news links tomorrow.

Heron cautioned, however, that Facebook chats are not the best format for every scenario.

The Times still uses a traditional website-based Q&A for some more complicated topics, like the launch of digital subscriptions last year. That format allows longer questions and answers, Heron said, with more time for the journalist to deliberate and write a nuanced answer. Those forums often develop over multiple days.

The Facebook chats, by contrast, are designed to be short but highly engaging. One surprising lesson the Times learned is that these chats sometimes can be too engaging, Heron said. In May, politics writer Michael Shear did a chat about the political implications of Osama bin Laden’s killing. The topic drew an almost overwhelming number of comments, more than 500, compared to about 150 during a typical Facebook chat.

But the process went smoothly on all other occasions, she said. I talked more with Heron about what she and the Times have learned about conducting a successful live chat through Facebook. Here are the important steps.

1. Publicize in advance. Publish a blog post the day before letting readers know about the chat, and share that on Facebook and Twitter.

2. Give readers a head start. Create the Facebook post for the chat about 10 minutes in advance, to let people know it’s beginning and start collecting questions.

3. Say hello. As the host, join in with a comment introducing yourself and letting readers know you’re about to begin responding.

Charles Duhigg answers a question in Thursday’s live chat.

4. Answer questions. Select the best questions to answer one at a time, addressing the questioner by name in the response. There may be many comments, and you often won’t be answering each right away, so try to be clear which one you are addressing.

5. Build ongoing relationships. If you allow public subscribers to your own Facebook posts, take the opportunity during the chat to encourage chat participants to subscribe.

6. Moderate the thread. Have a moderator police the comments to delete objectionable or off-topic ones. It may help to declare your moderation policy early in the chat.

7. Wrap it up cleanly. Let readers know when the chat concludes, or when you are taking the final question. The Times limits Facebook chats to one hour.

8. Summarize and share. After the chat, capture the questions-and-answer exchanges in a Storify and embed it back on the website so other readers and non-Facebook users can catch up.

Related: The Huffington Post’s extreme Facebook engagement from live quotes on the State of the Union speech (Zombie Journalism) || Earlier: NYT journalists held Q&A “office hours” on Quora last year (Poynter) Read more

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4 ways Muni Diaries readers document San Francisco bus riding

Complaining about riding the bus is sport in San Francisco. So when we started Muni Diaries, a website documenting stories that happen on public transit, there was a high chance that our website could devolve into a cesspool of whining and bigoted rants.

But the exact opposite happened: For the last three-and-a-half years, our readers have contributed the majority of the content on our site, and we’ve turned a significant slice of the transit-riding population in San Francisco into our contributor base.

Our readers have helped us break news, be the first to tweet about accidents, and provide other useful information to San Franciscans who depend on public transit.

So how do you get the best from your readers? And how do you cultivate a focused audience that consistently shares ideas and contributes to conversations? Here are some tips we’ve learned along the way.

Listen to what people want to talk about.

The most lively conversation might not be about the newest topic at City Hall. Pay attention to Facebook comments, tweets and comments on stories to get a better sense of what people want to talk about. We’ve found that buzz from readers is one of the best indicators of a trend story.

This is especially true if you write about a topic that touches on your city’s everyday life. For example, when we started seeing tweets and questions in our comments section about the distribution of fare inspectors in San Francisco, we realized that this was a concern for many San Franciscans. In a post about the fairness of fare inspection, commenters weighed in on where they see fare inspectors and why they think fare inspectors target certain lines.

Twitter can be a great way to guide conversation and understand buzz. When the San Francisco Police Department decided to borrow Muni buses to shuttle police officers to the OccupySF encampment, we saw hilarious comments on Twitter. We later turned tweets into one of the most highly-trafficked posts of that month.

Within the conversations on your news site, there are tips about news, public-safety, or cultural trends. Conversations are happening increasingly online, and it pays to listen to what your readers have to say.

Respect your audience

Though we do contact government officials for stories, we always try to be accessible to the community, the greatest source of stories and tips. There are a few ways to reward your audience:

  • Always credit readers for tips, Facebook comments and submissions.
  • Give your readers a shoutout as often as possible. On Muni Diaries, readers who submit stories have their names displayed in the byline, though stories are always vetted and edited.
  • Ask readers how to attribute to them or link to their personal websites or projects.
  • Promote stories submitted by your audience to other publications.

Do the heavy lifting yourself.

Your readers are not your staff. You can get the best content from your readers by taking tips and stories from them and doing the heavy lifting yourself. On Muni Diaries, we don’t expect our readers to do the type of reporting that paid journalists do. We don’t assign stories, provide journalism training or otherwise expect readers to do what journalists get paid to do.

Instead, we provide a forum for readers to talk about their transit-riding experience, and curate the conversation to choose stories and tips that would be interesting to a wider audience. Though most blog posts are submitted by readers, we research and verify the stories, ask more questions about the stories, then write headlines, choose photos and even copy edit.

Be available and responsive to conversations.

Conversations happen if you cultivate them. Participate in conversations in your comments section, Facebook page, and on Twitter. You can even turn notable comments into stories. For example, when we posted about the inaugural party for Muni in the 1980s, a reader commented that he was actually there at the party and sent us videos of the event.

Countless stories have been spawned from our comments section. Transforming great comments into stories makes your readers feel heard and encourages them to continue participating in conversations on your website.

List your email address prominently on your website so that readers can get in touch with you easily via email, Twitter, or Facebook.

By getting a community talking, you can build a website that features content people can relate to. The idea of “citizen journalism” has changed in the age of social media. Rather than turning citizens into unpaid journalists, you can get the best out of your readers by creating a space where conversations lead to ideas and stories. Read more


How to use Urtak, a collaborative polling tool, to increase reader engagement

A week before Thanksgiving, conservative news site posted a story about whether retail stores should be open on the holiday. The post received more than 120,000 responses in less than two days, reaching 140,000 by the end of the month. This spike in reactions was 500 times the site’s norm, but it’s not the first time it’s happened.

A popular story on The Blaze will typically get anywhere between 200 to 800 comments, but the site’s editors have discovered a way to increase user engagement on some stories by orders of magnitude. The Blaze’s 140,000 Thanksgiving story responses weren’t comments; they were reader interactions sparked by an interactive polling tool called an Urtak. (The same story received 264 comments at last count.)

Urtak is not like other Q&A tools; it’s a social poll that grows as a community engages with it. The hook – and what makes Urtak different – is it lets readers ask each other questions.

“Significant audience engagement can be generated by empowering the reader and allowing them to do more than just take a poll,” said Mike Opelka, newsletter editor at TheBlaze, which has seen several stories crack 200,000 Urtak responses, with as many as 300 user-generated questions on one story. “They can shape the poll as well.”

Newsweek’s The Daily Beast and Colombia’s El Tiempo are among the other news sites that have also used Urtak to increase reader engagement. I talked with editors at these news sites about how to use Urtak’s free tool.

Creating and integrating an Urtak account

Creating a poll is easy. You choose a title and add one or more preliminary questions, and then the site generates a YouTube-style embed code that you can paste into your stories. There’s also a WordPress plugin, which allows users to automatically embed an Urtak after every post — or after posts of their choosing.

The tool works like a game of “20 Questions,” with a scrolling interface that shows users the community’s answers after each response. It allows only three types of answers to any question: “Yes,” “No” and “Don’t Care.”

The simple options may be convenient for people on a mobile device who don’t have time to comment, but this limitation prevents user-to-user interactions like you see in the comments sections of news stories. For that reason, many publishers opt to keep traditional commenting open below their stories’ Urtaks.

Choosing stories to Urtak

As with other Internet brand names-turned verbs, like “Facebook” and “Google,” “Urtak” is the name of the tool and the action. In Opelka’s newsroom, it has also become an adjective to describe a topic’s ability to inspire passionate responses: “Urtak-able.”

But, as Opelka pointed out via email, “Not every story [or] topic is right for polling of this kind.”

Brian Ries, social media editor of The Daily Beast, has found that small stories are likely to receive less Urtak participation than larger events or debates. Typically, he said, the types of stories that are less likely to receive comments are also less likely to receive high Urtak numbers. “We try [to] use Urtak around big events that can be assessed and debated from a variety of angles and policy points,” Ries said via email.

This is true at The Blaze, too. “We measure each opportunity for increasing engagement and try to fit the right tool to each situation,” Opelka said. “We look to Urtak for added engagement of our audience –beyond simple commenting — on issues they typically follow [like] religion, small government, government intervention/regulation, Second Amendment right, etc.”

News sites typically seed Urtaks with several questions to get the Q&A conversation rolling. The Daily Beast’s Urtak for its State Of The Union 2011 coverage, for example, resulted in 26,460 responses to about 36 questions.

Placing for impact

Online readers’ attention is often split many ways, between multi-tasking and viewing pages with content and ads fighting each other for space. As with any form of content, the more prominently an Urtak is placed, the more likely it is to receive responses.

Many news sites place Urtak polls at the bottom of posts, above the comments section (or in some cases, in place of comments) and use it to gauge user reactions. Others make the Urtak poll the focus of the story itself. Still others place Urtak off to the side as a widget in another column.

One key difference between Urtak and traditional forms of user commenting and engagement is the same Urtak can be placed across multiple stories or media.

For its State of the Union 2011 Urtak, The Daily Beast embedded the same poll across “all relevant content on the site,” Ries said. “This included our wrap page, which featured all our stories & videos related to the Address, as well as on individual stories, often embedded within the articles themselves or at the end. Additionally, we had it on both Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s Facebook pages, set as the landing tab by default, so anyone visiting, for instance, would see the poll first thing upon arriving at the Facebook page.”

Gleaning user insight

Urtak owners can choose to moderate questions before users can see them; however, they may opt to let “the community” decide if a question stays.

As polls start to take shape, and user questions and responses come in, owners can explore results, which are displayed graphically and numerically. The “Yes/No” nature of the polls make Urtak results easily quantifiable.

One of The Daily Beast’s Urtaks on the U.S. national debt revealed “an early indicator of the Occupy sentiment,” Ries said. “99 percent of respondents said they agreed more people who committed financial scams should be held accountable.”

Urtak owners can cross-tabulate responses, revealing insights about the makeup of their readership. Drilling down, one can see how many responders who chose one specific answer were likely to respond one way or another to other questions.

Reader engagement is the lifeblood of an online news site. While social polling tools like Urtak may not help news organizations grow audiences in the same way distribution tools like Twitter and Facebook do, Urtak can help keep readers stay on stories longer and in a more focused way. That kind of engagement can spur a virtuous cycle of retention.

“The average person just wants to be heard – that’s why so many people like to post comments online,” Opelka said. “Urtak takes this a step further and allows our audience to also write a question and poll the audience as well. That is empowering.” Read more


Guardian readers shape stories during first week of open budgets
One week after The Guardian began disclosing its upcoming story budgets prior to publication, National Editor Dan Roberts writes that the experiment is going well. “Whatever competitive advantage may have been lost by giving rivals a clue what we were up to was more than made up for by a growing range of ideas and tips from readers,” he writes. Readers’ feedback now shapes the Guardian’s coverage in advance. For example, many said they wanted more coverage of the UK government’s health reforms. “We initially responded by ramping up our live coverage of the two-day NHS debate in the House of Lords – attracting over 1,000 comments. But we also asked our health reporter to do a bit of digging and list today an upcoming story on how cuts have already begun to hit services,” Roberts said. || Earlier: Guardian publishes upcoming story budgets, invites reader feedback Read more


Guardian publishes upcoming story budgets, invites reader feedback
The Guardian will publish “a carefully-selected portion” of its internal lists of upcoming story topics, inviting readers to get in touch with reporters or editors if they have something to contribute. The goal is to treat news as an open, interactive process, instead of a finished product concealed until completion. National News Editor Dan Roberts explains:

“What if readers were able to help newsdesks work out which stories were worth investing precious reporting resources in? What if all those experts who delight in telling us what’s wrong with our stories after they’ve been published could be enlisted into giving us more clues beforehand? What if the process of working out what to investigate actually becomes part of the news itself?”

“Obviously, we’re not planning to list all our exclusives or embargoed content and we’ll also have to be careful not to say anything legally sensitive or unsubstantiated. Nonetheless, we think there are lots of routine things that we list every day which might provoke interesting responses from readers.”

Earlier: New Guardian digital focus to center on ‘open journalism on the Web’ Read more


With promise of audience growth, Facebook pulls news organizations within its walls

With changes announced last week, Facebook aims at making a major transition from a content discovery and sharing engine to a platform for the consumption and distribution of content.

In the old Facebook, we used Like and Share buttons and posted links on Pages to drive traffic somewhere else. In the new Facebook, news, music and video live in Facebook apps, on, fed by a feedback loop of the Ticker activity stream and personalized recommendations.

The Guardian is among major news providers launching apps that put their content within Facebook.

The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and The Guardian are among news organizations that just launched social news apps that place the entire content experience inside of Facebook.

Clearly this is in Facebook’s interest. But it raises some important questions for journalists.

Can you trust Facebook as a business partner?

If it becomes the Web’s universal content platform, Facebook would have the power to discriminate or play favorites among content creators, though I think it’s unlikely to rock its own boat by doing so.

More likely, however, is that Facebook will begin to impose tolls — asking for percentages of advertising or subscription revenue, or requiring that all transactions use its Facebook Credits virtual currency. (The Guardian and Wall Street Journal already are running ads in their Facebook apps).

There’s also the possibility of guilt by association. As Facebook wrestles with privacy issues and other things that may alienate some users, will that rub off on the news sources that closely associate themselves with Facebook?

One advantage of building a Facebook app is each app can ask users upfront for access to personal data. That’s a better arrangement for publishers than some mobile apps, where individual users can opt out of sharing their information with the publisher while the middleman (Apple, for example) has access to that data.

What happens when a ‘news organization’ is reduced to a ‘content provider’?

In this new model, content creation could become even more commoditized. Facebook becomes the gateway of content, and everyone else is a supplier.

Maybe that frees journalists to focus on great storytelling. But we also lose some control over the product experience and design. The Facebook social news apps are all loaded in a canvas page that the app developer controls, but the pages are framed by Facebook’s always-present navigation bar on top and its ads and activity stream on the right.

There’s allowance for each app to choose its own fonts and design aesthetic, as the early adopters have done, but the Facebook wrapper makes them all look fairly similar.

When will we see the first news provider that exists solely as a Facebook app?

Right now the early social news app builders are major news orgs that maintain their own websites. But it seems like only a matter of time until someone shuts down a website to go Facebook-only, or launches a new product with Facebook as the only channel.

I wrote a while ago about a community news site in Maryland, Rockville Central, that switched from Web publishing to a Facebook Page. And perhaps a larger player like News Corp. would someday try a Facebook-only publication, similar to how The Daily launched as an iPad exclusive. (The Daily itself just released a Facebook app.)

If the medium is the message, what happens if Facebook becomes the medium? Certainly the message (the content) will begin to look quite different.

Is the viral sharing worth what you give up?

The main benefit of moving your news within Facebook’s walls is the potential for huge reader sharing.

When just one person reads one of your stories, all of her friends have a chance to discover that story (and your app in general) through the activity stream. Then all their friends discover it, and so on. A drawback, however, is the engagement is fragmented. Instead of building community around the news organization’s website, much of it takes place within Facebook’s walled garden. For example, article comments left in the news apps now don’t sync with comments left on the news organization’s website.

Is the benefit of increased sharing worth the risks? To answer that, you have to consider whether there might be another way to achieve similar results.

The Huffington Post, for example, has succeeded in making its website a social experience. For some time HuffPost Social News already has been doing on its own site what Facebook is just now adding — tracking the reading activity of participating users and sharing it with friends.

It seems to me the ideal thing for HuffPost and other news organizations would be to feed to their own sites the reading activity of Facebook users. They can continue to keep the content experience on their own websites, instead of in a Facebook app, and use the open graph API to take advantage of the activity feed referrals. Read more


Public streaming, recording make Google Hangouts more useful for journalists

Journalists have new ways to use the group video chat Hangouts in Google+ thanks to new features announced today. A new version called “Hangouts On Air” allows a discussion to be publicly livestreamed and recorded.

Some news organizations have used workarounds to broadcast their Hangouts publicly, but now it’s a built-in feature. Journalists can use this to conduct public discussions in new ways:

  • Create a virtual town hall where reporters or outside experts discuss an issue in the news via a Hangout.
  • Reinvent the editorial board meeting by having a guest and the board join a Hangout, then publish the recorded video with the written editorial.
  • Moderate a political debate with several candidates in a Hangout.

Google announced several other new Hangout features as well, including support for Android phones with front-facing cameras (and soon the iPhone). Participants can also share a video stream of their computer screen (useful for training or product demos) and can share a Google Doc (which enables people to plan coverage or edit a story while video chatting).

Earlier: How to set up a virtual writers’ hangout in Google+ Read more


As TV newscasts push the boundaries of social media, some hit walls

WSLS in Roanoke, Va., recently replaced a two-year-old newscast that relied heavily on social media with a more traditional program. After a while, the novelty wore off, Diana Marszalek reports. Several local television newscasts are experimenting with interactive social media tools in interesting ways. At KOMU in Columbia, Mo., an anchor uses group video chats, texting, tweets and emails on air. But there may be a limit to how much TV viewers want to participate. Hofstra University journalism professor Bob Papper says as few as 5 percent of TV viewers engage with TV news via social media. “Part of the success of TV news is that it’s the ultimate passive medium,” he says. || Earlier: Anchor creates iPhone newscasts Read more