Don’t try too hard to please Twitter — and other lessons from The New York Times’ social media desk runs the headline as once again the team behind @NYTimes offer some insights from a year’s tweeting.
Most of the advice is well received. However – as I argue in my latest piece for the Press Gazette – the notion that we shouldn’t try too hard to please Twitter is rather undermined by the example given.
The question implied by this advice is: do print headlines work better than written-for-social-media sells? Using the New York Times’s own example, the answer is yes. But that says more about the pedestrian nature of the digital effort than some overarching rule.
A good online headline or social media sell should combine the wit (either or both meanings of the word) of a newspaper headline with a dash of digital pragmatism.
Read: What New York Times teaches us about Twitter. And what it doesn’t
In my latest piece for the the Guardian Media Network, I look at examples of good online video in action. My experience is that most video on the web is “long, self-indulgent, rambling and shambling – video for bosses (internal stakeholders, if you must); not video for viewers.”
By looking at those that (mostly) get it right – from the NME to WSJ, The Atlantic to Channel 4’s The Last Leg – it’s possible to learn some useful lessons that are applicable in most circumstances. Lessons such as these:
1. Answer the question. Explainers work.
2. Keep it short. Brevity takes times. But it’s worth it.
3. Repurpose, repackage, reuse. Better 10 well-targeted one minute videos than one 10 minute grand tour.
4. Think discoverability. Headlines matter.
5. Text and moving images, a perfect partnership. To liven things up, aid understanding or create a brand new strand.
6. Leave them wanting more. And tell them where to go.
Read: BuzzFeed to NME: a publisher’s masterclass in producing online video
So here goes:
- The New York Times
- The Atlantic
- Drudge Report
- The Huffington Post
- AOL News
- Perez Hilton
The answer: the Daily Mail is gunning for them all. Or rather Mail Online US believes it is “uniquely positioned” to take them on and in the process “fill a gap in the U.S. news/ent landscape”.
We know all this because Forbes.com’s Alex Kantrowitz got hold of the marketing slide that shows Mail Online floating expectantly among this exalted company.
I’ve written some more about it over on the Press Gazette.
In my piece for the Press Gazette this week, I’ve drawn on an article written back in 2010 (an age in digital publishing) about The Atlantic magazine. Why? Because I think it perfectly captures the challenge and the cultural change required by traditional print publishers in the digital age.
The Atlantic had to act counter intuitively to properly make the transition, according to the original New York Times piece. And here’s an extract from my response:
It does take a “dose of counterintuition” to properly understand digital. Why? Because a lot of what we take for granted in print simply doesn’t translate online. Equally, the assumptions we are making about digital need to be challenged. Constantly.
For example, some of us still struggle with the notion that we should, on occasion, link out to our direct competitors. And if we do we will probably end up with more readers, not fewer.
Moreover, that in order to make money we should consider giving more of our stuff away for free.
We struggle, too, with the notion that digital can aid print, not cannibalise it, at least not at a micro level.
Certainly the internet has been “disruptive”, to borrow a term beloved by technologist, and there is a systemic shift from the older medium to the newer one.
But that’s not the same as believing that your own website will destroy your weekly, or indeed that your app will destroy your website. It might but it doesn’t have to. The New York Times, for one, claims that digital subscriptions have helped stem the decline in print subs.
You can read the Press Gazette piece here.
Journalism.co.uk’s Rachel McAthy spoke to New York Times’ Paul Smurl before the Easter break to mark the second anniversary of the paper’s move behind a metered paywall.
The interview is worth listening to in full but here are a few lessons I took away from it:
1. It can be worth trading (some) ad revenue for subscription revenue…
2. …so long as you don’t lose too many readers
3. Digital subscriptions can help print circulation
4. Hostility towards the paywall model has softened
5. Amazon and Apple have taught people to pay online
You can read more at the Press Gazette and can listen to the whole interview here.
Hat tip to Nieman Journalism Lab for spotting this exchange on Quora which sheds light on the New York Times’s attempt to cultivate more meaningful exchanges “below the line”.
The question posed:
How does the NYT determine which articles have comments?
The answer was provided by the New York Times’s community manager, Bassey Etim. He wrote:
The vast majority of NYT comments are handled by a human moderator. This means that we have to make an editorial decision about which comment threads we will open for comments each day. Also, we adhere to a sort-of “slow moderation” theory, which posits that the best way to respect the commenting efforts of our readership is to ensure that their comments exist in an urbane, literate environment. (Definitely not an approach that is good for everyone, but it works fabulously for us, for reasons you can probably divine.) Our goal is to have every NYT comment thread offer tangible added value to each article for our readership.
The costs to this approach are obvious — it takes a long time, and many stories do not get comments. But NYT readers expect the highest-quality everything from us, so that’s what we deliver.
To boil it down, Etim lists “general criteria for opening a story for comment, generally in order of importance”:
– News value of the story
– Projected reader interest in the story
– Have we recently had comments on this issue?
– Whether we can moderate the projected # of comments in a timely fashion