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November 12 2010


An exercise in interactive thinking

I’ve just run through an exercise with my class of students from the MA in Television and Interactive Content at Birmingham City University. The exercises are intended to get them to think about the web as more than just a repository of content, but a platform that people use in different ways depending on who they are and what they want to do.

I thought I would share them here – for my own record if nothing else.

What’s your topic – who is your userbase?

Most editorial productions begin with a topic, and an angle on that topic. They also have a particular audience in mind, which dictates the tone that is taken in its production: a documentary aimed at 5-year-olds is going to have a very different tone to one aimed at 25-year-olds, even if the topic is the same.

This gives you the People bit of the POST method I’ve written about previously – the starting point for everything that follows.

From there then you can identify

  • The objectives of those people*.
  • How you might help those people meet those objectives (the strategy and technology)
  • Which of those strategies match your own objectives – or those of the person you’re pitching to

*In the original POST method the objectives are yours, but I would suggest starting with users’ objectives because you need a mutually beneficial outcome.

Here’s how it works in practice:

Example 1: a documentary on Matthew Boulton.

The audience here includes engineering enthusiasts, history hobbyists and numismatists. We focused on numismatists (the documentary’s angle focused on coins), and identified the following objectives:

  • To find coins/auctions,
  • To discuss,
  • To research,
  • To display,
  • To swap/sell,
  • To catalogue

From those the following options were quickly brainstormed:

  • Online swapping service
  • Find out about coins
  • Talk about coins – forum
  • Gallery – photo sharing
  • Virtual catalogue
  • Auction listings & map

In terms of technology, the above might be achieved through an eBay shop or purpose-built ecommerce operation; an informational website; a blog, forum or Facebook group; a Flickr pool; an online cataloguing service similar to LibraryThing; a purpose-built listings site or listings on a third party service such as Upcoming.

Which route you decide to explore will depend on your own objectives, assets and capabilities.

Example 2: Tea culture in the UK

The premise of this documentary is the death of tea drinking in the UK as coffee houses become a larger part of life. The audience is 18-35 year olds.

Now typically people engage with or consume media for emotional, economic or social reasons.

In this instance we decided that social reasons might be strongest. We explored how people connected with each other, and identified the following ways:

  • Memories
  • Plans
  • Jokes
  • Banter
  • Argument
  • The need to exchange information

So what do our 18-35 year olds want to do? Well, let’s say they just want to have fun. We could create a ‘What caffeinated beverage are you?’ quiz. This is also social, and viral. We might organise a ‘Tea Day’ – this gives people something to plan towards, and collaborate around. Indeed, that process might also involve the other elements – joking, arguing, exchanging information, and so on.

The devil is in the detail

Both these examples took around 15-20 minutes to work through, but they provide a good starting point for establishing the frame and direction for the real work that follows: researching what already exists, and what has been done before, identifying gaps, and planning a strategy to get you from where you are now to where you – and your users – want to be.

It’s the strategy that dictates which – of all the ideas listed above – are most appropriate. And of course, after the strategy comes the execution.

The point is that if you haven’t identified the people and their objectives first, your strategy and execution will be built on thin air. ‘Build it and they will come’ is a pipe dream.

January 19 2010


Technology is not a strategy: it’s a tool

Here’s another draft section from the book chapter on UGC I’m currently writing which I’d welcome your input on. I’m particularly interested in any other objectives you can think of that news organisations have for using UGC – or the strategies adopted to achieve those.

A common mistake made when first venturing into user generated content is to focus on the technology, rather than the reasons for using it. “We need to have our own social network!” someone shouts. But why? And, indeed, how do you do so successfully?

A useful framework to draw on when thinking about how you approach UGC is the POST process for social media strategy outlined by Forrester Research (Bernoff, 2007). This involves identifying:

  • People: who are your audience (or intended audience), and what social media (e.g. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, forums, etc.) do they use? Equally important, why do they use social media?
  • Objectives: what do you want to achieve through using UGC
  • Strategy: how are you going to achieve that? How will relationships with users change?
  • Technology: only when you’ve explored the first three steps can you decide which technologies to use

Some common objectives for UGC and strategies associated with those are listed below:

Objective Example UGC strategies Users spend longer on our site
  • Give users something to do around content, e.g. comments, vote, etc.
  • Find out what users want to do with UGC and allow them to do that on-site
  • Acknowledge and respond to UGC
  • Showcase UGC on other platforms, e.g. print, broadcast
  • Create a positive atmosphere around UGC – prevent aggressive users scaring others away
Attract more users to our site
  • Help users to promote their own and other UGC
  • Allow users to cross-publish UGC from our site to others and vice versa
  • Allow users to create their own UGC from our own raw or finished materials
Get to the stories before our competitors
  • Monitor UGC on other sites
  • Monitor mentions of keywords such as ‘earthquake’, etc.
  • Become part of and contribute to online UGC communities
  • Provide live feeds pulling content from UGC sites*
Increase the amount of content on our site
  • Make it easy for users to contribute material to the site
  • Make it useful
  • Make it fun
  • Provide rewards for contributing – social or financial
Improve the editorial quality of our work
  • Provide UGC space for users to highlight errors, contribute updates
  • Ensure that we attract the right contributors in terms of skills, expertise, contacts, etc.
  • Involve users from the earliest stages of production

Can you add any more? What strategies have you used around UGC?

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