The social newsroom
Why aren’t Aussie brands integrating social into their online newsrooms? In a feature that first appeared in Encore, Nic Christensen finds out.
The online newsroom used to be such an easy concept.
In a simpler time, the company would have a website and tucked away somewhere on the site they would post their media releases along with some company background and maybe, if journalists were lucky, a contact phone number for media inquiries.
Today brands are publishers in their own right and their communications are increasingly made across various platforms and often published simultaneously, which raises the question of integration. These days every brand has a Facebook and Twitter presence but clearly, much more can be done to utilise and integrate a brand’s online voice by establishing what has been dubbed a social media newsroom.
Public relations experts say the real challenge lies in integrating platforms while driving unique and engaging content across them. This is often where Australian brands are letting themselves down. “The social media newsroom really moves to being a media site itself so you are providing content as well as trying to get journalists to pick up the story,” says senior public relations executive Trevor Cook.
“You are trying to use social media as the distribution mechanism in itself. You are hoping sites like Facebook and Twitter ensure your news gets distributed to people.”
The challenge for brands is doing this well. Cook argues that from his analysis of the top 20 ASX-listed companies, only one is doing it well.
“Apart from Telstra there aren’t many companies that are doing much more than putting up a bit of stuff on Facebook and Twitter,” says Cook, a former partner with Jackson Wells. “The ones who are the best practice exemplars are the American sites where brands like Intel actually look like a media news site.”
He points to how the US brand has integrated YouTube content, Twitter streams and other social content into the main page of the Intel Newsroom.
Media director of Ogilvy PR, Sam North, says the shift requires a change in corporate mindset away from the traditional media approach.
“The problem is business gives lip service to social media but they do nothing about it,” says North. “The industry has been slow to react. One of the problems with the situation at the moment is yes there are all these channels but the mentality is that old media still dominates.”
“That is changing rapidly and it will eventually tip over.”
Cook argues that the challenge for brands now is to create their content and to speak to audiences directly, cutting out the major publishers.
“To do this properly you’ve got to become a media company and start thinking like journalists,” says Cook. “You’ve got to think about the story, what the audience wants to see and you can’t have the quarantining of Facebook and Twitter pages and the corporate site.”
For telecommunications company Telstra, integrating these platforms is difficult. Danielle Clarke, Telstra’s head of online and social media, says the telco is constantly trying to speak to various audiences through its numerous channels. “Understanding the audience of each digital channel is crucial – and also understanding why each audience opts to follow, visit or engage with your brand on a specific channel is key to running successful digital and social communities,” says Clarke. “You are then able to create content to appeal to them.”
“Connecting directly with customers and journalists is a wonderful benefit of social media, as a brand we are no longer so reliant on traditional media channels to get our messages out and connect directly with customers.”
A former managing editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, North argues the problem for many brands lies in creating engaging content that both journalists and a wider audience of consumers are actually interested in.
“It’s not as easy as putting a talking head in front of a video because nobody wants to watch that,” says North. “It has to be compelling content. One of the problems you have is that companies want their name or logo emblazoned all over the graphics, video or content. You’ve got to say to them ‘you won’t get a guernsey there’.”
Tom Burton executive manager for Gov 2.0 with The Australian Communications and Media Authority says the creation of unique and integrated content is a far more effective means of communicating a message and it’s working for his organisation.
“We’ve cut our number of press releases by a third but we’ve increased the number of mentions five fold,” says Burton, himself a former journalist appointed by the ACMA in 2010 to drive social engagement across the agency.
“The proof is there. It comes from offering different products to different people. In the end a blog post might be just as effective for some things, while one tweet will be effective for others.”
Burton says the agency has been able to achieve better results through understanding the audience and by changing its mentality around communications. “You’ve got to ask the question: where is the crowd?” he says. “If the crowd is on a Facebook page talking about media standards then that’s where you need to be. Your products and your outreach need to be tailored to that. So you start at that point and work backwards.”
While the ACMA’s website does not yet fully integrate all its social communications Burton says this will be a key part of an updated ACMA website launching next month which will include social media and video alongside more traditional approaches such as media releases and blog posts.
“We are launching a new website shortly and we really tried to understand how engagement works,” says Burton. “We had to understand how to integrate a lot of the social media and engagement aspects. We now describe it as a digital platform rather than just as a website.”
He also offers advice to brands and government agencies who are struggling with integrating their communications. “Use spaces where you already have some public exposure so there is confidence,” he says.
“If you are a having to make up brand new governance and approval processes then you’re in trouble.”
Cook says better integration will come when corporates release control. He says: “It’s funny because we actually have more control if we create our own content rather than relying on journalists.”
North agrees but says some businesses treat social platforms like a traditional medium. “You have to explain that, in the case of a Facebook post, we can’t just take that down, it’s been put up by a customer and yes you might not like it but taking it down only creates more problems,” says North.
“Companies have to engage and realise that consumers now have power. A lot of companies still don’t get it.”
This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.