Feature

Double Standards - How can newspaper brands utilise social media?

Newspapers are turning to social media to increase brand awareness and interact with their readership, while there are also opportunities in the commercial sphere, experts say.

The Times online
The Times online

JO BLAKE - Head of Press, Arena Media

- How are the worlds of news brands and social media colliding?

With more than 30 million people on Facebook in the UK alone, news brands and publishers need to be active in the social media landscape. Social media provides a real-time barometer of audiences - a way to instantly gauge reaction and reach out to new audiences. Newspapers understand that social media provides a simple and effective way to engage with readers and enables them to target the sought-after demographic of younger readers.

- What opportunities do the likes of Twitter and Facebook offer newspaper brands?

The rewards for newspaper brands are enormous. The instant response that newspapers get in social media is hugely valuable - readers' feedback provides useful data, it can be used as a research tool to move stories along and act as an immediate barometer of readers' interests, passions and hot buttons. Plus, it's the nature of the beast that users share their favourite stories, Tweeting their views and sending links. This kind of "earned media" is the holy grail for all brands and is extra valuable for newspapers in their constant pursuit to be thought of as "the journal of record".

- How does this affect advertisers?

Twitter and Facebook allow advertisers to tap into the immediacy of real-time conversation with a first-hand picture of what their consumers think. The platforms also reflect public outrage and endorsement faster than any other medium, giving advertisers a clear indication of public mood and expectation.

- Social media can also work against newspaper brands as many news stories break on Twitter first. How much of a threat is this to news brands?

Social media is now an extension of newspaper brands, many of which have already developed policies for online interaction. Sometimes, they will break their own exclusives on Twitter to ensure the exclusive and act as a teaser to entice people to read the in-depth piece in the print edition. They still tend to try to save the really big stories for the print edition, but this is becoming harder to do and justify, as many readers want 24-hour contact with their newspaper. Newspapers know that their survival rests on integrating their service online and offline.

- How important is it for circulation auditors to break down which readers are accessing digital news content through social media?

Transparency and an understanding of the circulation and its impact are crucial. To understand the true significance of the figures, there must be analysis and enough of a breakdown to be able to place a value on different levels of engagement. Naturally, newspapers need to be aware of how readers are engaging with their content in social media. Equally, they will look at online readership, tablet use and print.

- What other innovative ways are newspaper brands embracing the open web for commercial benefit and how attractive a commercial opportunity is this?

The Guardian and Observer's use of open journalism puts them at the heart of the story, allowing them to aggregate, curate and, ultimately, report the whole picture. Their use of social media in terms of reaching and communicating with experts and eyewitnesses is impressive. It's a clever way of engaging with readers and provides a more detailed story, at very little cost. The impact on revenues of open journalism is still being hotly debated. However, in an era of paywalls and increased scrutiny on newspaper ethics, open journalism suggests transparency and shows newspapers and readers working together to get to the truth - a really attractive proposition for brands.

JON O'DONNELL - Group Commercial Director, The Independent, i, The Independent on Sunday and London Evening Standard

- How are the worlds of news brands and social media colliding?

The relationship has become pretty symbiotic, with news brands amplifying content created in social media, and social media sharing content and themes generated by news brands. I think it's pretty evident that news often breaks on social media now, but it still needs traditional media formats to give the story context and scale.

- What opportunities do the likes of Twitter and Facebook offer newspaper brands?

Social media gives newspapers and journalists the opportunity to interact with their readers in real time, engaging them in the debate. It's really important that the relationship between writer and reader is two-way and social media allows this to happen more easily. Second, it gives newspapers the opportunity to engage with new and younger audiences. This is important as a good number of these people may never have read a newspaper or visited a newspaper's website. Social media allows news brands to go directly to where the audience is, rather than just waiting for the audience to come to them.

- How does this affect advertisers?

Obviously, advertisers will benefit from a wider and more engaged audience, and any audience growth through new readers would be welcome, but I wouldn't think it would affect them beyond that. Advertisers are increasingly employing a more joined-up strategy with social media in terms of developing deeper relationships with the consumer - and newspapers are no different.

- Social media can also work against newspaper brands as many news stories break on Twitter first. How much of a threat is this to news brands?

I don't see this as a threat, really. You can't tell the whole story in 140 characters - just a headline. People then turn to traditional media to get the context and the comment. Around 70 per cent of Tweets read are actually from news sources anyway, demonstrating that news brands are just getting the news to people in different ways, so I don't think it's about one replacing the other. Also, people don't just buy newspapers for news. Breaking news is actually a small part of what printed newspapers do and has been since they were able to do it digitally ten years ago.

- How important is it for circulation auditors to break down which readers are accessing digital news content through social media?

Auditing is about counting audience, and audience is about creating revenue. If an ad is being placed near a piece of news content that is being read or shared, then it's important to be able to measure that audience regardless of format, or in what context the piece is being read. If there's no ad or commercial opportunity, then it's fairly irrelevant.

- What other innovative ways are newspaper brands embracing the open web for commercial benefit and how attractive a commercial opportunity is this?

The long-term opportunity is about investing in relationships with our future audience. This means partnering up with the likes of the publishing aggregator app Google Currents, for example. The challenge with embracing such opportunities is that we may have to do this with minimal revenue upside initially in order to get people to interact with our brands, but the aim is to future-proof and gain audience. The idea is that the commercial opportunities then come further down the line once the audiences and relationships are established.