News Orgs Missing Out on Real-Time Social Content

A new study by the Pew Research Center suggests news organizations still use social media as traditional broadcasters, distributing a monologue to what they believe to be a passive audience. This highlights a missed opportunity for them to engage in a dialogue with their consumers while utilizing real-time social content and conversation.

The opportunity for news broadcasters and publishers to use social content is even more apparent in advance of the 2012 election season, as they look for ways to extend the scope and reach of their political coverage. The challenge for these organizations is having the ability to find the relevant content while putting it into context for viewers and readers.

The massive volume of social content and the conversation it inspires is staggering. This is an asset to the news business and is critical to coverage of something as important as a presidential election. Come with me as I travel in time to Election Day 2012 and into a fictional newsroom of the very near future to see how social content can be used to its fullest potential.

It’s the early hours of the morning in the fictional newsroom of MRN. The anchors of the morning program are pounding coffee and applying their requisite cheery personas. It’s early, but voters are already at the polls, smartphones in hand. They’re snapping pictures of the long lines, tweeting overheard conversations of fellow voters, checking in on foursquare, and writing on candidates’ Facebook pages.

The producers of MRN’s morning program are interested in using this social content to tell the story of the early-morning voter in a visual manner. They’ve asked viewers to send in pictures from the polls and they’ve set up a monitor on the set to display the content. The pictures are streaming in from all over the country in real-time and are popping up on the monitor behind the anchors.

It’s not possible to send photojournalists to every polling center in the nation, but now there’s no need. MRN has created a real-time photostream offering their viewers at home an unprecedented view of what voters across the country are experiencing at the polls.

Lunchtime comes quickly and MRN sees an uptick in traffic on their Web site as viewers take a break from work to surf the Web. In a national election, with so many candidates and different referendums, how is the average person to keep track of it all? MRN.com has solved that problem for its readers by creating filtered streams of social content on its site.

The political editors at MRN know the noise online from so many different voices can be overwhelming, so they embraced their role as curators. They set up individual streams to pull content from candidates, politicians, reporters and more, and curated it to display just the most relevant and on-topic content. They then gave their readers the ability to filter the streams themselves, allowing them to see content and conversation relevant to their individual state, political party or to even search by a particular issue. The result is a robust, real-time experience for visitors to get safe, relevant content that has been put into context by the journalists at MRN.

It’s now afternoon and the MRN newsroom is buzzing. The first polls will begin closing in just a few hours. Senior political analysts and strategists are working in the main election set and are discussing possible outcomes in a live broadcast. Working in tandem, these very same pundits are engaging with MRN viewers in a back and forth dialogue on MRN.com.

When more than one person speaks at a time on television it creates an unwatchable and incoherent experience for viewers. But with so many opinions from intelligent experts on its election broadcast MRN producers wanted to capture as much analysis as possible. To accomplish this, they have set up each pundit with a computer and instructed them to tweet throughout the broadcast. The tweets are then pulled into a hub on MRN.com where viewers can watch the real-time analysis unfold as a compliment to what’s being said on TV.

And because MRN wants their viewers to be included in the dialogue, they’ve included the viewers’ voice in that experience. The political experts who are speaking in the broadcast are also responding directly to viewer questions and comments. Those questions and answers are automatically paired up on the MRN.com web site in the form of a Q&A, acting as an added resource to viewers and readers alike.

MRN viewers are busy and hardworking people who are not always near a TV or computer. The news organization has built a mobile app for the very purpose of bringing election news to its consumers wherever they may be. An integral part of the apps features is its real-time streams of social content.

The app acts as a second-screen experience to MRN’s television broadcast by pulling in live video alongside filtered streams of conversation. Viewers can engage with reporters and other viewers from the app, in addition to seeing real-time trending topics within the conversation, leaderboards of the candidates, and interactive polls.

The first results are in and MRN is ready to call a winner in a key race. The reporter walks over to a video wall where a map of the United States is lit up in Red and Blue. He zeroes in on the state of New York where a winner is announced. After the reporter explains the finding of the exit polling data he then shifts his analysis to see how voters are discussing the outcome on social media.

The map of New York is now being populated by growing and shrinking dots, which represent new tweets coming in from those locations. The reporter explains that people in New York are tweeting about the winning candidate at a much higher percentage rate than the losing candidate. In fact, he says, a real-time analysis of keywords from New Yorkers tweeting about the winner shows general happiness and excitement, with trending topics such as “happy, hope, and change.”

The reporter then shows us a sampling of what’s being said about the winner being declared, including messages from other politicians, celebrities, and public figures, who are tweeting about the candidate’s win.

The ability to harness real-time social content as I’ve outlined above is not only possible it’s already being done by some of our forward-thinking clients. It’s a logical template for how news broadcasters and publishers can use social content to enhance their stories and ultimately be better journalists. With more sources and more data to extrapolate from it, the power to add value for news consumers comes through the ability to curate and add editorial relevance.

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