Twitter this week launched ‘Twitter for Newsroom‘, an online guide to help those in publishing and journalism understand how best to find sources, verify stories and publish news online.

For many events Twitter has become the stories break, confirming how, as @nicnewman states in a report that news organisations are ‘abandoning attempts to be the first for breaking news, focusing instead on besting the best at verifying and curating it.’  Twitter has become a must-have tool for journalists, enabling them to reach out directly to people caught in the story and who want to share their experience.

All this said, the #TfN guide is very basic and top-line, not adding much value to what we already know.  The announcement highlights more how Twitter is understanding the use of it’s channel by the community as it tries to set some standards and best practice.  The channel has already made public ‘Producers’ guide to Twitter on TV‘ and ‘On-air [TV/Web] display guidelines.’

You just have to look at the case’s of injunctions in the UK of the uprisings in various Middle East countries to see how Twitter and other social networking channels have made the public into individual broadcasters, voices that can add value to a story.  But with so many voices journalists are having to develop a forensic view to enable them to dig through the noise and spin.  It is these skills that add value to journalism.

The announcement this week is a case of how the community is leading and the company is accepting the standards that we are setting.

With the upcoming integrating into Apple’s iOS5 we will see Twitter as a possible default messaging platform for those using Apple products.

Sky News Studio

Sky News made the headlines in March 2009 when it appointed a Twitter correspondent to scour the real-time platform ‘for stories’ and give Sky News a presence on the Twittersphere.  At the time Guardian writer Jemima Kiss said that she was “in two minds about the creation of a Twitter Correspondent.”

An internal Sky News memo obtained by Techcrunch at the time highlighted how the editorial team saw that news stories were breaking on Twitter thanks to users who eye-witnessed stories and then reported them to their followers.  Ruth Barnett, who today is the channel’s Online Politics Producer, was chosen as their Twitter correspondent.

I meet with Sky News Executive Editor Chris Birkett earlier this week, who confirmed that searching for news on Twitter and other social media platforms is now part of every journalist’s remit at Sky News.  I asked Chris about the impact that social media’s had on its newsgathering and content promotion operation.

Birkett said that their web and online team are responsible amongst other things for verifying content sent in to the newsroom through social media channels.  Birkett added that the number of users accessing Sky News online was being challenged by those who got the outlets news through their social media feeds.

Sky News Executive Editor Chris Birkett

Today the Sky News website has an audience reach of c.7.5 million unique users – 3.3 million in Europe and a further 4.2 million in other markets around the world.  Their iPhone app has been downloaded 2 million times, with Birkett confirming a “massive rise in users accessing the site through mobile devices,” something that is encouraging the news outlet to make it’s app available on other platforms, such Android, which recently announced it supported flash video.

Birkett noted that 18,000 people watched the Sky News Leader’s Debate from their smartphone.  We were also shown the development room where they were testing their forthcoming iPad app.

The one disappointment from a mobile aspect was that while the iPhone app has the facility for users to send in user generated content (ugc) the numbers have not yet excited editorial staff.  ‘Not yet’ being the watchword.

Asked if Sky News had benefited from The Times and Sunday Times paywall Birkett said that there didn’t appear to be a surge in traffic, which leaves one to question where Times Online users gone to?  Birkett did say though that Sky News has 650 staff – a lot less than the BBC, 500 of which are at the Sky News Centre and of which 150 are journalists.  The Times and Sunday Times meanwhile have dedicated 700 journalists, allowing the Wapping titles to provide the in-depth comment and analysis while Sky News focus on short video.

We are looking forward to another visit and further insight from Sky News.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relation’s announced today that it has brought together some of the UK’s most eminent social media thinkers “to provide input into the Institute’s policy guidance, education and training.”

Led by CIPR Board Member and Stainforth MD Rob Brown the advisory board is charged with looking at the impact of social media on “online reputation developments, convergence in marketing communications and best practice social media measurement.”

CIPR President Jay O’Connor said: “A core theme in our three-year strategic plan is social media and the impact on the public relations profession.  Rob joined the CIPR board to lead our efforts in this area, feeding into our policy, research and training.  As part of this, Rob has set up the Social Media Panel – a group of some of the UK’s foremost social media contributors, who will debate and input, ensuring our guidance reflects the very best thinking and practice.

“Things are moving quickly. Reaching out to practitioners who can offer their insight so that we can guide our members and the profession appropriately is key.”

Members of the advisory board include:

  • Daljit Bhurji ACIPR – Managing Director, Diffusion (@Daljit_Bhurji)
  • Mark Borkowski  – Managing Director, Borkowski (@MarkBorkowski)
  • Rob Brown FCIPR – Managing Director, Staniforth (@robbrown)
  • Stuart Bruce MCIPR – Managing Director, Wolfstar (@stuartbruce)
  • Dominic Burch – Head of Corporate Communications, ASDA (@dom_asdaPR)
  • Simon Collister – Head of Non-Profit and Public Sector, We Are Social (@simoncollister)
  • Gemma Griffiths – Client Director, Racepoint (@GemGriff)
  • Katy Howell – Managing Director, Immediate Future (@katyhowell)
  • Marshall Manson – Director of Digital Strategy, Edelman (@marshallmanson)
  • Beccy McMichael – Head of Corporate & Technology, Ruder Finn (@bmcmichael)
  • Danny Rogers – Editor, PR Week (@dannyrogers2001)
  • Julio Romo MCIPR – PR and Communications Consultant, twofourseven (@twofourseven)
  • Philip Sheldrake – Partner, Influence Crowd LLP (@sheldrake)
  • Stephen Waddington MCIPR – Managing Director, Speed Communications (@wadds)
  • Robin Wilson – Director Digital PR & Social Media, McCann Erickson (@robin1966)

You can keep up to date with debates and developments by following the #ciprsm hashtag.

BBC Television Centre Newsroom
BBC Television Centre Newsroom

The BBC’s User-Generated-Content (UGC) unit will be celebrating its fifth birthday this summer.  Since it was set up in 2005, the unit has quietly been transforming how the BBC gathers and reports news.  The unit is now a hub of 23 journalists that sift through stories, pictures and videos sent in by people who either have a story to tell or find themselves at the centre of a newsworthy event.

Today the hub supports the corporation’s newsgathering process.  It links BBC News with its audience or rather the audience with the newsroom through the corporations own website, as well as through email, text and social media platforms such as Facebook and TwitterOn an average week the hub processes 50,000 email comments and contributions, 1,000 images and 100 video clips.

It works because people make it work and the BBC and its senior management understand the concept of citizen journalism.  They see their audience as an asset that can add value to the corporations newsgathering.  For the BBC journalism is now a two-way relationship where they engage with their audience and listen to what they are interested in.  The BBC brings them into the editorial process, allowing them to have a conversation of equals.  This allows ordinary citizens to drive content to experienced and trained journalists who cannot access countries and restricted stories, but can piece together information driven to them by people on the ground.

But how does the UGC hub work, what does it do and how does it corroborate fact from fiction from its contributors?

Thanks to the hub’s editor Matthew Eltringham I spent a day at the BBC in December learning how they work and support the corporation’s news outlets, leading them to win the ‘2009 News Award For Outstanding Contribution To BBC News.’

Located at the heart of the BBC Newsroom, the hub is like any other section, with desks, phones, Dell computers and monitors.  What makes the hub unique is that they are the first contact point for contributors and citizen journalists from around the world.  They allow people to engage and support the newsgathering process.  Once material is verified they’ll make it available internally to television and radio news programmes.

Each news outlet will have their presence online through either a page or blog on the BBC News site.  Some may also have a Twitter feed that they’ll use to reach out to their individual audience through which they can promote their work and content.  Individual journalists might also use and promote their work through their own Twitter feed.

But it was never as easy as it is today.  A number of years back I was told by a now senior BBC News executive of how respected television news personalities were opposed to writing a blog on the BBC’s own website that added insight and detail to 1 minute 30-second TV packages they put together.  They “felt that it devalued their experience and knowledge” and that if it wasn’t in their package it wasn’t important.  It is all very different today with Robert Peston and Nick Robinson amongst others viewing their blogs as central to their work.  In fact they see the blogs as another channel through which they promote their stories and a way of engaging with their respective audiences.

Today the hub works in three ways – it listens to chatter and gauges public reaction on the BBC’s own forums as well as social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it sends out requests for content (pictures, video and personal reaction) on breaking news stories through the BBC News website and its dedicated Twitter feeds and it filters and verifies content sent in by people.

Engaging with its audience

The BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’ section on the news site is a platform through which readers and viewers can share their thoughts on relevant newsworthy events.  There are around 345,000 registered users and contributors, but only a small number of these contribute on a regular basis.

With so many online registration systems in use the BBC is currently working on unifying these so that visitors to any BBC site – News, iPlayer, etc – need only one registration.  The intention is that by March 2010, BBC iD will be the single sign in for all BBC Online services.  I understand that the aim is for BBC iD to have a social media feel to it, so that users can list amongst other things their likes, comments and contributions – let it be views of programmes on iPlayer or comments or contributions they’ve made to BBC News stories.

The hub also monitors comments on its ‘Have Your Say’ forum and searches for reaction on networking sites such as Facebook.  An example of this was the coverage the BBC gave to how over 20,000 people joined a group on Facebook in support of Massimo Tartaglia, the individual who bloodied Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after a rally in Milan.

Requesting and searching for collateral

BBC One TEN O'CLOCK NEWS
BBC One Ten O’Clock News

At a recent Chartered Institute of Public Relations Greater London Group event Nic Newman, the BBC’s Future Media and Technology Controller for Journalism and Digital Distribution, said that such has been the impact of social media that news outlets have reacted by abandoning attempts ‘to be first for breaking news, focusing instead on being the best at verifying and curating’ stories.

Depending on the newsworthiness of an event, the UGC hub will access a story on the BBC News website and add a form asking for pictures, video and comment from people caught up or affected by an event.  Staff on the hub will also put out requests through their central BBC newsgathering Twitter feeds.

For diarised stories such as conferences, the hub will set up a Twitter feed dedicated to that event.  For example, for the recent summit in Copenhagen Climate Change Conference they set up: twitter.com/BBC_cop15.  Requests for material and stories on breaking news stories will be pushed out through their twitter.com/BBC_HaveYourSay Twitter feed.

The level of response varies from story to story with people sending in comment, pictures and video through the BBC’s own website as well as email and sms/mms.

The BBC UGC hub is only responsible for the central newsgathering Twitter feeds.  It doesn’t manage the feeds of specific BBC News programmes, such as those for The Today Programme, Newsnight or BBC Radio 5 Live’s Drive.  Each of these outlets is responsible for managing and communicating with their audience.  The BBC News Sports team manage their own social media channels, tools and communications.

Verifying content

BBC News - Get In Touch
BBC News – Get In Touch

Reporting accurate information is at the heart of every news organisation.  But as a public broadcaster the BBC is more accountable than other news outlets.  This is why it is the hub’s policy to verify all user-generated-content that they want to use and forward to other BBC news programmes.

Where appropriate staff on the hub will verify stories and images by speaking with the contributor by phone.  They will also check EXIF details of images that they want to use.

It is the policy of the hub to not pay for any image, exclusive or otherwise that is sent in or offered.  They would rather an independent agency buy the exclusivity and pay them usage rights.

Pictures used are credited to each contributor and meta-tags are added to images used online to support the BBC’s SEO.

The BBC has been setting the standards in newsgathering for many years.  It was one of the first news outlets to set up a website and was one of the first to recognise citizen journalism and use user-generated-content in its newsgathering. More recently they were the first mainstream media organisations to set up a dedicated team to manage user-generated-content.

In the next number of months the corporation will release it’s much anticipated iPhone app, which has been held up by legal wrangles with Apple.  The app though could well prove to be another tool in the corporation’s newsgathering armoury.

For far too long people have criticised the BBC for being too big and not delivering content.  Yet they are the first to reach out, engage with them and listen and use content they supply.

It is going to be an interesting year for media and news organisations and you can be sure that what the BBC have been pioneering will be replicated in other newsrooms around the world.

It has been an interesting year for public relations.  The recession has affected how businesses communicateReputation and issues management have been the watchwords as companies throughout the world battled to safeguard their image and reputation during what could be described as the first major downturn in this globalised era.  And it has taken no prisoners as it spread across sectors and continents, highlighting how interconnected we all are today.

What’s been interesting is that while the recession was causing havoc around the world, consumers became better connectedIssues that once might have only affected reputations in a small geographic region spread like wild fire thanks to social media and networking.  Media outlets across the world wasted no time in reporting issues that were trending online.

While this was happening companies continued in their monologue culture, dictating at consumers while they engaged and networked online – sharing feedback and their experiences through websites, blogs and real-time platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

And that is the point.  Social media and networking has empowered consumers.  It has given them a platform through which they can share knowledge and experience.  It has also raised their expectations with regards to what they want and how they want it.  They expect good service and that expectation crosses sectors.  Today, if you have outstanding service when buying a car, you expect the same level of service when dealing with your bank or utility company.  Social media has unified the expectations of people and it is now up to companies to realise this.

The fear that the business community has is that it isn’t able to control the conversation.  Entering into a conversation with current or potential consumers on a digital platform “entails considerable risk” as the Accenture report says.  Risk because if your levels of service do not meet the expectations of your empowered audience, said stakeholders will amplify their displeasure and share it with others, may others.  In fact, the Accenture says that “one-quarter of respondents have used these channels [digital] to relate their negative experiences to others.”  In fact, nearly nine in 10 consumers globally told the people around them about their bad experiences.  And this is not what businesses want during an economic recovery.

You just have to look at how Eurostar created a rod for its own back by behaving in such as detached way from what was affecting their customers.  A lack of empathy and the use of corporate language only helped turn an issue into a crisis.  Such was the reaction to horrendous customer service that customers turned to Facebook and other online sites to vent their anger at how they were treated.

And let’s not forget how Rage Against The Machine became the UK’s Christmas Number 1.  Tired of being fed ‘pop-tastic’ fodder, people joined a Facebook group that attracted over 1 million supporters who wanted to break the monopoly of X-Factor.  People power at it’s best.

So, what should businesses do in order to meet the ever-increasing expectations of consumers?  Accenture rightly says that companies should dump the ‘one-size-fits-all’ customer service model and “embrace a service model that provides differentiated service experiences based on the expectations and requirements of individual—and closely understood—customer segments.”

Businesses in the so-called emerging markets have become more vulnerable to the power of people.  One could argue that it’s because consumers are keener on making the most of their new found wealth, while customers in mature markets are more patient and will only as a last resort take their business elsewhere.

For quite some time consumers have had customer service that’s been designed for them rather than with them.  With the speed at which the public can create a backlash it is going to be essential that businesses learn to listen and start developing models that can be customised by customers.  Collaboration and prompt attention and the understanding that each consumer is unique will help businesses succeed as the economy climbs out of recession.  This culture and philosophy will work to turn consumers into advocates, turn people into an invisible word-of-mouth and online sales force.

I believe that 2010 will be a year where public relations forces businesses to take note of what customers want.  A year where cultures will need to change, because if they don’t and consumers ever increasing expectations are not met reputations will suffer.  Businesses will start noticing that their customers are now critics that will make their opinions known not just through word-of-mouth but online, to a much wider audience.

In 2010 consumers that share their positive or negative thoughts and experiences will attract cult following.  Of course on issues such as banking we already have this with MoneySavingExpert.com’s Martin Lewis.  Just think of what he’s achieved and wonder what others could do in sectors in which they are customers.

We are witnessing a change and social media is the platform through which consumers will fight for the service that they expect.

But as Niccolo Machiavelli said, “whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”