BBC DG Mark Thompson

Convergence.  This was one of the keywords that came of out of this year’s 2011 Financial Times Digital Media & Broadcast Conference.  It’s taking me some time to pen this, but I wanted to share some of the key points that were discussed.

Last year the conference coincided with the BBC unveiling the results of it’s Strategy Review.  This year gathering started on the same time as Apple unveiled its much-anticipated iPad 2, Facebook announced the rollout of its Comments plug-in and the all-important decision from the Department for Culture Media and Sport Minister Jeremy Hunt MP to allow News International’s full take-over of BSkyB.

Chief executives and senior board members gathered in London to outline their thoughts on an industry that is changing at breakneck speed.  It’s an industry that is no longer operating by itself, but a sector that is being driven by the technology that their own consumers are engaging with.  And the speed of adoption is forcing many boards to re-evaluate how they engage with their audiences.

Mobile and social networking are the two platforms, the two elephants in the room, that media and broadcast organisations are still struggling to grapple with.  They are also the platforms that public relations professionals must fully grasp for themselves and their clients.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson highlighted this year how ‘new media’ and the consumer have shaped how it offers content.  The corporation accepted that consumers want the BBC’s content on every platform.  Its iPlayer is today available on the iPhone and iPad, with Thompson confirming that people even watch BBC content on their mobiles in bed.

Thompson understands simplicity and highlighted that the iPlayer works because it is straightforward.  In January of this year 162 million downloads were made through the iPlayer, this in a country of 25 million households.

Thompson confirmed that 2011 is the year of convergence, stating that strength is with those that have a strong presence online and understand the value of simplicity.

One of the areas that the BBC Director General is looking at is the power and influence of social recommendations and how this will shape how we all watch television.  Indeed Thompson confirmed that the BBC and Facebook are having conversations.

Speaking at the conference Facebook’s EMEA Managing Director Joanna Shield confirmed that the company now has 30 million active users in the UK, accounting for 1 in 2 of the population.  Talking about how it ‘supports‘ UK media Shields highlighted that 10% of the Daily Mail’s web traffic now comes from Facebook and that the sites plugins have helped The Independent gain up to a 700% increase in traffic.

Talking of Facebook, Sales and Marketing Director for mobile provider 3 Marc Allera in a separate session said that a staggering 75% of their data traffic is directed to Facebook – an incredible statistic.  Allera also said that 90% of 3’s sales are Smartphone’s.

Facebook is the platform of choice for the consumer.  For business it is the ‘frenemy’, a business that delivers eyeballs to those with an online presence, but a business that can quickly cannibalise those that work with it.  Take Groupon and Livingsocial for example.  Both living in the hype, but both under the knife of Facebook, who a few days ago announced ‘a new service that will sell discounts deals to consumers.’ Sound familiar?

So, Facebook is becoming an entity in itself.  The stats show it, but for the time being, it is a fact that business needs to learn to live with it.  Equally, it needs to retain control of the data that makes it’s business a business.

I was going to ask, remember when clients used to ask about needing a Facebook Strategy?  Something that made PRs and Strategists cringe?  Well, there is a need to have a Facebook Strategy, but a strategy to manage them and avoid each business being cannibalised by this growing entity.  The data that companies share with the social giant make the same businesses vulnerable.

Convergence and Facebook, and of course all the other offerings.  The tables have turned and consumers are showing businesses how and where they want their content.

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.

We all know how the downturn in advertising spend has affected the press and publishing industries.  Newsrooms appear to have been decimated as publishers across all sectors laid journalists out to pasture.  In far too much haste commentators wasted no time in penning the obligatory obituary for their own industry.  But how wrong they appeared to have been.

If there was one thing that came from last week’s news:rewired conference at London’s City University it was that journalism is rediscovering itself and using technology and it’s audience to do an even better job.  The fact is that while the decline in advertising has decimated newspapers and magazine, publishers have been fighting back, restructuring and getting their journalists to use social media and networking platforms not just for promoting content but for reaching out, developing contacts and finding great stories.

Professor George Brock opened the day with a series of seminal questions, is there such a thing as news, is authority in the crowd or the expert, does news stay in bundles and how do we [journalists] tell what is true?

Brock challenged the news model and gave examples of how outlets in the US are re-establishing themselves.  In his keynote speech he encouraged those present to not look at technology as the saviour of journalism, but to look backward and remember traditional journalism.

Using the 2009 Iranian election protests as an example Brock cited that while Twitter and video were important during the uprising, “it’s a less well known that one of the most effective ways of opposition ideas was slogans stamped on banknotes.”  He added that opposition messages were, “now stamped on so many banknotes that the governor or the Iranian Central Bank – not very sympathetic to the authorities – is in an argument with the authorities who want them removed from circulation.  Of course, in an economy you can’t just withdraw large numbers of banknotes [as] you will trigger an economic crisis.  So the message remains in circulation!”

Technology and social media platforms are tools that support communications.  They support journalism and public relations. BBC College of Journalism Editor Kevin Marsh highlighted how the BBC Newsroom had adopted web-centric journalism skills that allow engagement with its audience.  Something that I’ve written about before.

Kevin Marsh at news:rewired 2010 from BBC College of Journalism on Vimeo.

Marsh confirmed that new skills and platforms are just that, new.  They are there to back up traditional newsgathering skills such as organising an outside broadcast, gathering information from a court case or persuading people to talk and go on the record.

Seminars that took place confirmed that journalists have to learn and adapt to how people are moving online.  Journalists needed to pick up new skills on how multimedia newsrooms work, the power of social media for journalists, crowd-sourcing and data-mashing.

Content and stories are online and it’s a journalist’s job is to find and report them depending on their beat.  To use content to back up what contacts can provide.

But why is this so important to public relations professionals?  Why should this shift matter to those who build and shape brands and reputations?

In my opinion it matters a lot.  It matters because journalists are using citizens as an extension of their profession.  And citizens that are happy to contribute.  They are happy to be the eyes and ears on the ground.

During the crowd sourcing session tempers nearly got the better of some who objected to the term ‘citizen-journalists.’  Some attendees coined the term ‘eye-witness-journalists’ as professionals found it objectionable that people with no training described themselves as ‘journalists’.  While it was a very well argued point, the fact is that while many people can contribute to a story it is a trained journalist that can filter out the coal from the diamonds.

All this matters to PRs because people that unhappy customers can be found very easily.  Technology has herded people into online pens and it is the job of a good journalist to find them and work them into a story.

The same people want to receive their content through their social media platforms, online and on their mobiles.  The same devices that can now capture any bit of breaking news.

Of course journalists are learning on the go as the news and publishing industry moved online.  A channel where readers and viewers are less faithful.  Loyalty will depend on the speed at which content is updated.

Award-winning videojournalist and Southbank artist-in-residence David Dunkley Gyimah shows us what can be done and possibly what journalists should be.  Watching David confirmed that journalists might have to be multi-disciplined.

A brief visual history of videojournalism from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Journalism is evolving and the new technology that for so long had been blamed for its potential demise might in fact be its saviour.  And that is important for everybody, not just journalists, and not just PRs.

Laura Oliver, Nic Newman and Julio Romo
Laura Oliver, Nic Newman and Julio Romo

Nic Newman summed up the impact that social media is having on journalism when he said that based on volume and time spent on site, “Facebook was six times bigger than CNN.”  People today spend more time on social networking sites than on news sites, with industry commentators citing this to highlight the reason for the supposed death of news and quality journalism.  For others though social media represents an opportunity – a resource that adds value to journalism, which is why the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Greater London Group (CIPR GLG) wanted to host an event to discuss how social media is re-shaping journalism and the news industry.

For this debate we were delighted to welcome Nic Newman, the BBC’s Future Media and Technology Controller for Journalism and Digital Distribution and Laura Oliver, Editor for

Nic had just returned to the BBC after three months at the Reuters Institute for The Study of Journalism at Oxford University where he wrote a paper on ‘The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism.’ A document that gave insight into how social media was being adopted and used within the BBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

As has been well publicised, the reach of news organisations has been in decline for many years, ever since publishers implemented a business model that gave away its content for free online so that they could get a slice of the at the time new revenue from online advertising.  Of course as we now know this strategy ended up ‘cannibalising’ revenues from print, broadcast and other news focused incomes as consumers stopped buying newspapers and magazines and moved online where news is free.

The double-whammy came with the rise of social media, as people moved to Facebook, Twitter and the like and stopped visiting news websites.  And it was through these ‘herds’ – their friends and followers – that people started to get the breaking news stories that for so long had been the preserve of news outlets.

While some industry commentators saw social media as the final nail in the coffin for quality journalism and the news industry, others viewed it as an opportunity, as it confirmed the belief that through social media journalists could ‘better reach out to people who know more about a given subject.’

Nic NewmanNewman stated that what we are currently seeing in journalism is a, “quiet revolution.”  Between 2007-2009 there’s been an explosion in participation, ‘driven by user-friendly internet tools, better connectivity and new mobile devices.  Social Networking and UGC have become mainstream activities, accounting for almost 20 per cent of internet time in the UK and involving half of all internet users.  This dramatic change has forced traditional news organisations to take note.’  And news outlets have reacted by abandoning attempts ‘to be first for breaking news, focusing instead on being the best at verifying and curating it.’

Social media expert Clay Shirky says in Newman’s report that ‘you trade speed for accuracy’ by getting updates from Twitter.  And this is what the news industry is now focusing on, accurate and in-depth reporting.

The BBC’s user generated content (UGC) hub on an average week processes over 10,000 email comments, 1,000 still images and 100 video clips.  Staffed by 23 people the hub can access breaking news images and stories, supporting news producers for programmes such as the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News.  They also act as a contact point for people with stories to tell – a case of this was when it was contacted in February 2009 by an HBOS whistleblower.  Social media is a platform that links people with quality news.

We were told by Newman and Oliver that social networks allows journalists to find and tell better stories and engage with new audiences.  I asked if this meant a reduced role for PRs as journalists could go ‘straight to source’ through social networking channels.  “No,” we were told.  Just as journalists could use social networks to gain facts, insight and case studies, PRs could and were bypassing the media and taking their messages direct to their audiences.  Oliver added that, “PRs would always be involved in the conversation.”  The right to reply we should remember is to a certain extent enshrined in journalism and the editorial guidelines of many news outlets.

Newman pointed out that “as if to add insult to injury, these new networks and individuals are also acting as a check on traditional media, questioning our accuracy and standards, and forcing transparency.”

Laura Oliver tells us about journalists use of social media

Oliver confirmed that outlets are having to be more transparent.  I asked if social media is opening journalists’ notebooks.  “Yes,” was her answer.  In Oliver’s case, and from what she knows from journalists in nationals and business-to-business titles, there is a lot of sharing of links through social bookmarking sites and the like.  Links that allow people to build a better picture of a journalist and their ‘beat.’  It also allows readers and PRs to build better relationships with them, which can only be a good thing.

But how is social media being used in journalism?  Laura Oliver confirmed that journalists now use sites to gain opinion and case studies on stories that they might be working on.  People can be found on networking sites discussing most subjects and this is invaluable to journalists.  These people are consumers, potential customers and stakeholders.  They share thoughts and knowledge with other people.  If they complain about a bad experience with a brand, they’ll share it, and journalists will hear it and if it’s newsworthy enough report it

Journalists and media outlets know that people carry mobile devices with which they can stay in contact with their networks.  They know that people can now compliment a story that they are working on as these devices can capture images and audio.

The new tools of the trade for journalists include Tweetdeck, Facebook, Audioboo – an application that allows users to post and share audio files.  Newsrooms I am sure also have the ability to monitor conversations through Viralheat, a social measurement platform that covers hundreds of viral video destination sites, Twitter, and millions blogs & websites.

News outlets like the BBC for example use Twitter to get case studies for news packages about any story.  Newman gave the example of how the BBC Ten O’Clock News wanted case study that related to an engineering story that they were putting together.  News producers asked Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones if he could help.  Rory obliged by putting a call for help on his Twitter feed.  Within minutes his request was met by numerous offers of help, one that was local to London was used.  It was that easy and by the look of it not a PR in sight!

As PRs we have to remember that thanks to social media journalists have better access to the opinions and comments from consumers and stakeholders.  Social media is not just a platform for technology story, but a platform through which people can have conversations about any given subject.

The one thing that is certain is that social media is here to stay. It is even influencing journalism training and editorial control as the industry evaluates how to meet the changing dynamics of how and from where people get their news.  Griffith University in Australia has even made Twitter part of the mandatory course load for journalism students.

And it is affecting how we PRs do our job.  It isn’t just an add-on for monologue campaigns that we have been so used to developing.  It is a platform through which our clients can better engage with current and potential consumers.

Social media is open, it is transparent.  The conversations that our customers have can be seen not just by us, but by journalists that judge and hold us to account, and that does not have to be an issue.

This evening I have the pleasure of hosting a CIPR Greater London Group event on journalism and social media at Hill & Knowlton.  As speakers we have Nic Newman, the BBC’s Future Media & Technology Controller, Journalism and Digital Distribution, and Editor Laura Oliver.

Journalism has been changing for a number of years, with many people claiming that news and media as we know it is dying.  A slight exaggeration.  Social media though is having an effect of newsgathering and it is this and what PRs should know about it that we’ll be investigating this evening.

Amongst the many questions I’ll will be asking:

  • How the BBC and other news outlets use social media to research stories and generate contacts?
  • How social media is being integrated into the newsgathering process?
  • How journalists use social media to share content and links with their audiences.  Is social media opening up journalists notebooks and making newsgathering more transparent?  And what can PRs learn from this?
  • Importantly, given that social media is about the now – feelings and reactions of people, what do journalists look for online and on social media sites to generate a story and what can PRs learn from the change in power and how this helps journalists?

Social media is not just redefining news but changing how PRs work.  Long gone are the days when the reputation was at risk of a negative piece in the media.  Now people, consumers, on social networks can generate a feeling that can affect a brand.  Power is moving to the people and this is something that as PRs we need to understand.

If you’d like to know more then guests will be twittering live from the event using the #LondonPRlive hashtag.

I’ll be updating my blog tomorrow with my thoughts.