I started a personal blog even though I said I never would (because journalists writing about journalism/other journalists is my kryptonite).
If you can’t beat’ em, join ’em, so HERE WE GO.
My friend/former boss/drinking partner/fellow Doctor Who fan/beard rival Martin Belam wrote a blog post today about the 8 things he learned from working on Ampp3d and UsVsTh3m during the election.
Martin spent months planning election coverage for the Mirror, and it made life so much easier for the team.
My role at the Mirror at that point was as Acting Head of Social Content and I went for a stroll at around 3am on Friday morning, while the results were still coming through, to think about how the next 12 hours would play out on social media.
It was between 3am on Friday and 1pm on Sunday that I actually learned the most.
So here’s two things I learned in addition to Martin’s eight (I don’t learn as quickly as Martin)…
9) If you’ve got something good – make it better
Journalists sometimes produce a piece of A-grade shareable journalism, which will immediately start gaining traffic, and then they’ll move onto the next article.
In my experience there are three different things that can happen to an article:
- It bombs
- It does okay
- OMG FIRE UP THE BACKUP SERVERS WHERE ARE THESE READERS COMING FROM?
You could have an article that is potentially the latter, but it will just ‘do okay’ if you don’t stay on top of it and nurse it. Five articles that ‘do okay’ still won’t do as well as one article that goes supernova, so it makes sense to spend time optimising your story even after it has been published.
If the early signs on social media and real time analytics show it could be a winner, you need to nurse it and get the best out of it. Change up the headline a few times on the index page to see which gets the most click throughs, tweet it with a few different headlines (whichever one does best should become your social headline), look at how far down the article people are reading and try to figure out why they are closing the tab half way through.
Could you put a poll at this point in the article to encourage them to interact and stay on the page, or even share the article by sharing their poll result?
Perhaps your headline, main picture and intro were great, but you lost your way after five paragraphs, be honest with yourself and cut out copy if you think it’s too wordy.
These easy actions could go a long way, a much longer way than immediately forgetting about the article, and crashing out five rips or re-writing some agency copy.
On the election night, the fresh wave of readers coming in at around 5am-7am meant that publishing a story at 3am and then leaving it to do its own thing was pointless, especially given that there were up to four hours in which to experiment with headlines and social sells for when the audience surged later in the morning.
The old approach of writing your copy to a deadline, filing it, and letting the subs do their work is just not how it works online, be your own sub and make informed decisions based on the wealth of information you have available to you.
10) ELECTIONS NEVER STOP
Technically they do, but really they don’t. EVER. STOP. On the Saturday after the election I did a day’s work for the sport desk at the Mirror, while my colleague Abi Wilkinson was on desk for UsVsTh3m and Social Content.
We spotted an article doing well on our site which was essentially a breakdown of the Tory manifesto, and the number of people reading it suggested that there was more interest in election coverage on that day than on any other day in the previous month.
Abi came up with a piece called ‘6 Conservative policies that will hit ordinary people the hardest‘, and it very much fell into the bracket of “FIRE UP THE BACKUP SEVERS”. It was clear, concise, and was very much aimed at the Mirror’s hard-working, Labour-voting readers.
After months of trying to make politics content more shareable, we finally broke out of the Westminster bubble and found a formula that encouraged people to not only click on and read the piece, but also share it on Facebook.
This was followed by ’13 basic rights you’re going to lose under the Tory government’ – the most popular article on the Mirror during election week – and then a similar piece on a David Cameron soundbite which suggested that citizens no longer needed to break the law to get on the wrong side of the police.
Human rights issues and benefits caps don’t usually fall into the category of #goviral but, at least in the case of UVT and the Social Content team, interest in politics content was at its highest among left wing voters after the battle had already been lost.
That is a bit of an upsetting thing to have learned, but it’s better than learning nothing… I guess.