Thursday 21 February 2013

The Digital Audience

In an email to staff a few weeks ago, Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, announced a ‘digital first’ strategy for the pink paper as more and more content is consumed online. A recent survey by @Investis  found that 40% of FTSE 250 companies now have a presence on social media, compared to just 14% this time last year and PR giant Brunswick surveyed investors and found that 30% have made investment decisions based on information they first heard about on Twitter.

As communications professionals we have to ask ourselves – how does online content differ from print and how can we make sure that our media strategies cater to an increasingly digital audience?

Richer content
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the value of a video embedded in a relevant article? What about a five minute podcast you can download and listen to on your way into work? What about being able to immediately read a reference because there is a link to it as you read it?

The days of two dimensional newspaper articles are over so journalists need to skill-up to provide the ‘extras’ that we now expect as standard. Journalists continually have to consider how stories can be enhanced with multimedia, so companies with predominantly visual stories are already on a winner.

If you read an article about a company that had developed a new time machine, you would expect a video interview along side the words, wouldn’t you? And then you’d want to share it with friends using email, Facebook or Twitter. For this very reason, we have so many more opportunities to develop exciting, dynamic content. And for a media outlet, sharing is priceless – you would generally trust information coming from your friends and contacts, wouldn’t you? Shared information has already been endorsed so it is considered more reputable and more useful than similar information found by other sources. And when it comes to online content, the source of social media matters less than the sharer.

Twitter breaks major news stories these days, there’s no doubt about that, and often online, news articles are written briefly to get the story out, and then updated as the story develops. Due to the nature of online content, it can often (but not always) be considered a work in progress, with the opportunity for it to evolve. Speed is of the essence so the timeliness of stories is paramount.

The dynamic nature of news today also provides many more opportunities to engage and contribute, but sifting through the vast amount of content is a skill in itself. Gareth Price, brand researcher at business intelligence firm Precise used the phrase ‘interpassivity’ in a recent blog post to describe the fact that we may actually be reading and digesting less information now, under the misguided belief that we are accumulating vast knowledge by reading headline tweets and titles

Perhaps in this information age, when we are bombarded by online content from every direction, we need to find an effective way to filter all this information and digest the relevant parts. It’s a steep learning curve, particularly in the corporate world where this one-to-many communication has historically only taken place through controlled and regulated channels.

Limitless possibilities?
A printed newspaper or magazine has a finite number of pages which has meant fierce competition for space. The internet has seemingly erased competition for space, and replaced it with competition for quality content. In theory there ought to be limitless opportunities to get a story out, but everyone knows online information is only valuable if it comes from a trustworthy source, be that the sharer or the author. Misinformation is quickly and easily spread online so very often, stories that are broken on Twitter or other online platforms, will require verification among the wider public by a reputable news agency or paper.

As professional communicators, we must constantly ask ourselves who are the influencers in the space? Who do I trust to give me the information that I need? These might be journalists, bloggers, vloggers, the twitterati – each are unique and, importantly, have different audiences. So, while online may present more opportunities for PR, it’s more important than ever to make sure that rich content is reaching the right channels.


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