Thursday, June 24, 2010

Don't miss the online boat on your own story: Lessons from Rolling Stone

Is it possible that one of the biggest news stories of the year--the Rolling Stone article that prompted President Obama to relieve General Stanley McChrystal of his command in Afghanistan--didn't drive tons of reader traffic to the magazine's websiteNieman Labs took the time to look at the evidence, and finds that other sites got more traffic (as measured in comments) than Rolling Stone, for several reasons.  Don't get caught ignoring these if you find your organization with its hands on a major breaking story:
  • Sending out promotional copies to reporters to create buzz without a plan for how and where the story would break. It's not clear whether and how these might have been embargoed, but if there were such limits, they didn't work--and it appears there was no backup plan if the story should leak.  Close readers will note that this approach allowed Politico to post a PDF of the article well before RS had its online version up.
  • Planning for traffic at newsstands, but not online. I'm just sayin'. 
  • Not being the first to post your original reporting. The general had already apologized before RS posted the article.  We'll never know how many might have sought out RS and commented there if the article had been posted right away.
  • An apparently broken social sharing option ("like" or "share" buttons attached to the article).
  • Error messages when readers try to view comments on the article.
  • Other barriers that make it tough to leave a comment.  From the article: "Try to leave a comment on the site. First, you have to register. A popup appears with required fields like your gender and your birthday, setting the bar high to leave a comment. (Note the non-registration required button that lets users “like” a comment has attracted hundreds of clicks — even though the ability to “like” the entire story seems broken.)"
When you're planning ahead for scenarios that might include fast-breaking news (whether via a broken embargo or just because you've got a topical tiger by the tail), run this list past the team that includes your communications and web staff to make sure your options for readers (and reporters) pass these tests.  What assumptions underlie your approach to a breaking announcement (as in, "We want people to be able to share this easily" or "we want comments. Let's be sure that process is simple.")?  Need help coming up with scenarios and what you should be able to do? Start with the related posts below and share them with your team for a useful discussion.

Related posts: How do you test your social media reflexes?

Breaking news in social media: 5 step-by-step guides, plus one

Check out don't get caught on Facebook, where I'm floating ideas and discussing them before they appear on the blog.  It's shaping up as a great networking community for communicators.

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