Tag Archives: engagement

Tweeting in the Commons?

The journalist’s pot of UGC gold looks likely to be enlarged after the Commons Procedure Committee decreed that MPs should be allowed to tweet in the Commons chamber. After they were initially banned in January, the committee recommended that smartphones and tablets should be allowed (but not laptops as they take up too much space), provided that they are on silent and used in a way which does not ‘impair decorum’. The Commons will vote on the measure within the next two months.


The move hasn’t been without controversy. James Gray, Tory MP for North Wiltshire, argued that excessive use of electronic devices would lead to a ‘worrying change of atmosphere’ in the chamber, in which members weren’t properly concentrating on the debates. But the potential effects for MPs and journalists (who can tweet from the public gallery) could run far deeper than that.

Where does it go from here?

According to the report, 225 MPs now use Twitter. One of the committee’s main supporting arguments is that it will bring parliament a whole new audience, in the form of hundreds of thousands of MPs’ Twitter followers. Moreover, it seems likely that many more MPs will feel compelled to begin tweeting; if so many are communicating with their followers/constituents directly, those passing up the opportunity will appear increasingly distant.

Rich Pickings

This means that a huge new source of UGC material becomes available – MPs may tweet their reaction to others’ comments, and conversely may respond to journalists’ tweets questioning their behaviour. Useful too will be the large amount of constituent-MP tweeted discussions during an actual debate which might have a significant influence on the MP’s vocal comments and eventual voting.

Potential Pitfalls

An example of Twitter hosting co-debates was seen in the Australian parliament, where MPs have always been unrestricted. Back in 2009, a row flared up between the Speaker and MP Peter Dutton, in which the latter tweeted criticisms about the Speaker’s apparent favouring of the opposite party. (The Speaker warned that tweets were not covered by parliamentary privilege).

Shifting the Debate

This shows that Twitter has the power to lift a debate from the chamber and into cyberspace, allowing anyone – MPs, lobbyists, journalists – to join in.  Again it is another example of the traditional top-down media role being undermined. Should the committee recommendations be adopted, parliamentary reporters will have to pay as much attention to the cyber debate as to the Commons floor itself. This raises tricky issues for a Speaker trying to adjudicate without looking at his/her own device. But as a whole new world of co-debate, involving anyone and everyone, is invited into the chamber, there are rich UGC pickings indeed. Truly democratic, and virtually uncontrollable, no journalist worth their salt will be able to ignore this new dynamic.



User Generating Children

Newsround has always had a tricky brief: making world news accessible to children who would probably have preferred it if CBBC had left the cartoons on. So UGC has been the programme’s key way of engaging the naturally narcissistic young; remember watching some lucky child’s Press Pack report back in the day? Fast forward fifteen years and the bustling Newsround website has given the programme a host of extra strings to its audience-engagement bow.

Keeping it Young

Some of the UGC is very distinct to a young audience…

The chatrooms too are buzzing, and host not just discussions on major news stories, but also other threads more immediately relevant to the programme’s target audience of 6 to 12 year-olds:

As with adult sites, children are invited to send in pictures and clips, comment on articles, add personal music reviews, vote in polls. And yes, the Press Pack tradition is still going strong. (For the uninitiated, this is an opportunity for children to send in their story ideas. If picked, they get to present a report on their story which is then aired on the main programme). The site, in short, is positively dripping with opportunities for child-friendly and child-directed UGC:

Why it Works

Is it that children are just greatly inclined to engage with the media in the hope of seeing their name on the screen? Well, no, actually. Whizz over to the online home of Young Times, the Times newspaper’s children’s section. Like Newsround, no one could accuse them of lacking child-friendliness:

But, riveting though this issue is for 6 to 12 year olds, no one has taken up the offer of leaving a comment. In fact, out of the seven stories featured on YT’s front page, only one has a comment. Of course, the comparison with the Newsround site is not strictly fair: the latter is part of the national child psyche, and many more children will visit its website. But that’s not the only difference.

What the Times, and other similarly underused children’s pages such as First News have tried to do is foist drier, adult-style UGC opportunities onto a young audience, and it doesn’t work. Children evidently demand more scope to direct the content themselves and thereby make an adult site their own. Any hint of top-down management and the site takes on the fatal whiff of a homework project. Children’s UGC can play a bigger role than in adult news, but you’ve got to put them in the driving seat.


User-generated photo-journalism and how to build a lasting network

Tackable is the latest UGC smart phone app straight out of Silicon valley and the team behind it are being very smart about how they build their network. Your2pence spoke to its Chief Marketing Officer Luke Stangel, to learn a thing or two about growing UGC communities.

Luke Stangel

Tackable aims to be an essential journalistic tool and a fun destination. Journalists and publications have profiles from where they create photo “assignments” requesting images of news events. Users respond by uploading those images, but they can also post random photos of interesting things they’ve come across. They get to see their pictures in print and earn points as they collate photos on their profile. Users and journalists subscribe to each other’s feeds to keep on top of it all.

1.) Start small

Tackable’s main app is still in beta but will be ready in the next few weeks, in time for them to launch across  newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area.  In the meantime they’ve made a dedicated app for The Spartan Daily, a student publication at San Jose StateUniversity, as a testing ground.

The Spartan Daily app launched on the 24th January and now has 441 downloads and 111 active users. Although its not a huge number, Luke’s happy because ‘engagement in the name of the game’ and they’ve ‘developed a base of students who come back and check in day after day’. Spartan Daily has taught them a lot about how to engage with users and its an exercise worth studying.

2.) Give people reasons to join

Luke says this success is because people are encouraged to participate in 2 different ways. Although ‘everything you do on Tackable earns you points’ completing an official assignment gets you more than uploading a random picture. And when points add up, they turn into vouchers for things like tacos around campus.

"Snow Day" assignment asked students to "Check out this amazing event"

For some the drive to participate is reward-driven and the assignments are like ‘a real-world scavenger hunt’. These users make up the body of Tackable’s network so far. But there are others who are ‘motivated by social rewards’ – ‘when they witness something happening in front of them’ they think ‘”This is really cool. I want to share this right now”‘. Luke reckons the number of social users will increase as the platform develops.

3.) Know who, and how many

These motivations work well enough for the students, but will they stick in the real world where users have less free time, are less tech-savvy and live in a less defined community? Luke says that while the target audience is under-35, smartphone-owners used to social media, they want it to appeal to all ages. But it’s probably that core of young users that will get the ball rolling and create the framework for others to develop.

And he’s also being very careful with numbers. ‘Most user-generated content platforms operate on some variation of the 90/8/2 principle’ he says. ‘90% of your user base will consume media and do nothing else, 8% will get lightly involved with that media, either by commenting on it or sharing it elsewhere, and 2% will create the bulk of your content’.

He says a city of a million would be ‘well-served’ by a Tackable base of 1,000 active participants. But of course ‘at some point, you have to let go and let the community take over’.

4.) Make it relevant

It’s this hyperlocal approach that they reckon will win through. Tackable distinguishes itself from other UGC news sites like MaYoMo and iReport by being ‘bottom up’ – catching the smallest stories first and building up from there. Much of the pull for the user is the sense of ownership and belonging that comes with the “take photos for your local newspaper” impetus.

And that’s evidenced on the  Spartan Daily “tackboard” where you can see photos of sports events, protests and just kids around campus. Most of the material is ‘totally uninteresting to anyone living outside Silicon Valley, but intensely interesting to the students on the platform’.

Responses to the Snow Assignment

This is the appeal for publications too. As well as helping reporters gather information about what’s going on in their patch, Tackable will help publications directly relate to their readership. Users might not create the news agenda, but they do facilitate it, helping reporters on their ‘first draft’ of a story.

5.) Expand when you’re ready

In Tackable’s pitch video, Luke says they aim to eventually have global reach. But can a hyperlocal model such as this stretch that far? For the moment Luke is trying to create a ‘sustainable model that works on a small scale’ but is confident that if they can get that right, it can ‘go viral’ in good time.

We’ve got our eye on Tackable; you should do too.


How do you get contributors? How can you deal with tricky ones?

Daniel Bower, creator of welovelocal.com, speaks from personal experience to give his advice on how to set up UGC content on a social media site.

In the summer of 2006 from our offices in London we were thinking about how social media might change the way people find small businesses: a plumber, a florist, a restaurant or bar. It seemed blindingly obvious to us that the Yellow Pages model of listing everything in your city from A-Z by sector and then asking the businesses themselves to pay for more exposure was not only a massive environmental issue, but frighteningly out of date. Our premise was that people want context, they don’t just want an ad. They want to know what their friends think of a service, they want to hear directly from the owner, and see other options that are nearby. Similarly businesses want to tap into the growing social media trend, they want a profile in the same way they could have one on Facebook and they want a way to interact with their customers; welovelocal.com was born.

Building the website was the easy bit, and like many people we quickly realised that you couldn’t just ‘turn on the social.’ Just building a site that allowed people to login, add reviews, mark favourite places didn’t mean anyone was going to bother using it. In the 9 months that followed we learnt a lot about building a business that centres around social media, here are some of the more intuitive points:

Make friends with the bloggers. No matter what your area of interest there are already bloggers out there having conversations with each other about the topics that interest them. These people are the connectors that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in The Tipping Point, if you can engage them you they’ll spread your message, but doing this isn’t easy. At welovelocal.com we kept lists of all the different bloggers that operated in our space, how they knew each other and the things they liked to write about. We were really delicate when contacting them and if we felt it was appropriate we offered prizes for their readers.

I’ve already alluded to this a bit. You shouldn’t be afraid to incentivise people to contribute. This doesn’t mean you hand out money in exchange for peoples input, obviously this would taint the quality of the contributions you receive; however rewarding people for their time, and making it clear that you do that only encourages your members. At welovelocal.com we ran a regular review of the week feature on our blog, the person with the best review that week was treated to something nice based on their profile information. That small gesture went a long way towards encouraging new people to join the site.

The users are revolting! It’s likely to happen.  But try and think of it as a good problem: you can’t have a revolution without having members in the first place. Every large social site goes through times when it’s members jump ship. Facebook seemingly has them most weeks, Flickr after they sold to Yahoo and Digg as a result of their redesign. For us it was a number of users regularly posting joke reviews who then got annoyed when we took them down. For us, it was easy to know how to react to that. Does condoning this sort of behaviour affect our product? Yes. Then we need to take it down. More broadly we felt confident that we were providing enough of a service to that user, and our users at large, that they wouldn’t just abandon us because we gave them a slap on the wrist.

The above point brings me on to my final bit of advice. Set out some guiding principles for your project and reference them in everything you do. At welovelocal.com this was a style guide for writing reviews and included a variety of points that we hoped would make our reviews helpful for all. If a review couldn’t be held to this guide we took it down and told the user why, referencing our style guide as we did. We annoyed people, but it made the product better in the long run and created a self-regulating system for the website as members kept an eye on each others contributions.

We sold the site after only 9 months which meant we were able to see the project out to the very end. However in the short time that we did run the site we’d seen the points I’ve discussed above make some real strides towards building an active social media project – with any luck they’ll help you do the same too.


Engagement, identity and user-generated content

The undisputed winner of this year’s Guardian g2 calendar is a 17 year old called Hannah Porter. Her entry, a close-up photo of her face with g2 painted across it, is the front cover of the calendar and g2’s twitter profile picture.

The Face of G2 by Hannah Porter

The Face of g2 b Hannah Porter

She explains the image in a caption underneath:

“I chose to use my face as a canvas because g2 is about two things: what it is made up of and who reads it. And anyone can be a reader, from a middle-aged person to a teenager like me”.

A near-perfect summation of what UGC helps define and reinforce, namely, a media organisation’s identity arrived at through its audience. Building up that inter-relationship is crucial.

The task was to:

“send in your photographs on the theme of G2… You could show an issue on location, spot the letters in your lunch, or find G2 recreated in nature”.

The expectation on the user here is big – they’re asked to spend time, thought and artistic endeavour creating their image. It’s a high level of engagement,  a top scorer on the graph that measures how much effort is required in order for a user to participate. This is far above asking for a thumbs up or down.

And the respondents were true to this. One waited (maybe hours) for birds to settle on a snowy roof (then photoshopped the image into full obeisance). Another shaved the letters into their hair, and a third made the calendar the subject of a family discussion, kids included.

An image of a gravestone reading: Here lies Harriet Bird 1986 - 2011 She loved the Guardian's g2

A dedicated reader, deceased

This reinforces the point – UGC here is not about giving a new angle on a national issue. It’s about telling the story of g2, and building a brand identity that is open, diverse, democratic and creative. The aim of the calendar is to help g2 penetrate as far as it can into its readers’ lives,  make it something they think about, obsess over, define themselves through.

Not all UGC works like this, but the best helps establish a strong and faithful relationship between media outlet and audience.

Doesn’t that give you a warm glowing feeling inside? Happy Christmas.