Lessons on Real Time Web
As Matt Terenzio put it, when we talk about real time web, we’re talking about a change in the way the internet is used. “Twitter and others have set the table and the growing sentiment is that all services must catch up to become real time or become irrelevant,” says Terenzio, Web Development Director for The Hour Company in Norwalk, CT.
This very topic was the center of discussion when Terenzio presented at a recent SNA Foundation-sponsored webinar. He started his presentation by suggesting that he should have delayed talking for just a few seconds to see how many people got itchy… and to make a point. If a few seconds of silence occur in a real life conversation you think there’s something wrong and that’s almost the case in real time web — while a slight delay of a few seconds or even a minute is currently a natural aspect of the real time web, too much of a delay and the user is off to another source. A delay of many minutes is probably too long to satisfy user’s expectations — that’s the reality for today’s typical web user and newsrooms are wise to plan real time web strategies accordingly.
The speed at which web usage is changing is almost as fast as the flow of information on sites like Twitter. Social networks today are huge factors in the real time web and in driving traffic to your websites. While not the end game — and who knows what’s coming next — Twitter and Facebook are certainly active players in today’s user universe and they are valuable tools for newsrooms to attract users and to collect/distribute news & information. Become a pro at using these tools today and you will more easily adapt to whatever comes next because real time web is only moving forward.
With a lot of angles to cover on the topic, Terenzio gave a point of view at the webinar that springs from his experience at The Hour (daily newspaper, about 15,000 circulation; www.thehour.com has about 120,000 unique visitors and 600,000 page views monthly), from his experience as a user of social networks and as a consumer of news and information of importance to him.
The Sweet Spot
Terenzio applauds an editor on his staff who understands today’s analytics and seeks that “sweet spot” where he can ride the wave of a breaking story and become the one source that everybody refers to. “Kind of the new type of scooping a story — it can happen in a few minutes if yours is the first story a person sees and tweets. Then another person re-tweets it, and another. This is all happening in just a few minutes, not an hour,” Terenzio says as he points out the obvious value of real time web strategy development.
He referred to the recent David Letterman sex scandal as an example of this. The show tapes at 5PM in NYC and by 5:20PM, Terenzio knew about the extortion scheme because it hit the wire, the posting was tweeted from www.thehour.com and he follows his newspaper on Twitter. Long before the national evening news broadcast or tomorrow’s paper, twitter was abuzz with the story.
As a side comment, Terenzio reminded that the term “user” is what you should be calling visitors to your site — he cringes when he hears editors call them viewers or readers because that makes the person on the other end seem passive when in actuality we’re talking about people who are subscribers and often publishers in one form or another.
Top Story Going Away?
Terenzio presented to a divergent group of attendees at the webinar — editors, publishers, social media directors, reporters, ad managers and even a chief meteorologist were among the attendees — and forwarded many perspectives that represent fairly radical departures from the way many media companies regard themselves and their approach to reporting.
“It’s a fact that web usage has changed drastically over the past three years. A huge portion of the web is now using tools like Facebook and Twitter,” reminds Terenzio. The new experience for a lot of people is about bringing information into their own stream. They’ll go out and search not for a site but for the story. Then they’ll tweet it or facebook it.
He says he doesn’t necessarily believe in a singular top story — “It’s different for everyone.” He advocates a departure from a site-centric viewpoint and mentioned that there have been multiple venture capital meetings to explore the potency of real time web as a business model — the point being that if money is looking at this as the next wave then it makes sense that news media should be too.
Metrics are changing too. Referrals are increasing. Newspapers are now getting a lot of people coming in for one story and leaving. To further his point about this fact, Terenzio shared a recent trend for his newspaper’s website www.thehour.com — they’ve seen direct users stats decrease about 7% over recent months but referrals have skyrocketed to between 30 & 40%. Breaking records every week, he believes it’s a convergence of many tools that is driving this trend — Twitter, Facebook, Bing and increasing popularity among users to share links in their personal networks.
A hurdle for many newsrooms to jump is that in order to fully exploit the value of social networks you have to accept that you’re playing on other people’s turf. “It’s hard to break out of our traditional mold that we’re the hub and users revolve around us,” says Terenzio.
He reminded everyone in attendance at the webinar that it’s of the utmost important that they themselves become a user of social networks, to sign up as a follower or friend of your own website and then be completely honest about how satisfied you are with what your company is offering.
Narrow Audience and Narrow Content
With social networks, users have to come to expect a completely personalized view of the world. He says it no longer realistic to reach for a mass audience. While you should be trying to develop as many followers as possible on these networks, Terenzio says users today want to be the center of the hub. “A lot of users are considering themselves more and more the center around which everything else revolves. That is the essence of what social networks are all about. It’s a completely personalized view of the world.”
The web allows for narrower and narrower niches of content and maintaining the old bundle is fast becoming an archaic approach, according to Terenzio. There’s so much noise in a user’s life on the web that he says newsrooms need to target many different channels with channel specific news. He strongly suggests that newsrooms use multiple social network accounts rather than “dumping everything into one account.”
Don’t Hang Up
The SNA Foundation sponsored webinars, like the one Terenzio presented at, uses technology to unite attendees to a single desktop and audio stream. And, just like in real life, sometimes technology hiccups. In Terenzio’s webinar, irony reared its head as we lost first the audio connection with our techie guy presenter followed by a frozen desktop that needed to be rebooted. The interruption caused a delay of a few minutes and when Terenzio got back online and started again he thanked the audience for tolerating the interruption and then made another really good point about a typical user experience. “Were you thinking about hanging up?” he asked his audience. “At the very least, consider this experience a good take away — as easy as you can hang up on me in this webinar you can get un-followed on Twitter. Users are in control of what’s happening on the web — not you.”
He reminded the audience that the pace of change is exceedingly fast now — just a short time ago many newsrooms and web developers thought blogs and RSS feeds were the future. Now, Twitter has taken that away but a new opportunity exists as a result — newsrooms have a fresh means of content discovery and ability to participate in conversations like never before.
Move with this flow of change and the momentum will help to move you forward as the next sweep if web usage changes occur — and change will come. What you are learning today can be more easily applied to what comes tomorrow.
An archived recording of Matt’s presentation is now available on SNA’s website and can be accessed at here.
Matt has assembled some real Time Web tools and informational pages to his blog. Bookmark these for reference and check back periodically for updates:
Finally, the SNA Foundation has sponsored several e-learning modules in partnership with the NewsU division of the Poynter institute and webinars such as Matt Terenzio’s expand on the lessons from these e-courses. Take a minute to explore these free tools that offer interactive lessons on multi-media publishing. Our 4th course, Innovation at Work: Making New Ideas Succeed, has just been released and already is receiving high praise.
Innovation at Work: Making New Ideas Succeed
“This is the best online course from Poynter’s NewsU that I have ever taken! Hands down, this is invaluable in today’s newsrooms” — Heather Elizabeth Provencher, Content Coordinator at TriCities.com
Seminar Snapshot: Layout Driven Editing
Leading An Online Newsroom: What You Need To Know
Build & Engage Local Audiences Online
Thank you to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for a generous grant that enables the SNA Foundation to sponsor these e-courses and related webinars.