bbc manchester blog: end of the project is a great starting point

[note: I cross-posted the following on the BBC Manchester Blog a few minutes ago…]

The BBC Manchester Blog will be closing on Sunday. When Richard Fair and I launched it in August 2006 we had high expectations, not just of the blog itself, but of how the blog would help us to trial a new model of how the BBC and other broadcasters could engage with what the industry calls "user generated content". Our first post explained:

"For years, the BBC has been looking at ways to engage more directly
with it’s audiences. We’ve promoted email addresses on air and asked
for photo submissions, we’ve stuck comment forms on the bottom of
articles, we’ve spend countless hours building message boards and
community platforms, our staff have reviewed and approved millions upon
millions of messages – and what have we learned? That all this is
expensive business.

In the past, whenever the BBC has sought to do something with user
generated content we’ve built new platforms, taken on the role of
managing all the content that floods in, asserted some rights over that
content (although not ownership in the vast majority of cases) and,
some would argue, exposed the BBC to legal and moral risks.
Furthermore, doing things in the old way had a bit of a sting in the
tail – if a service really took off, and sometimes they did, the BBC
would actually face increased costs because our services often don’t
scale well.

This project is an experiment in doing things a bit differently.
Rather than building platforms, we want to help people create their own
stuff on existing third party (non-BBC) platforms. Instead of
contributors sending us content members of staff here at the BBC
sifting through that content in a bid to find the good bits, we’re
simply going to ask contributors to tell us where they’re publishing
their content online and we’ll keep an eye on it. The BBC won’t claim
any rights over the content and won’t own anything…"

Our new way of doing things raised quite a few eyebrows with some, at least initially, skeptical of our motives, and others excited by our attempt to try something a bit different.

As part of the project we ran a blogging workshop and organised some informal blogger meet-ups. And then you invited us to yours. We read your blogs and invited some of you to read your posts on the radio. We quoted from and linked to your posts and many of you linked back. Basically, we did what bloggers do through their blogs and comments and links – we had a conversation.

We have yet to write the final review of the project, in part because our time to work with the model came to an end a long time ago but the blog has carried on under a different guise. That said, below we’ve provided a brief summary of some of the key things we’ve learned from the project:

  • Being part of the community by participating as equals, as opposed to participating as a broadcasting organisation keen for new content but not interested in the community, brings with it many editorial and personal rewards.
  • Even if you use time saving tools such as RSS, social bookmarking and technorati, sifting through content and write posts that quote from and link to the best bits.
  • People don’t necessarily blog or post content about the topics, stories and events that media organisations might hope they would – and, in our experience anyway, rarely post about news and current affairs.
  • As a stand-alone proposition, the amount of staff time and effort spent was high in comparison to the quantity of content generated and size of audience served. But, when we were able to use the contacts and content we found through the blog on-air that equation immediately changed. That is, in resource terms, the blog was costly as just a blog but much more efficient as a driver of radio content.
  • The best way to get noticed online is links and the best way to get links is to give good links yourself. That is, you have to play by the established rules of engagement and, online, that means linking prolifically.

Many of the ideas, tools and techniques we used as part
of the BBC Manchester Blog have since been embraced by other BBC Blogs,
websites and programmes. Indeed, word about the model we created for the BBC Manchester Blog has traveled far and wide, sometimes taking us with it, influencing a number of interesting projects elsewhere.

As for Richard and myself – well, we’ll probably keep on blogging and, with any luck, will keep in touch with some of the great people we’ve met through the BBC Manchester Blog.

We’d like to thank all of you who took notice of or participated in the
BBC Manchester Blog. You’ll find links to some great Manchester blogs in our sidebar.

Finally, we’d like to say a special thanks to our good friend
Kate Feld who, for a few months at the beginning of the project, became
the BBC’s first ever local on-air blog reviewer. If you want to delve beneath the surface of Manchester Kate’s blog, Manchizzle, is at the very epicenter of the local blogging community.

Best wishes – and happy blogging.

Robin Hamman and Richard Fair


  1. Winding up the BBC blogging experiment

    Robin Hamman and Richard Fairs BBC Manchester Blog has just been officially wound up as an experiment. In some key things they picked up for the future Robin includes these:
    1 Being part of the community by participating as equals, as opposed…

  2. Awww… we’ll miss you guys in Manchester’s cosy little corner of the blogosphere. Pat yourselves on the backs for a job well done – your project did much to demonstrate how the established media could engage with blogging on equal terms, and I think a lot of good has come out of that.

  3. Thanks for that Kate. We really enjoyed doing it. I just wish, and this will be in the final report when we get around to it, we had the proper amount of time to allocate to this. The model remains really interesting but I’d by lying if I said we’d done as much as we had hoped to do. Hope to see you ’round! :-))


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