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reaching distributed audiences requires a distributed web strategy

By on Mar 27, 2008 in BBC, blogging techniques, journalism, social software | 1 comment

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The other day I met with some work colleagues to discuss their proposal for a new blog related to a weekly regional television programme. When the hour was over they left not with a well formed blog proposal but with a handful of vague ideas about how they might get production staff and journalists working on the programme to actually start using some social media tools, in particular del.icio.us, as part of their process.

The idea is simple: think closely about how you can use third party tools, content sharing services and social networks to create content out of existing processes.

So, for example, a journalist researching a story online is likely to want to bookmark anything they might want to revisit later. Using del.icio.us instead of saving these bookmarks locally in a browser or text file means those bookmarks are (or can later be) shared with others, thus creating content out of the research process with little, if any, additional effort.

Another strikingly simple, yet powerful, example of this model is to, instead of uploading an image, audio or video file to your own web server, upload it and tag it on the appropriate sharing site such as flickr or youtube. Then link back to your own website where the file can be embedded (or cross-posted). This way you reach out to new audiences on other services.

A post today by Paul Bradshaw drew my attention to how one of his journalism students, Charlotte Dunckley, is already using exactly this sort of distributed web strategy. According to Bradshaw, Dunkley looked at the online usage patterns of her target audience of 15 to 30 year old in Birmingham and her findings show that having a web presence, and getting noticed online, requires having content, and participating, in the places where your audience is. Not necessarily in creating a place for that audience to come. Dunkley writes (as quoted by Bradshaw):

“Evidently my target age group lean heavily towards using websites
with some kind of social networking element. Another common trend were
blogs (yay) – Trash Menagerie, Perez Hilton and Fluokids, to name but a few.

“So – getting exposure via a good web presence, in Birmingham, to
our target age group, is perfectly achievable without a website.

“We have the top three most visited websites for our target audience
covered – Myspace, Facebook and E-bay… a Flickr account has been set up
and is awaiting content – I’m thinking well tagged page layouts, our
original photography (where the photographer lets us use them) and
images from our events and associated events. Similarly there will be
no problem uploading event content from Youtube. We could even look
into recording snippets of face to face interviews in future too. "

Bradshaw explains exactly why such an approach makes sense:

"Charlotte had been worried about her technical limitations and the lack
of a website. Instead, she quickly realised that this wasn’t important
– it wasn’t about building a big solid brick house, but about taking a
bunch of caravans on tour, to where her audience lived online."

Bradshaw goes on to ask:

"I notice that students’ first instinct when set a task is to… set up a
Facebook group. To connect with people they don’t know. Now how many
journalists have the same instinct?"

As little as twelve months ago I would have said that only a very small number of my BBC colleagues had considered a distributed web strategy or participated, with a BBC hat on, in a social networking site, online community or content sharing website. Today? I probably get asked once a day how programmes and programme makers can set up shop off bbc.co.uk. For many it’s not yet instinctive but the tide of awareness is certainly turning…