Thursday, March 22, 2012

Using Facebook for Breaking News

Effectively harnessing the power of social media, particularly facebook, has been a challenge for most large corporates. Media houses like Fox, the BBC and others have made some headway but that tight integration that's required to make it all hang together slickly still seems to be missing.

What is required, and indeed what is missing, in my opinion is a well-defined process that is consistently followed. Surprisingly, given the success of certain noteworthy reports, like the CNN integrated broadcast over the airwaves and the net during Obama's election, it seems media houses are unable to get it right with any sort of consistency.

So what are the challenges?

Firstly, it is impossible to predict how consumers of social media - be it via facebook, twitter or any equivalent platform will react, share and interact with the content they receive.

Secondly, facebook, whilst popular for personal use, has yet to establish itself as a brand and content promoting tool. Sure, the likes of Nike and the Times have facebook pages with thousands of fans - the question to ask though is, so what? You would be hard-pressed to find a powerful brand or media house that generates significant traction and regular interaction from it's user base. Newspapers, in South Africa at least have had more success with commentary on their blogs than on their facebook pages.

Thirdly, if there is a process in place, media and news consumers should be educated about the process and guided as to how they might best interact within that media house's facebook process. Having a tightly integrated news page will go a long way to addressing this challenge but bar the occassionally streaming of tweets, even the likes of BBC don't have this in hand.

CNN: Effective Facebook Case Study

For Obama's inauguration, CNN and facebook invited the world to experience the newsworthy moment online. Online visitors on were able to use its video player to watch the live broadcast coverage of the event. The real-time web interaction was superb - embracing video streaming, twitter and a steady flow of Facebook status updates from viewers displayed in the sidebar.

Believe it or not, the integration of status updates on Live was powered by a well-developed facebook facility named Facebook Connect. This new platform for porting media consumers online identity to anywhere on the web allows news site visitors to easily authenticate on that site using their Facebook login information - no need for a separate username and password (something that has proved to be a huge stumbling block in getting users to comment on blogs even). Besides the obvious convenience, Facebook Connect allows people to log on as themselves, a trend that probably speaks to the end of online anonymity and the opening of new doors for media houses to interact with their consumers.

Finally, not only did FB Connect provide an interactive view into the collective emotions of all those watching CNN's web coverage - it did so without crashing at all. Given the statistics - viz. over 200,000 status updates averaging out at 3,000 people per minute on the joint 'broadcast'. Immediately before Obama spoke, that number grew to 8,500 per minute! Additionally at that time it is worthy to note that Obama's Fan Page had over 4 million fans and 500,000+ posts on his wall. The technology is thus clearly ready for media houses to make the most of it - all that's needed is a defined process.

It will hopefully not take long for the likes of BBC to implement such tight integration - the modular implementation should make this quite easy so one can only imagine the hurdles relate to internal processes rather than the technological ability of the media house staff to deliver.

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In other news, as the American election fast approaches, I expect the use of social media - both independently by campaigners and by media houses will really step up this year. With the proliferation of easy to use devices like iPads, the interaction if it's managed properly by media houses will be nothing short of spectacular. Given the current costs of advertising on facebook though, best the candidates try their luck and buy lottery tickets online on this reputable website in India or more likely give one of the many in the comprehensive online casinos directory a try. Well, that is of course if the National Rifle Association doesn't give them enough funding ;)

Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the local political scene in South Africa, notably the impending constitutional changes Jacob Zuma is threatening to make. I will also cover some of the new gambling legislation, particularly around the online casino South Africa license issue that was recently presented at the High Court in Bloemfontein.

Fortunately for the South African government, facebook isn't quite as big in SA as it is in North Africa. Given the current level of service delivery and the increasing pressure to strike from trade unions, it's likely that South Africa would have it's equivalent of an Arab Spring sooner than they might expect!