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Online newsrooms are changing. Time for a heated debate

Blog post   •   Jun 28, 2011 14:03 BST

It was a hot and sweaty Monday evening in the UK (“too hot to think” according to @jane63c) when the #commschat crew gathered on Twitter to dissect these newfangled ‘social media newsrooms’ (as people seem to be calling them, for the time being at least).

What exactly are they? Do you need one? Does everybody need one? What shapes and flavours do they come in? All questions the #commschat participants were eager to debate. And, boy, did we cover a lot of ground in an intense hour of TweetChat banter… 

According to Mynewsdesk, a social media newsroom humanises your story, enables sentiments to be shared, encourages feedback, delivers facts and brings the brand to life. It was also this philosophy that shaped the discussion.

Cisco doing it for real 
Mynewsdesk’s @jonobean opened with: “When does a press room become a newsroom?” PR consultant @HelenMoore, wanted to know more, so @jonobean explained “It’s not just the press looking at your newsroom. All stakeholders are now in on the party.” @urnhart, Cisco’s corporate comms director, threw in his two cents: “A corporate newsroom needs to reach multiple influencers… not just the media. Social integration is key to that goal.” Of course @urnhart doesn’t just talk the talk – he has recently launched The Network at Cisco, which shows what a social media newsroom can look like in 2011 (and see his blog post about it). @urnhart said of Cisco’s guest contributors, “They are great storytellers. That is their trade. We are fortunate that they are available and want these stories to be told.”

With these new open-style newsrooms, comms consultant and blogger @EmLeary noted that the “answer to ‘Who is your release talking to?’ is no longer so simple”. @Communicatemag commented that: “Many companies go out of their way to exclude non-media stakeholders.” @jonobean framed the challenge as: “How do we move from the era of broadcast to the era of engagement, with a SMNR as tool?” (By this point, ‘SMNR’ had been coined as an acceptable abbreviation… well, on Twitter at least!) This change had been coming a while for comms consultant @oratotim: “In 2000 I said media as a separate discipline would end as social media would allow direct contact. Ahead of my time?” I’d say so.

@urnhart said The Network “attempts to reach influencers who care about specific technology topics”. Mynewsdesk’s @charlotteulvros wondered whether the media now “feel they are not as important?” @EmLeary reminded us that for communicators “’Who?’ is still the key question, with the answer now a broader type of influencer.”

The Commschatters regarded newsroom logins as pretty evil. @charlotteulvros said “The future of newsrooms is transparency, so login is no go. Complete failure.” @EmLeary said “Some don't want the ‘general public’ to see everything. But it’s impossible to have siloed information streams these days.”

And provision of additional resources is now an essential - @lethal_weapon, account director at Connect PR, highlighted: “expanded photo library and ability to download campaign material”. @EmLeary said “Many still think a social media newsroom means standard press releases with share buttons and maybe a video!”

Who owns a Social Media Newsroom?
Next the question: who or what is a newsroom is for? And why should organisations have one? @Communicatemag highlighted the example of First Direct, whose traffic went up an astonishing 400-fold when they launched a SMNR. @jonobean said that brands “have the potential to become the media if they consider information as a core product. A newsroom is for all stakeholders or an organisation. Previously it was a place to broadcast, but now it’s a place to engage.” @urnhart quoted the @siliconvalleywatcher theory of “EC=MC”. That sounded intriguingly scientific, and was a new one on me. It’s shorthand for “every company is a media company”. Under this view, @urnhart said, “Engagement/sharing is the ultimate ‘seal of approval’.”

@Mynewsdesk_uk(that’s me) asked: “Is the number of shares now a valid measure for PR people?” @urnhart responded “For social media people, yes. For PR people, let’s check and see who is doing the sharing”. @EmLeary added: “Not just number of shares – like any comms measurement it’s not just inches, it’s quality, sentiment, message, etc.” Very true. So it’s not just a case of multiplying number of shares by Klout score then?!

@CommsChat said that journalists “increasingly use multiple sources. If companies are aware of this, why don’t more of them aggregate those sources?” @charlotteulvros responded “Because we are in a period of transition in communications. Going from the broadcast era to the engagement era. This is scary… Lots of companies are starting with integrating social media channels, eg status updates on Facebook, the next stage is to actually engage.”

@jonobean said “The FTSE 100 are still afraid of social media due to regulatory disclosure rules.” (An interesting rating of how well FTSE 100 companies serve the media through their websites can be found in the Bowen Craggs & Co FT Index – Cisco is second, and that was before the launch of The Network…)

@EmLeary said: “Most brands aren't ready to be curators or publishers. They're used to owned meaning ads/campaigns.” But @charlotteulvros questioned this, saying: “With cases like Cisco, Nissan, etc, brand journalism is on the way to companies making this possible.”

You can't control the message...
Web editor and writer @CatJGoddard added: “You can't control the message... you can instigate it and shape it through constructive conversations.” And @EmLeary noted that “PR was always about earned media not owned media, influence not control. The advent of social media has just highlighted that.” @urnhart commented: “Media relations and public relations have always been separate in my mind. Now we're adding social media to the mix.” @EmLeary made the interesting point that: “Historically, the traditional press had/have symbiotic relationship with brands. There’s no such safety net in wider online world.”

@Mynewsdesk_uk asked: “Which brands dare to put a comments box right underneath their news release?” @urnhart revealed that this was a live debate at Cisco. He personally was in favour of doing it.

Are companies ready for full-on ‘social’ comms? “Many companies have no idea how to handle it - particularly senior management,” said @TheMediaMktinCo. @jonobean said: “It’s our responsibility to sell in the opportunity offered by social media to the C level.” 

Who should run these SMNRs? “Not sure journos are the right folk to handle SMNRs,” was @CatJGoddard’s opinion. @jonobean predicted that: “Companies will end up employing those laid off from newsrooms, as traditional media declines.”

@Mynewsdesk_uk asked whether some journalists now prefer their releases via social media. @CatjGoddard said this “possibly over-complicates. Email is the tool used by all, social media kit is so ‘to taste’. Releases need to be seen and read.” And she added: “Isn't it a huge ask to find out what platforms every individual journo/blogger is using? You need a relationship with them in place to establish preference.” @charlotteulvros agreed, but said “There are great tools for monitoring this.” @EmLeary added: “The message has to be appropriate for the platform, ie not just one message, blanket pushed.”

One thing we all agreed on: the newsrooms they are a-changin'.

Here are some more links that were shared in this #commschat: 

Thanks to everyone who took part. #commschat, run by @CommsChat, is every Monday night at 8pm. See you next time…

Adam Cranfield

 PS. Curious about Mynewsdesk's digitial newsroom?