Reinventing the Newsroom

Three New Ideas

Posted in Communities, Social Media by reinventingthenewsroom on February 2, 2010

Like any blogger, I have no shortage of opinions. But here are three thoughts I haven’t written about yet because I still need to think about them a lot more, turning them over and over in my head until something clicks and I know how they’ve changed things.

First off, here’s Robin Sloan on stock and flow. The idea is borrowed from economics, but Sloan has rather adroitly repurposed it as “the mas­ter metaphor for media today.” Like so:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind peo­ple that you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the con­tent you pro­duce that’s as inter­est­ing in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what peo­ple dis­cover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, build­ing fans over time.

I feel like flow is ascen­dant these days, for obvi­ous reasons—but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audi­ence and, like, the health of a soul.

Everybody who works with ideas in front of any kind of audience read that and immediately nodded. Too little flow and your traffic stats (an admittedly imperfect but useful way of thinking about not just visitors but conversations generated and opportunities to learn) will look like a kid’s drawing of a mountain range, with a few peaks rearing off a flat line. People come and then they leave, and that’s it. Too little stock and you’re meandering along in terms of both traffic and ideas, not really growing, not bringing in new readers, not challenging yourself and being challenged to think differently about things.

Sloan’s post has been caroming around the blogosphere for weeks; it’s one of those ways of seeing the world that feels so immediately right that you risk falling into the trap of seeing everything through its lens. Which brings up the old Robert Benchley quip that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. But it’s a fascinating and tremendously useful way of thinking about writing, and ideas, and audiences.

Second, here’s a simple but compelling observation about social media, from Henrik Werdelin: “People don’t just share messages to be nice to their friends. Take a look at Facebook or Twitter, for instance – often status messages are equally about saying something about the sender, so the important question you should ask yourself is: ‘How will the message I want spread make my audience look cool or clever to their friends, colleagues or customers?’ ”

That post is new, but I know I’m going to need a little time to sort through the idea it brings. I do know that it speaks to one of the biggest mistakes news organizations (and, really, most every other kind) make in thinking about social media. The default mindset is to think of social media as a way of attracting or keeping audiences, or harnessing or corraling conversation for the good of the organization. But conversation isn’t like that — it’s an ubiquitous activity that permeates all the organizations readers interact with. To be successful, conversation has to work for readers, by letting their thoughts and personalities be an equal part of the process of sharing and commenting and reusing. Thinking about that with Werdelin’s observation in mind would help.

Finally, there’s this from Adam Sternbergh in New York magazine, looking back at the conversation surrounding the State of the Union address and the iPad unveiling:

Most remarkable about last Wednesday, though, was how much of our collective conversation preceded, rather than followed, these events. If you’d graphed the online chatter about Apple’s keynote unveiling, it would have started climbing months ago and peaked about the time Steve Jobs took the stage. The State of the Union prompted all the usual postgame analysis—but that was teed up by weeks of speculation, predictions, and what-if forecasting. In the age of social media, the analysis cycle has been reversed: We spend more time talking about what we think we’ll think than what we thought.

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