by Meghan Peters
Social networks have proved to be incredible distribution platforms for real-time news and continue to fascinate journalists as communication tools. It’s no surprise that many media professionals have jumped quickly on the Google+ band wagon to explore its potential for journalism.
Some are updating personal accounts while others have created profiles for their organizations. They’re in experimentation mode, testing out which features are most beneficial for messaging and engaging with their audiences.
Google+ has yet to be defined. For the news industry, it will become what the early adopters of the field make of it. Here are a few ways we’ve seen media professionals using the platform and what that might mean for the future of Google+ in journalism.
Talking About Google+
It’s no surprise that Google+ users want to talk about Google+ — and journalists are no exception. Many have been posting tips and tricks for using the platform, such as how to get a more accurate circle count and ways to bring your Facebook stream into your G+ stream.
Even conversations about Twitter and Facebook seem to steer right back to Google+. For example, Matthew Ingram of GigaOm started a discussion about ads hitting Twitter feeds. While some responses stayed on topic, many started talking about whether Twitter users would run to G+ or if Google would begin including ads in streams.
As journalists continue to join the platform, further discussion and collaboration around Google+ as a communications tool will shape the way it’s used for creating and distributing news content.
Hosting Audience Hangouts
Sarah Hill, an anchor for KOMU-TV in Columbia, Missouri, has been inviting her Google+ fans to join her in Hangouts, the network’s video chat service. KOMU hosts a Hangout during the 5 p.m. newscast to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the newsroom. She then interviews people in the Hangout on-air about their reactions to the day’s news.
“G+’s video chat feature is turning into KOMU’s own version of a satellite window,” Hill said. “It’s free. The video and audio are of air-able quality — no lugging gear to 9 different places to get 9 different opinions. You simply invite 9 viewers to your Hangout and the news comes to you.”
One chat brought in people from Pakistan, New Zealand, Orlando, New York, LA, Missouri, Iowa and England. Hangout participants were floored by Hill’s ability to multitask.
“It was quite amazing. There’s Sarah broadcasting on live TV with one earpiece listening to us folks on G+, the other to the TV station folks; she’s probably reading a teleprompter as well,” wrote Christopher Scott, a viewer from New Zealand who joined in. “She even welcomes new folks to the Hangout and chats to them like she’s home enjoying a drink with friends. I was seriously impressed.”
Only 10 people are allowed in a Hangout, so spots fill up quickly and some commenters are bummed when they miss out. Still, Hill’s experiment illustrates the reach of the Google+ community.
“It’s like we have viewers from around the world on a video speed dial,” she said.
Hangouts could be a great way for journalists to get audience reactions to news events in real time or find story ideas by asking Hangout participants what’s important in their communities.
Despite Google telling brands the platform isn’t ready for them yet, media organizations have quickly jumped on board. Like many of the early adopters from the journalism world, Canada’s top news source CBC has been posting links to stories with prompts that solicit reader feedback. They truly tested the engagement waters with a caption contest. The contest was also posted on Facebook, Twitter and the CBC website.
“We’ve noticed that there’s a bit of a competition to be witty right now on Google+,” said Kim Fox, senior producer for community and social media at CBC. ” We figured our daily photo caption challenge would play into that, and it has, outperforming other platforms.”
Fox said she’s seen smart dialogue and a deeper level of engagement with the content on Google+. She and her team plan to avoid replicating their Facebook and Twitter posts, and figure out what works for the Google+ community specifically.
With the natural enthusiasm for engagement and intelligent conversation, Google+ could become a place for journalists to generate solid feedback from their audiences. It’s important journalists grasp the full potential of the platform. From there, they can optimize its features to create a social dialogue around news content.
Analyzing News Coverage
Google+ is fostering rich conversation about journalism. It’s cultivating a community of thought leaders who rely on each other for feedback about their opinions on news events and the media industry.
When tweeting news commentary, a journalist is limited to 140 characters. Unless the discussion has a hashtag, it’s tough to see the full scope of the conversation as respondents may not be following all involved. With Facebook, conversations on journalists’ personal profiles don’t take off because many don’t friend professional contacts. Even if the journalist has a public page, his or her discussions are competing with updates from their fans’ friends and other pages because of the news feed algorithm. Google+ brings conversations back to the top of a stream when new comments arise. Though Facebook has a number of groups self-organized by journalists, grouping and sharing to professional contacts is more intuitive on Google+.
It also seems Google+ posts inspire more engagement than those on Facebook. For example, Mashablestarted discussions on both platforms about a study that claims 34% of iPhone users think they have 4G. The posts were published at roughly the same time and had similar prompts, posing questions about the study’s results. On Facebook, there were 57 likes and 40 comments, while the Google+ post had 183 +1′s and 116 comments. Granted this is only one post of many, but it’s still quite telling.
Though starting discussions about the news and their analysis of the news is nothing new for journalists, Google+ seems to be a more natural platform for these conversations.
The media industry’s focus on journalistic objectivity makes some reporters more apt to withhold their opinions, beliefs and other details about their lifestyle. But Google+ is about people and has become a place where journalists can let their personalities shine.
Amidst the news links and discussions, streams are peppered with jokes, photos and anecdotes about life. Not unlike his Twitter feed, Jeff Jarvis is making people laugh with zings like “LAX Continental terminal isn’t 3rd world, it’s 5th or 6th. Expect to see pigs and goats running through.” Others are re-sharing posts from followers they can relate to, such as Evonne Benedict of Seattle’s KING-5, who was touched by a story from a fellow University of Washington alumnus.
We sometimes forget that journalists are people too. Google+ is a good reminder that for media professionals, there’s more to life than the news.
Overall, the future of journalism on Google+ has yet to be determined. What are some other ways you’ve seen media professionals using the platform? What effect might it have on the news industry?
Image courtesy of Sarah Hill.