This weekend showed that many stations are still living in their traditional analog world, focused on TV and missing a digital opportunity to own the Paris story.
You may say, “Why do we care about Paris? We’re a local station and people want local news.” But as we have learned from a series of research projects, nothing could be further from the truth. To paraphrase an old Tip O’Neill line – all news is local. (He actually said all politics is local.)
We see it over and over again: users want to get their news and information from one site. It’s a convenience thing. Many users rely on local mobile news sites and local news apps. Sure, they may start digging if they have a question or want more depth. But as a rule, users will first go to their primary news site/app and then start searching.
Following the Paris attack, I can assure you there was a lot of searching – and not much finding. Most station sites/apps I looked at had one story – the AP or CNN story on the shootings. On a few station sites, the story hadn’t been updated in hours yet new details were being reported almost minute by minute.
It’s ironic how some stations lament their digital growth is slowing. The desktop numbers have crashed because of mobile and apps. In some markets we’re even seeing those numbers decline. Why? Often, those local products are frustrating for users. In research, viewers tell us the information is old, the site itself has not been updated in hours and at least a couple of stations in pretty good sized markets don’t have a local person update their sites on a Saturday or Sunday. Really.
What’s the solution? Treat your digital platforms like you would treat your air.
- Your digital products are consumed 24/7/365. Newscasts are scheduled and appointment viewing. Users expect your digital platforms to have the latest information no matter when they go there. They’re right. Using the excuse that it’s a weekend doesn’t cut it.
Go back and look at the digital growth on your sites over the past few years. How can you ignore it? Chances are there are a dozen people working on your shows through a weekend day. But how many are working on your digital platforms? None? One, or maybe two? Yet more people may see your digital content than your newscasts. (If you doubt that, contact me and I’ll show you some missed opportunities.)
- On a story like Paris or another story with so many angles, you need to produce the coverage to reflect the content. Grab stories from your network’s site and CNN for those affiliates and put them on your page with a link back to the network site for more information. Stuff your home page with content. You can’t check the box just by posting one story and a picture. Maybe you even work with your local newspaper – they give you permission to run a portion of their stories on Paris with a link back to their paper. The goal again is to be THE place local users know they can turn for information. This requires a digital culture in advance of a big story.
AP had dozens of stories through the evening Friday evening after the attacks; chances are your site had one – the “summary” story. Why not post every AP story, making it clear to the user you have the content and showcase it?
- Post stories asking folks if they have family in Paris or traveling abroad. Post links to the U.S. State Department for those seeking information about survivors.
- Social media became a primary source for people to stay abreast of the story. Here’s how you should be approaching it:
- Constantly update your website and as new info comes in post it on Facebook with a link back.
- Twitter is the second priority. On a day when a story is constantly changing, keep Twitter updated constantly with every little fact, Twitter users want and expect that. But not at the expense of your Facebook posts. Facebook users want major developments, human interest stories and links back to stories that may impact their lives.
- Create Instagram feeds on major stories – look for photos posted by others that are dramatic, impactful and storytelling and refeed them on your searchable hash tag.
- Share content. Many stations are part of larger groups. Are you checking the sites of the stations in your group? If there’s a good story, grab it with a link back to the originating station.
As you read this you’re very likely saying, “I don’t have the digital staff.” That’s probably true. Nearly everyone is focused on the analog side – the TV side. But we know what’s happening with TV viewership. It’s declining under the gravity of OTT, DVR, Netflix and other life style changes. I would bet many stations could shift three to six people to their digital side from the “broadcast” staff and it would have no impact on your broadcast ratings. It would work wonders for digital engagement.
On a major event – regardless of whether it’s local, national or international – you can never have too much content. But you can have too little.
How good was your digital effort over the weekend? Many – maybe most – of the people who rely on you for information about the Paris attacks looked to your apps, your social media, and your website for the latest information. Did you satisfy them? Or maybe you contributed to the impression that when big stories happen, local stations’ digital products were struggling to keep up and not leading.
Local television stations are in a battle right now, and it has nothing to do with sweeps. You’re not only trying to lure on-air viewers, but every day you are also engaged in a fight in the digital world to establish credibility as a reliable information source. If you fail to meet expectations, users will find other sources. Your competition is not the local television stations across the street. It’s the entire world wide web.