Entries from February 2011 ↓

Checking in to locations… media… and ideas

Check in services first came to my attention when I attended the SXSW Interactive festival in 2009. Foursquare announced a cellphone-based tool that let you “check-in” to your location and let people know where you visited. The more you visited, the more credibility you would gain inside the game. If you check in enough to one spot, you become the Mayor. If you check in enough times based on Foursquare-prescribed settings, you earn “badges.” I have collected 44 so far since I first officially checked into Foursquare in October 2009. (I didn’t join during SXSW because it didn’t allow check ins in my town… In October of that year I started to pretend Chicago was Columbia because I just wanted to play with the technology. Foursquare opened up to all locations in January 2010.)

I like checking in. I love the badges. I love being a mayor. (I fluctuate mayorships between 23 and 26 locations.) I am really busy with work in my newsroom, campus and taking my kids all over the place for activities. I rack up the points, the badges and the mayorships. I love it. I also love the simplicity of sharing my location on Twitter or Facebook if I think there’s a reason behind it (to talk about a sale, concert, activity or something else my friends or followers would like). I’ve met people through Foursquare by checking in and finding other people at that location. I’ve met up with people I know by discovering they were in the same spot as I was just by checking in. It’s all a bit self-centered, but I enjoy the fun behind it. I’m obviously competitive and this is a simple competition to play throughout the day. During SXSW 2010, I discovered the joys of Gowalla and blogged my thoughts about it after the conference. I clearly love this stuff.

But I hit a snag last summer when I had knee surgery. I was stuck in a chair with ice on my leg. I couldn’t check in. But that’s when I discovered the point behind tools liks Miso and Get Glue. You have a chance to check into the media you consume (and with Get Glue, you can also check into the wine you drink) and earn badges. I’m a big Get Glue fan and I’ve earned many “stickers.” You can show them off on Twitter and Facebook just like the location-based tools, but Get Glue also encourages you to play with the site and you can earn real stickers. (Although I’ve requested my stickers a couple of times and they’ve never shown up at my house. I do know other Get Glue users who did get their stickers.) I loved the chance to continue with my checking in obsession but with different material. I instantly envisioned opportunities for broadcast news outlets to encourage people to watch the show live by offering stickers.

But rewind a few months earlier and the Huffington Post started offering badges of honor for people who interacted with the site at a certain level. The Type-A Parent site started doing the same thing recently where members can earn “achievements.”

I’m listing all of these earning opportunities because I think I might have an idea to help engage my local audience as we head into the 2012 presidential campaign season. I’ve written before about how I have learned from failure of my Smart Decision ’08 project where I combined newsrooms to deliver an incredibly deep amount of information leading up to the 2008 election. The biggest problem was I never found a way to engage with news consumer and I could not get people who were interested in educating themselves through out site to participate and share. But what if I worked with a community of engaged citizens and used their help to encourage other people in our market to join in with the help of social awards. These would be badges of honor that would prove a person is educating himself or herself leading up to the election. Those badges could be posted on Twitter, Facebook or even their personal websites. I think it could be a really fun way to share, collect and encourage news consumers to participate in an election project. I’m just throwing this idea out there… but I want to find someone who wants to play! This could grow into a really fun project.

I need to walk the walk

This is the time of the semester when I meet with my students one-on-one to assess their career goals and help them best develop their online portfolio to get them the job they want. I range from helping them build a website on a free tool to teaching them how to set up and manage a server – usually building a WordPress site but I have at least one student who wants to hand build a site using Dreamweaver. Each time I speak to a student, I remind them to document the work they are doing in our newsroom. The more they verbalize their work, the more interested a hiring manager will be when he or she sees this potential employee’s knowledge.

It’s a great idea, right? So why don’t I do that more often.

Obviously it’s because life is busy. But I should walk the walk if I’m going to talk the talk to my students.

Right now I’m helping launch a new content management system (CMS) for my newsroom. At the same time, we had one of the greatest engagement experiences with our audience during a major near-blizzard in our area. I blogged about the snow storm engagement on PBS’s MediaShift blog and I plan to write even more later in the week about that experience. But while I build the CMS, I’m thinking about where to go with our Facebook engagement. It’s really grown in the last month and I want to keep it going.

Now I’m pondering my next steps. There are two questions swimming in my head. Do we want to extend our brand into individual fan pages for our on air personalities? Do we want to start holding contests and other opportunities where our Facebook fans can win something if they click the “like” button?

Contests on Facebook
I talked to one of my favorite Facebook groups about my personal challenge when it comes to Facebook and offering winnings to people who like the page. I’ve seen newsrooms offer the chance for a free iPad and jump 14,000 fans. But I question how many of those fans will actually engage with the page. I realize a huge jump of 14,000 additional people would find at least a couple hundred of those fans engaging. But for some reason I love the organically grown community. You know, the kind that forms naturally because of similar interests and cares. The kind where you build a relationship that is founded on information and communication. I kind of see these prize drawings as a bribery. I’m saying bribery is bad, I just question that it’s the best option for a community’s foundation. In the last year, my newsroom’s Facebook page has grown from less than 500 to more than 5,600 fans. It’s a wonderful natural growth that really bloomed thanks to our snow storm coverage.

Personalities on Facebook
We have a couple of on air personalities who are already finding great interaction with our newsroom’s main Facebook page and their personal pages. I don’t want to fix what isn’t broken, but I wonder if I’m missing anything at this point. We have a strong Facebook news page, but we also have one anchor who is getting even better engagement from viewers who are her Facebook friends. These are people who she friended as viewers instead of viewers who clicked “like” on a fan page. We’re working on security permissions so she feels comfortable asking questions en masse but also posting pictures of her family. I might continue my “organic” feel with this situation. Our hub of Facebook delivery will remain our current fan page while our on air personalities will be asked to use their personal pages with security or create a fan page if they don’t want to use their personal profile. I think as Facebook continues to change, I’ll continue to change how we reach out and connect with our viewers.

I also reached out on Facebook to ask many people who are working in newsrooms… It’s incredible to see the many different ways Facebook is managed (or not managed.) I’ll try to walk my walk and document our successes and failures more often.