“Watch this (social) space...” - MSN’s Darren Waters at news:rewired

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 16 February 2012

A couple of weeks back I was at news:rewired to talk about the Guardian’s Facebook app, as part of a panel discussing social media optimisation. I’ve already posted my notes on the contribution of the BBC’s Chris Hamilton. Here is what I made of Darren Waters’ talk.

“Watch this (social) space...” - Darren Waters, MSN

Darren Waters explained that MSN’s challenge was very different to the BBC’s in terms of social media. Whereas in his presentation Chris Hamilton was able to show off breaking news tweets that had generated an incredible amount of retweets, Darren talked about having a “bijou newsroom” and much more limited resources. The audience outnumbers all of us in news organisations though, and Darren talked about aiming to manage a “very complex conversation.”

He said that you had to think of social media as “an engine rather than a broadcast mechanism” which leads you to ask “How do we fuel this beast?”

Being social, he argued, wasn’t just about adding a “social toolbar” at the foot of an article or a couple of “share this” buttons, but about truly integrating social into every aspect of an article. Internally they have made “social contracts” with teams around their targets, as part of an attempt to document what they know, and move from guesswork around social to having a robust strategy. Darren said that they now unashamedly direct people to conversations on Facebook from the MSN homepage, a move which the many detractors of Microsoft’s approach to the web would surely have once thought impossible.

Like Pete Clifton in his opening talk at news:rewired, Darren hinted that over the coming year MSN would be introducing new products to try and help users make sense of the real-time cacophony of social media. He pointed out that unlike many competitors, they were well placed because they had the social signals coming in from Bing. Whilst Microsoft’s search engine has a much lower volume of usage than Google, my own experience of looking into search logs demonstrates that you can identify trends of public interest very quickly indeed.

He talked about MSN concentrating much more on the second-screen live social experience, having gained “traction” with their live blogging over the last year or so. They were also not adverse to off-the-shelf solutions, having implemented some of Facebook’s default social plugins. Darren emphasised that the human side of this was vital - they’d seen engagement on Facebook increase 20%, and were getting ten times as many interactions on Twitter by talking with a human voice rather than being an RSS feed.

UPDATE: I assume one of the things Darren was referring to was msnNOW, which has just arrived in the US.

Next...

Wrapping up my notes on the talks from this panel, next up is Wired’s Nate Lanxon, with his big photograph of Mark Zuckerberg.

This is one of a series of blog posts featuring my notes from news:rewired:
“Did we get something of journalistic value?” - Liz Heron
“The Guardian’s Facebook app” - Martin Belam
“Great for users. Great for publishers. And great for Apple” - Alex Watson
“The Economist’s shift to digital”- Tom Standage
“The alchemy of media business model innovation” - François Nel
“Social media, investigative journalism, ethics and security” - Nicola Hughes
“Less is more - social media at the BBC” - Chris Hamilton
“Watch this (social) space...” - Darren Waters
“Me and my big photo of Mark Zuckerberg” - Nate Lanxon
“Social media optimisation” - Q&A

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