My notes from the BBC Social Media Summit

 by Martin Belam, 20 May 2011

I spent much of today at the BBC Social Media Summit, and thought it worth putting together a few quick notes on the things that stood out for me.

Nic Newman and social media research

First off, I thought Nic Newman’s research on the use of news content within the social media sphere looked really interesting. I was particularly drawn to his statement that in the 2011 OxIS survey, for the first time ever we are beginning to see a slight decline in the usage of search. He had a graph that showed that whilst time spent on news sites was staying relatively static, time spent on social media destinations was rapidly increasing. Time spent using search was one of the areas feeling that squeeze.

Esra Dogramaci and the “Al Jazeera revolution”

I was very impressed with Esra Dogramaci from Al Jazeera, who handled with great composure and diplomacy some very hostile questioning over the station’s role in the “Arab spring” uprisings. One question suggested that Al Jazeera was being irresponsible in encouraging citizens to use social media tools in brutal regimes where it might get them “disappeared” if they were exposed. There seemed a widespread concern that Al Jazeera wasn’t simply reporting events, but was intertwined with them.

Esra was adamant that their role was to amplify the voice of the people, saying that if you went to the social media channels and their was no unrest there, there wouldn’t be a story to report. She also issued a strident challenge to other news organisations:

“If you are not out there telling the truth, and your reporters are not being arrested, then you are not doing your job.”

Liz Heron and social media at the New York Times

Similarly impressive was Liz Heron from the New York Times. Their team of journalist/developers and approach to social media have rightly been praised. She explained that as an experiment they were shortly going to transform their main @nytimes account into a fully human experience without the automated headlines being pumped through it. She also made the excellent point that journalists seem to have found a natural home on Twitter, which makes it easy sometimes for our social media strategies to ignore the much bigger potential reach and wider engagement on Facebook.

Liz showed the New York Times Oscars vote page, which used Facebook Connect to allow readers to compete with their friends over predictions. She used the phrase “gamification” and one tweeter, Alex Bath, asked “where is the journalism?”. I can see why it isn’t news, but I do wonder if you might as well ask “where is the journalism in having a crossword?”.

Christian Payne and “new tools, old skills”

There can’t be many people who can honestly follow up saying “Like many people I found myself shouting at the telly in anger about the Iraq War” with the sentence “So I got a flight to Turkey and then a taxi into Iraq”.

But Christian Payne can.

Subbed in at the last minute for Joanna Geary, he gave a passionate contribution to a panel session, not least because he argued that one problem with the relationship between “the mainstream media” and “social media” is that our approach on impartiality requires journalists to remove their own emotions from a story. It is, Chris argued, the emotion that builds the rapport with the people you are reporting on.

He felt that established journalists could be doing more to help bloggers like him who “sometimes stumble upon acts of journalism” work more within the established framework to get better stories. Earlier my Guardian colleague Meg Pickard had stressed that whilst technology was bringing about big changes and a huge challenge, it was basically “new tools for old skills”.

I think Chris reminded us that there a still a large number of amateur or semi-professional people who have access to the “new tools”, but don’t always have the training or the access to learning about the “old skills” which have served journalism for hundreds of years.

Twitter faux pas

If you were following the #bbcsms hashtag on Thursday you’ll know there was a bit of a Twitter kerfuffle over the use of the Chatham House Rule on day one. Today there was also an example of a retweeted quote getting distorted, as Raju Narisetti was widely quoted as saying the Washington Post would not hire people without Twitter or Facebook accounts, which wasn’t quite exactly what he said.

I didn’t tweet much today myself, but I did manage to cause my own little social media faux pas by mangling a quote from Andy Tedd and implying that he had said that all of the innovative new media people had left the BBC. He had actually said that those of his age/generation had been stifled out of the organisation, which is quite a different thing altogether. My apologies.

“Does that scare you?”

There was a great question from the floor in the first session, by someone whose Twitter name I didn’t catch. They made the brilliant point that whilst the BBC had all this great recording equipment in the room, and were hoping to turn the video around and publish it “within a couple of hours”, he had just filmed a part of the Q&A session on his phone and published straight to the web, much more quickly than any news organisation could do. “Does that scare you?” he asked.

There is definitely an issue of speed in our industry, particularly around the pace with which we can develop new technology products, but there are also some massive advantages that mainstream media organisations have which I think we underestimate at our peril. The thing is, even though I was in the room, I didn’t hear the guy’s twitter account name, so whilst I can find video of the day in abundance on the BBC College of Journalism website, I cannot find the clip he uploaded to link to it.

Mainstream media organisations currently retain mass audiences, brands that stand for particular values that have huge cultural resonances in the places they publish or broadcast, and have managed to accrue massive link equity and findability through search.

I still think that should scare everybody else.

currybetdotnet: Best of the blog 2011 brings together over 50 of the best posts on this blog from 2011, covering topics such as live blogging, community and social media for news websites, and the future of digital media. It features write-ups of talks by Guardian journalists including Paul Lewis, Matthew Wells, Andrew Sparrow and Chris Elliot, and behind the scenes looks at Guardian products like the Facebook and iPad apps. It also has transcripts of Martin Belam's talks at EuroIA, the UPA conference, Polish IA Summit, Content Strategy Forum 2011, FutureEverything and Hacks/Hackers London.
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It was Paul Martin (@ukcameraman) who posed the 'are you scared' question at #bbcsms and here is his take on the day: (@suellewellyn)

Thanks Sue - and Robin Morley also let me know via Twitter

One thing is worth bring up. There's a difference between a raw feed and an edited package. I'm not saying one is better than another - they have different strengths and weaknesses. There is still a role for people to condense / editorialise - it's just that window of opportunity is much shorter.

I think Al Jazeera has always been irresponsible. I believe that because Al Jazeera is willing to give Al-Qaida and sundry other insurgents, AKA (bad guys), a world stage from which to spew their hatred, they are encouraged to perpetrate more attacks on innocents, since their strident demands, diatribes, threats, and twisted, illogical, religious misuses, can be widely publicized through Al Jazeera. These will be immediately picked up by the world's news wires, so the bad guys gets the world wide attention they want, almost immediately.

@Anonymous - much like all those "responsible" TV networks who regularly feature Koran burning pastors, and racist nut-jobs....

I suggest - for everyone - watching Control Room. It's a documentary about Al Jazeera.

They are so many conspiracies you don't know what to believe, but I have a strong intuition about Al Jazeera.

I think every revolution needs a mouthpiece, Al Jazeera is one in the Arabic countries. Social Media like twitter and facebook just fasten the whole revolutionary process. But even without them the revolution would have taken place. maybe later, maybe it would have taken longer.

I am NOT anonymous! I responded with my answer to your comment about "revolution needs a mouthpiece". You didn't print some of my response, you edit my comment, your link is been removed from my website. Are so so left-leaning that you don't believe in free speech or press either? So if you don't agree with someone else's thoughts, you edit and punish?
I wonder if this comment will be displayed in it's entirety.

My name is Clyde and I am proud to be an American who wouldn't mind fewer tyrants and "mouthpieces", that encourage murder.

Hi Clyde, I think we are at cross-purposes here. I did get an email from you in reply to the comment that used the phrase "revolution needs a mouthpiece". Since it was an email sent directly to me I didn't assume it was intended for publication. I'd be happy to add it into the comments if that is what you would like. I also think you are mistaken in ascribing the "revolution needs a mouthpiece" quote and those views to me. The comment was left via the web by someone else who signed themselves Martin. I always sign myself as Martin Belam in the comments in the site.

I would add this though.

It is quite clear in the instructions on my comment form that I require people to use "Your real name or nickname (not some keywords)". You haven't been signing your comments Clyde, you've been putting a link to your Sump Pump Review website, and using the name "Shotrod". That just looks like blatant SEO to me. Arguing about free speech as a point of principle when you seem to be trying to get an SEO advantage from my website makes your argument seem pretty hollow.

Great summary Martin, thank you (and nice to chat briefly with you at the event too!).

This is your second blog post I've read Martin and I want to read more! :) Nice summary and overall perspective of things. Al Jazeera, I didn't know so deeply about it as I do now.

Keep up to date on my new blog