—INFLUENCERS ARE EVERYTHING!—
Stations across the country are desperately trying to incorporate social media into their newscasts in a bid to capture a younger demo. They’re promising a newscast “like you’ve never seen before” – “doing news in a brand new way” – “this ain’t your daddy’s newscast.” The cliches keep comin’! Problem is the stations simply don’t know how to deliver the goods. Fox tried:
Despite their super-secret, web-scraping technologies and promises to “interact with us”, the Fox show failed in Philly, and the Scripps shows failed in Denver, Kansas City, Phoenix, West Palm Beach, Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland and Tampa. I applaud these stations for attempting to break with convention and try their hands at invention. But with any experimental TV show, you don’t go out of the gate announcing to the world that your brand new show is going to be this, and this, and this. When it hits the air, and your producers were unable to deliver what was promised in those over-the-top promos, your failure is magnified.
Both Scripps and Fox should have nixed the promises and the promos and just started to integrate social media elements into their current shows. You don’t do a week or two of rehearsal shows. You do a month or two of live-on-air rehearsals. Only by doing it “live”, by making mistakes and discovering what does and what doesn’t work is the show going to find a unique identity. Whether it takes a matter of weeks or months, you don’t “launch” the new brand until that brand can stand on its feet. When your entire news and production staff are all on the same page – and the show is actually connecting with viewers, then you change the name and throw on the new graphics and play the new music package. Scripps should have started their The Now show on just one station, tinkered with it, succeeded and failed with various social media elements, and then shared the format company-wide when all the kinks were straightened out.
THE PROBLEMS WITH A SOCIAL-MEDIA-DRIVEN FORMAT
Here’s what the producers discovered while going to air unprepared with these social-media driven shows:
- First – quite simply, a lot of the content on social media isn’t all that interesting. A lot of the people on social media aren’t all that interesting. And a lot of those people’s opinions are not all that interesting.
- Second – there are no filters on social media. Your on-air talent and producers are incapable of filtering out the massive amount of misinformation, the fake news and the opinions masquerading as fact simply because it’s coming in so fast from all sides. So producers have a policy decision to make: a) ignore, censor or delete any posts with unverified facts, photos, videos or memes and only air opinion posts – or – b) air any facts, photos, videos or memes that come along that are G-Rated – regardless of what’s true and what’s not. Station lawyers are going to recommend the former.
- Third – assuming you follow your lawyer’s advice, a parade of “safe” opinion posts doesn’t make for great television.
- Fourth – Facetime, Skype and other apps allowing unvetted viewers to join your newscast “live” on-the-fly in any meaningful way are simply out of the question because you can’t control the content they contribute.
- Fifth – social-media-driven shows require a lot of flexibility by the producer, director, and talent. They require the producer to throw away the rundown when called for and go with the ebb and flow of social media. Unfortunately, automated newscasts with robocams and a budget-optimized control room staff don’t allow producers to be flexible. So producers are “trapped” into following their rundown and only inserting social media elements “when they are formatted” in the show, NOT when it makes sense to engage social media, because the automation doesn’t allow flexibility.
- And Sixth – social media scrapers like Dataminr, HopZop, SocialFlow, News Whip Spike, BuzzSumo, CrowdTangle, TweetDeck and Storyful are fine at alerting you to the buzz surrounding Saturday Night Live comic Pete Davidson‘s latest suicide threat on Instagram. They’re not so trustworthy predicting and/or determining what is an actual news event. Recently, one of the above websites warned me of a potential active shooter inside a resort hotel in Las Vegas. A collection of aggregated tweets compiled by the service indicated a potential threat. What is a producer supposed to do with that? More importantly, what is your young, inexperienced, data-focused line producer gonna do with that? I had the desk make some calls but otherwise ignored it – despite the fact that, in theory, social media is indicating there’s something going on at a Vegas hotel – and that’s what this show is supposed to be – all the UP-TO-THE-MINUTE social media that EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT. Do you go with it? Of course not! But once your millennial producer, the one you hired cheap after advertising for candidates who had two years experience, gets ahold of that information, you’re screwed. Your station is going to be retracting an active shooter report that never happened.
So where does that leave us? We’ve put so many restrictions on ourselves as to what we can and cannot report, what technology (Skype, Facetime) we can and cannot include in the newscast, and what our automated staff can and cannot handle that this social-media-driven show is being driven right into the ground.
What’s the solution?
THE SOLUTIONS TO A SOCIAL-MEDIA DRIVEN FORMAT
You must produce your social media. I know – that sounds blasphemous! You can’t stage social media! What I’m suggesting is not staging social media – but simply producing it. Here’s how:
Your newsroom must create a massive list of local social media influencers. Those influencers are local doctors, cops, firemen, politicians, teachers, sports stars and athletes, musicians, bloggers and vloggers, editors and authors, entrepreneurs, social activists, business owners, lawyers, psychiatrists, marketing experts, financial experts, parole officers, funeral directors, on and on. All these people must have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and maybe even have access to Skype and Facetime. They must be experts in their field. And they must know how to interact on various platforms.
That list has been compiled in advance. Now, your producer is stacking today’s 4pm show. He’s going to include the breaking story about Pete Davidson and his Instagram post saying that he “doesn’t want to be on this earth anymore.” He’s leading the show with the story, the actual Instragram post, and the social media reaction. To “produce” his lead story, he has an intern at the assignment desk call up half-a-dozen influencers on the list – a psychiatrist or suicide expert, an expert on illegal drugs, a publicist or someone familiar with crisis-management of celebrities, and maybe a social media expert. This intern tells each of these influencers that at approximately 4pm today, the newscast is discussing the Pete Davidson story. The intern invites each of them to take part in the discussion via Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. Perhaps the producer even “books” one of these experts for a Skype interview.
In addition, throughout the day, the producer takes to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram teasing coverage of the Pete Davidson story and requesting viewer’s thoughts. Is this just a publicity stunt? Is Pete so broken-hearted over his split with Ariana Grande that he’s really suicidal? Is his fame and drug use causing him to implode like Charlie Sheen did? Whatever your angle is, you get the reaction coming in in advance of your 4pm lead.
When you finally go to air with your lead story, you’re going to have immediate crowd-sourced feedback from those people who responded to your teases on those platforms. But more importantly, you’re going to have quality, expert thought leaders in their fields adding their facts, thoughts, and opinions on the Davidson story – input you never would have gotten if you did not produce this segment in advance. Look who wins:
- The viewers are rewarded with takeaway that has some value and is not just a bunch of know-nothing nobodies’ opinions.
- Your Influencers will be rewarded by getting their name, their post(s) and their expertise highlighted on your show. Those influencers will also extend your station’s brand when they carry on the conversation via social media once you’ve moved on to other stories.
- And the program itself is rewarded by having a quality segment that included heavy social media interaction that was also relevant thanks to your influencers.
You have to recognize that social media is propelled by one thing – human emotions. Whether it’s anger, outrage, love, admiration, or concern for Pete Davidson, that huge assemblage of emotion plays out in real time on your station. Plan it. Produce it. Present it. And be prepared to Pursue it “live” if the segment takes off on-air.