Alex Gubbay
On the day spoke to BBC News' social media editor Alex Gubbay, students across the UK were taking part in a series of demonstrations over the government's plans to raise university tuition fees.

A busy news day in any era and a story likely to provoke strong reaction from viewers, listeners and the audience on the BBC's own site and beyond. Keeping up with the discussion taking place on external sites and social networks, feeding it back to the newsroom and using it to inform BBC News coverage of the story is Gubbay's beat.

Leading the team within the BBC newsroom that looks after all the user-generated content that the BBC receives, Gubbay says it's now a case of "looking out as well as looking in".

"When this hub was set up a few years ago this was all about stuff being sent in directly to us, but of course social media has evolved," says Gubbay, who is now a year into the role having previously worked as an interactive sports news editor for BBC Sport

There are three key elements to building a social media strategy for BBC News: what the BBC is doing officially with its social media presence; how reporters, journalists, editors, and producers are using it for their work; and how it can be used to reach new audiences and market what the newsroom does.

Using social media sites, networks and aggregators as newsgathering tools is something Gubbay can evangelise about, he says. Verifying what comes in is still a huge part of this process and the news team is proactive about verifying and getting permission to use information and material it finds on or is sent via social media channels.

"It's an important part of our contract with the audience. It gives extra credibility to what we use and often means we can get better material, if we get hold of them we may be able to get a more in-depth account or better pictures and that makes for a better final product," he explains.

Everyone in the newsroom needs to understand how to use these tools do better journalism, he says. As part of this, a huge training operation involving the BBC College of Journalism is underway and 1,500 journalists have already passed through that since the start of the year.

But the training has to evolve to keep up with the rapid developments in social media and technology and journalists need to be supported at their desks too, he adds.

"We can use social media to tell better stories - not just to find stories more quickly, but to engage better with our audience to develop a more collaborative type of journalism. If a reporter was doing a story and isn't quite sure what the best angle was or wants some input from the audience, then how can they use social media to do that? How can we involve the audience more in the stories that we are telling?" he explains.

For a recent "on diary" story, the clocks going back in October, BBC Breakfast used social media to involve its audience in the coverage and to continue discussion of the topic on the BBC's Twitter and Facebook pages.

"It's not the most controversial or hard hitting story, but it's a good example of how by opening the story up to the audience by having the right channel to connect to the audience it can bring them in and show that there is audience appetite and interest there," says Gubbay.

"If pure newsgathering is the first strand to this, then the second is actually building engagement and getting really back in touch with our audience and developing a slightly more collaborative type of journalism through the tools we have at our disposal."

If information shared by the BBC provokes a particularly strong reaction on social media sites then it's important that this is represented or fed back into BBC News' output on that story, whether that's with a new story and a new angle or by finding ways to represent reaction within online, TV or radio coverage.

The BBC News website has recently introduced more external linking, so are social media conversations about BBC News output and the issues its journalists covered being represented on the site? Yes, says Gubbay, pointing towards the live news pages that have been run to cover the Chilean miners' rescue, the general election and the recent student protests - and there will be more to come with "little iterations over the next few months", including better indications on the BBC News site of how its content is being shared socially.

"It might be tweets from people involved or comment from the audience via Have Your Say or Twitter or elsewhere. We feel that that is working really well as a way of curating the huge mass of stuff, the huge sea of content. A lot of which might not be of any interest to our audience but some of it might be. It can add context and someone who doesn't use Twitter for example might still benefit from seeing a tweet or two on that page because it gives a sense of what the rest of the audience or people involved in the story are saying," he says.

"We're finding ways to integrate the best of that content into our overall package to give our journalism a more human flavour. As we are now developing a more coherent portfolio off site we need to find the best ways to reflect that on site as well. On any big rolling story we will now be looking to do that and you should see that as an increasingly central plank to our live website coverage."

Feeding this conversation and interaction between the BBC News site and wider web conversations is Gubbay's team's work using social media as a marketing and promotional tool. Stories are seeded to appropriate BBC accounts on social networks: "It'll be a mix of things that we'll have decided strategically or editorially are the important things for us to get out there. When it's coverage of a big story, we want to make sure people know that we're across it and that they can follow it on all our different platforms; that they can get involved; that if we've got a special programme, we can use our channels to make sure that they are aware of that."

There is now someone within the BBC Newsroom working in a cross-promotional role to make sure that different BBC platforms - online, radio, TV - are pointing towards each other, feeding information between desks and promoting each others' output. This worked particularly well during the UK general election in May and with the recent student protests, he says.

"With the student protests most people would assume that we're rolling on it on the news channel and online, but a couple of Tweets here and there might nudge people into following," he says.

Making sure that the BBC's journalism divisions are working together for a coherent "official" presence is important, but this approach will also be key in reaching new audiences, says Gubbay.

"How do we make sure that we're in the spaces that our audience are if they are not always necessarily watching the 10 O'Clock News every night, listening to Today or even looking at our website? How do we share the best of our journalism? How do we make sure that people who pay the licence fee are still accessing our journalism and how do we make sure that we put that journalism in the right places so that people can share it, talk about it and value it? That's why we need a proactive strategy for our Facebook presence and Twitter presence, Flickr YouTube etc," he says.

Entering into new territories or communities online has to be done sensibly and appropriately, he adds, for example, encouraging people to share content: "We've got Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and they might still think that's a bit BBC, they might share it from there, but how do we make they feel they can share it from our website and make it as easy as possible."

There's a balance to be struck between using Twitter for news updates and coverage of the news, giving context but also a sense of immediacy, he says. There's also a need for balance and perspective when it comes to the volume of BBC News' output via social media channels.

With Twitter, for example, Gubbay is overhauling BBC News' feeds, creating a tree of accounts with @BBCBreaking at the top.

"Until fairly recently that was pretty much an automated feed of the alerts that we end out via email, text and a desktop tool. It was another channel for those alerts to go out from, but we've taken the decision with that and a number of other accounts to curate them more proactively," he says.

Below the @BBCBreaking account are the BBC News and BBC World Twitter accounts, then subject accounts, such as Politics, and finally Twitter accounts for key individuals such as technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones and political reporter Laura Kuenssberg.

"It's about getting the right mix of all those so you don't end up with thousands of accounts, but a coherent portfolio of accounts so you know where to go to on Twitter to get the right element of BBC News," he says.

Back in the newsroom it's about getting different divisions and desks to build up their social media expertise and contacts relevant to their specialism or news patch.

"There's a balance to be struck and there's a perspective to retain. Ultimately we're still a TV, radio and online broadcaster and we're very much about making sure that people come back to our own channels and our journalism in those outlets," says Gubbay.

"But there's no doubt that people increasingly understand that social media and the wider web are ways that we can help that drive that and reach other audiences. It's about getting the balance right and when it comes to training it's about telling people that these are tools that can help them do their jobs. It's not replacing getting the final story out on TV or saying that we're not going to do all those traditional checks in term of journalistic rigour and process.

"It's saying here are some additional tools and real-time sources that you need to be plugged into otherwise you might not be telling the story as well as you can or you might be missing it. If there are people who aren't connecting with our traditional services, we feel that by getting into their spaces in the right and appropriate way we can make our journalism more relevant and let people see the great things we're doing and let them engage with it.

"It's not instead of - it's as well as."

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