Social media is taking on an increasingly central role, not only as a place where consumers go to get their news, but also for passive news consumption. More than half (56 per cent) of UK Facebook users say they discover news on the platform without actively seeking it out, but simply while on the platform for other reasons.
While many news organisations can undoubtedly benefit from expanding their social media capabilities, on these platforms they are not in full control of whether their content reaches their intended audience. 'Likes' and other types of engagement are main drivers of views and attention.
There are efforts underway to rebalance the relationship between news publishers and the tech giants - for example, when a coalition of British media joined forces earlier this year to call on the UK government to rein in the likes of Meta and Google.
But there are changes that publishers - including smaller, independent organisations - can make to bolster their editorial independence.
The role of liveblogs
Liveblogs are one area for publishers to consider increasing their focus on. They enable readers to stay up to date on various topics, from covid-19 news or election results to sports match highlights.
While liveblogs as a concept have been around for a long time now, the format has evolved, making them a great way for journalists to speak to audiences that expect evolving user experiences.
For elections or data-driven events such as covid-19 updates or pollution, tools like Datawrapper can be easily integrated to display graphs and diagrams, and it is simple to integrate agency content, Tweets, videos, audio and more. Interactive options like polls or live comment blocks can be used to gather audience input.
The result is a multimedia, interactive and quicky-evolving piece of digital storytelling - whether it be covering the European Championships in Munich, sharing minute-by-minute triathlon updates for The Collins Cup, the wonders of the James Webb Space Telescope in a SlowBlog or a live and immersive expert chat on the risks associated with the covid-19 vaccine.
Liveblogs therefore feel a lot like social media, but with editorial curation, tailoring content to the viewers of that publication.
Modern liveblogs tend to be integrated into publishers’ own websites within their CMS. This enables publishers to reap the benefits of their content in the form of higher retention rates, direct brand interaction via engagement with their audiences, and new monetisation opportunities.
A case study from Germany
Liveblogs can also provide local media with the opportunity to save time and money on covering important stories with international and regional significance.
This was true in the case of Nordbayern’s approach to covering the 2020 US election. Using a liveblog format enabled them to leverage technology to suit their regional audience, by including more relevant information to these live feeds whilst increasing the amount of coverage through publishing two separate liveblogs.
The impact was clear in terms of engagement. The regular liveblog covered the news for five days, pulling in 130k unique users, 350k page views with a retention rate of 5 minutes and 5 seconds.
The second liveblog focused on the online reaction to the election, including reaction Tweets to the election such as political cartoons and posts expressing frustration with the long result time. That was less effective, but still generated 30k unique users, 48k page views and a retention rate of 3 minutes and 15 seconds.
Quality liveblogging technology enables publishers to explore new formats and storytelling avenues with little risk thanks to short onboarding times, low initial cost as well as easy integration options.
Additionally, this format also provides smaller publications with the opportunity to monetise their content and compete at a larger scale with bigger news organisations.
Leveraging new modes of revenue potential through advert-integration directly into liveblogs has also been hugely beneficial for companies. What this means is that ads are displayed at custom rates between posts. This allows more ads to be integrated within one story, without the advertising taking over the page, like it sometimes does on articles.
Another way that advertising can be used in an even less intrusive way is by finding a sponsor for the liveblog. This is particularly successful when covering events. For example, a German bank created a sponsored liveblog for one of their conventions. The sponsor was listed at the top and the liveblog was placed within the company's branding. This meant that the sponsor gained significant visibility, because the traffic of the convention’s liveblog was high, and was used to keep attendees informed about upcoming talks and breaks.
Using social media as a traffic driver
This is not to say that social media and liveblogs cannot work in tandem. Publishers cannot ignore that readers and potential customers are on social media.
Potential audiences follow their interests and algorithms surface new content for them. This means that social media can help publishers source new consumers. One way to get these social channel followers to their liveblogs is to use social media to advertise them, either by sharing highly engaging individual posts directly from the liveblog, or by sharing the entire story on their channels.
One important aspect is that this sharing must be done with relevant hashtags in order to be picked up by the channel’s algorithms and benefit from each channel’s style. The same is true of the post that is advertising the liveblog. While the liveblog itself gives publishers more freedom, the “ads” for the liveblog on social media must feel authentic to the platform. However, if done well, this strategy can attract interested readers and direct them to the content on the publishers’ websites.
Ensuring that the digital economy remains fair, and the power and market imbalance is tackled means creating attractive independent sources of news and technologies that consumers will focus their attention on.
Being the first to cover a story through live updates is exciting, authentic and appeals to user needs. The vitality of independent media companies depends on exploring new forms of publishing formats and the kind of results they’re bringing to the conversation.
Naomi Owusu is the CEO of Tickaroo and is responsible for company strategy and product development. Prior to Tickaroo, she worked for four years at what was then Kupferwerk AG, most recently in the Business Development division. As a freelance consultant, she created a range of digital products for companies like Verivox, KKH, and Bauer Media.