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Credit: By Anton S. on Flickr. Some rights reserved
BBC Thai, a "social-first" digital news stream started as a pilot project in July, has been given a green light to continue for another year.

The BBC Thai social media stream has reached over 14 million people in its first three months, generating more than three million interactions (likes, comments and shares).

"People in Thailand have found a space within BBC Thai not only to consume news but also to talk to each other about what's going on and the news that matters to them," David Cuen, social media editor at BBC World Service, told Journalism.co.uk.

Last week it was announced that the BBC Trust and the Foreign Commonwealth Office had given the service permission to continue until a further review, due to take place in late 2015.

The 'pop-up' BBC Thai was set up on Facebook to fill a news gap in the country, as international channels were temporarily prevented from broadcasting after a military coup in May.

Social media is no longer a distribution channel or a marketing space, it's also a space where we can do original journalism.David Cuen, social media editor, BBC World Service
Facebook was chosen because "the audience was already there", explained Cuen, who added: "particularly young audiences are going to Facebook to consume news".

Not having to build a new platform for the audience was a "huge benefit", and the project demonstrated that "it's possible to launch a pop-up operation in social media in a quick and cost effective way," he said.

BBC Thai publishes a combination of local news, international news, and an "international perspective of the news from Thailand".

The stories are usually four or five paragraphs long to be mobile-friendly, and the service also publishes audio and video clips.

The journalists working on BBC Thai have also been receiving tips and ideas from Facebook users, and Cuen said the team followed up on these leads with additional research.

"We still check, we still verify, we still bring impartial news but the fact that they are giving us tips or sharing stories with us is great.

"Social media is no longer a distribution channel or a marketing space, it's also a space where we can do original journalism," he said.

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Screenshot from BBC Thai's Facebook Page.

But the social-first journalism of BBC Thai has not been without its challenges, and moderating the thousands of comments for example can be a laborious task.

With around a million interactions a month, engaging with the audience is not easy, said Cuen.

"It's not something that we can build an algorithm or a machine to do it on our behalf, it's something that we have to do manually."

He added that the team was not always able to respond to comments as soon as it would like, but there was always somebody looking after the interactions.

"We still have a responsibility as the BBC to try to moderate, and to make sure that we have a constructive debate," he said.

Ensuring the conversation stays civil is only one part of producing journalism for social network users – BBC Thai has to ensure the audience comes to its Facebook Page in the first place.

Cuen said BBC Thai's users are not using Facebook because they want to interact with the service, so the team needs to come up with innovative formats "to capture their attention and imagination".

He said the pop-up service is competing not only with stories from other media organisation shared on the social network, but also with pictures and material posted by the users' friends and families.

One way to tackle this issue and to cut through the noise was to produce more video, he said.

While BBC Thai did not have its sights set on video at the beginning, as the team saw text and audio as more mobile-friendly, it has started experimenting with short video clips.

"We've seen a huge retention rate," he said. "So on average 85-86 per cent of the video gets watched, so that means if the video is a minute and a half [long], people are watching it a minute and 15 seconds before pausing it.

"That's actually quite an encouraging number," he said, adding that while BBC Thai's team wanted to create more video, there were no plans to become a video-only service.

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