Smart home devices can turn your home into a smart hub, one that can lock doors for you, play your music on demand and even answer any questions you may have.

Uptake in this form of artificial intelligence has grown faster than any other consumer technology we have recently encountered, such as AR, VR or even wearables.

So, chances are that if you have not got one, you know someone who does.

But are you and your news organisation unlocking the potential of these devices to reach wider audiences?

So far, there are two main ways that news outlets can utilise Alexa: the Flash Briefing and Skills.

Skills are essentially its ability to do things like dim your lights, play your favourite song or call your plumber. It is an actual conversation or exchange of information between you and your device. 

For example, The Washington Post has really experimented in this space, giving its audience the day's main headlines, while its national political correspondent James Hohmann analyses political stories. It also gets Alexa users to play its weekly 'Know Your News' quiz.

But working with conversational interfaces is complex, which can lead news outlets to focus on the Flash Briefing instead.

A Flash Briefing is a passive experience that you can create for your audience – a short audio clip of information that comes on like a radio. 

The user at home adds these briefings to their device from a range of publishers, like the BBC, CNN or Quartz, which can be anything from a rundown of the news, to business tips or even the weather forecast for the day – whatever they are interested in.

"Audiences schedule Flash Briefings on their mobile device – you can get the latest information, in one place, at one time," explained social media and digital producer Peter Stewart, who has been experimenting in this space.

He explained that Alexa flash briefings can offer journalists another space to connect with their audience on a regular basis with short, on-demand audio clips.

"Radio stories and TV packages are easily adapted – you already have the content, so this can be an extension for your brand," he said.

"But you can also make specific new content for these devices – maybe the best clips of your breakfast show, a bulletin of hyper-local news or even a teaser for a bigger interview you'll be airing on TV."

News organisations can set their feed to update hourly, daily or weekly, depending on the type and amount of content they are able to produce. 

Pushed for time? You can also upload the text to Alexa so it is automatically read out loud – not preferable as its slightly robotic, but it can be done. 

"It is a bit tricky to put together a Flash Briefing, but it's not insurmountable – if you do a podcast than you're three-quarters of the way there," Stewart said. 

"Of course, once you're up and running, you have to keep it going – once people have scheduled your Flash Briefing, they will listen to it every day."

But it is not easy to make money from Flash Briefings. Although developers are able to make money from producing Skills, on-demand audio clips are harder to monetise for long-term profit.

"It's about getting there early now – it's a free space to get into," he said.

"You can't run an advert, but you can do a 'soft sell' on a Flash Briefing, pointing to other places where they are able to find out more information.

"Amazon must make Flash Briefings more discoverable. You can search for them, but it's hit and miss, and they need better charts and metrics for the people producing them.

Listen to our podcast with Peter Stewart here for more information.

Looking to improve your audio skills? Come along to our audio storytelling bootcamp on 6 November, where you can learn what makes great audio and how you can achieve it.

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