The BBC’s Social Media Producers

Turning TV to virals — Emotional connectors in under ten seconds

BBC”s Hannah Gelbart talking to attendants

I don’t have a Masters in journalism, nor a media degree Hannah Gelbart tells the audience but it hasn’t stopped this language graduate from bagging one of the most sought after jobs in broadcasting, particularly for millennials. The BBC is looking for good social media producers, she adds.

In a 3o-minute @realdisLAB presentation at at the University of Westminster, Hannah reveals tricks of the social media trade.

It’s not difficult to see why she’s a rising star. Her videos, she produces, wrack up huge numbers. She also commands studied attention with a disarming smile that occasionally breaks into a giggle, suggesting she’s clearly enjoying her work.

Social Media producers are the BBC’s unspoken recruits to shoring up this venerable institution’s ambitions to dominate social spaces, such as their presence and reach on Facebook (FB). Known for its standards in television journalism, the corporation has been steadily investing in millennials who are redefining video news, often by undoing ingrained television conventions — anathema to new generations. ‘What’s a jump cut again and why can’t it be used’, is so yesterday.

A typical working day is 10 hours whilst she looks at a number of stories, in which one is expected to make air within 6 hours on FB. That story then gets reworked as a vertical for mobile and other platforms where necessary.

Scouring the net, she’ll home in on any number of stories that can be reworked or developed from a standing start. Sometimes her gut instinct veers towards lifestyle themes targeting women — an audience the BBC is keen to capture.

Take this one. Ashley who could not give birth and then following IVF conceived four. Ashley’s vlog had already gone viral before hand with a clip in the video below from 27–48 secs.

Hannah then built this into a social media package, which gave the story an added push.

And then this, a transgender, where Hannah says she could ask whatever she wanted. Her subject already had a wealth of content she could use.

There’s a clear difference in production styles for this BBC Trainee whose recollection passing the test to make the coveted scheme draws painful memories; it was very hard, she adds. However she also admits it’s the best thing that could have happened to her. That summit climb involved perspiration and persistence. I wrote to a BBC correspondent in Spain who could clearly see I didn’t have any experience, but let me work alongside him for a couple of months, she says.


For social, she advises cut to the chase. Leave out the correspondent and GV’s and go for the emotions. Analytics show how videos have less than ten seconds to gain traction. Further differences come in the framing of interviews — often they’re direct to camera. Whilst the productions maximise the use of music, and mandatory text for mobile watchers on-the-go.

The scion of social media vides is still AJ+, who we’ll feature in future #realdisLABPresents. There’s clear admiration from Hannah for the BBC’s UK competitors, but the curve, though steep and rapidly changing, is being tackled with contemporary styles and knowledge on display.

Blink, however and you might miss it. The use of emotions, music and text has its antecedents at the very start of the cinematographic age. Here filmmakers for technological reasons and others decided a film should be short and cut to the initiating incident — the thing that would hold your attention. It wasn’t called social, but there’s an important point to observe in how the grammar and demand from audiences to develop others forms materialised.

And this strange device on the left, a Kinetophone, is the 1900s equivalent of today’s tablet. This is how audiences viewed films, before mass viewing became the norm.

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The next #realdisLABPresents features Juliana Ruhfus @julianaruhfus an award winning innovating journalist with Al Jazeera. Ruhfus has carved out an exemplary career both in investigative journalism and award winning interactive stories, such as Fishing.

#realdisLABPresents is a series of informal talks from the MA Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB at the University of Westminster and is opened to anyone interested in exploring the spectrum of story forms and emerging convergence styles.

The team comprises:

They combine industry experience, with PhD academic rigour and teaching expertise, and are organising a series of walk-ins at the University where you can talk to the team about projects and collaboration and also find out how to join the programme. They’re also in conversation with several media outlets about closer ties.

Useful links. Drones and creativity: Here the team were part of the Drone hackathon event in Manchester