Don’t talk to your audience, talk with them
If we want to restore trust in news, having more two-way conversations might be one place to start.
Public trust in the news media, like that of many other institutions, is suffering. At a time when our democracy might especially depend on the work of a free press, earning back this trust is crucial. It will take time, but a few of my USC classmates and I wanted to be part of that change. We came up with what we hope is one building block of the bridge with news audiences: facilitating more two-way conversations.
So we developed an “appbot” that highlights a user’s ability to interact with the Annenberg Media newsroom. Users are introduced to the appbot’s persona, Annie, upon opening it for the first time, and throughout the experience Annie acts as a news guide, breaking down stories and giving you an easy way to communicate with our journalists.
Annie was designed around many of BuzzFeed #teamnewsapp’s tenets used for push alerts (which is no coincidence since one of our professors worked there). We wanted every alert (and interaction, for that matter) with a user to be useful and have a purpose. What did our student community deem important? We wanted to provide a service that informed and inspired users to engage with the community around them.
Interacting with your audience while asking yourself the questions, “What would they want to know?” and “What do they already know that could help us?” helps you build a two-way relationship. This is part of what the Facebook Journalism Project and the Poynter Institute are stressing in their Facebook for Journalists certification course.
By putting Annie front and center, we are not only providing a friendly, conversational breakdown of the news. Annie’s prominence makes the exchange with readers streamlined and simple. We hope that she will help put a human face on Annenberg Media that increases understanding of the news in the short-term and builds a relationship in the long-term.
In future iterations of the appbot, we hope that users will be able to interact directly with reporters. The aim here is to increase transparency and humanize the usually robotic interactions. (But don’t tell Annie I said that 😉)
For us, the measure of Annie’s success is not how much traffic she gets us or how many times users open our push alerts. The ultimate goal is to get readers talking to us, to get them to understand us better, to think of us when news breaks on campus.
More audience participation may not solve the trust issue outright, but it sets the tone for productive discussion going forward. We at #teamannie will be integrating this concept actively, and you should consider it as well. (It doesn’t even have to be through an app. You can see how community-focused journalism helped Vox gain perspective on Obamacare via a Facebook group.)
By putting the emphasis on a direct and human-like relationship with our audience, we hope that they will get to know and trust us more. Coincidentally, this setup reflects another trend in the industry: New avenues for revenue are going the direction of subscriptions and events, rather than ads, highlighting the company-reader relationship rather than the company-advertiser relationship. But I digress — that’s important, but it wasn’t our goal.
We want our audience to feel like our appbot is built to serve them. Since we target our own community of college students, we might be one of the first habits they form as adult news consumers. We are just one small stepping stone, though. They will (quite literally) graduate and move on to other sources. I hope that by the time they get there, there will be more ways for them to communicate with those journalists, to feel like they’re part of the conversation. News organizations can no longer make their relationship with readers and viewers secondary. The audience must come first.