The power of Twitter surprises me. Normally, it’s hard to reach or even impress a teenage son with professional stuff. But suddenly it succeeded, not via Tiktok or Snapchat, via Twitter! A well-known national soccer player had retweeted one of my videos. My then 13-year-old was asked about it at school. Jackpot.
The video, which has been viewed nearly a million times, was about protests against Germany’s Corona policy; the 41-second clip showed a rapping and dancing demonstrator in front of the Red City Hall in Berlin. And it’s a textbook example of the viral power of the Internet. Of course, the content has to be convincing. But there are also factors that can be generalized and taken away as learnings. And it’s not just about the sheer reach of a social media channel, but ultimately about advertising revenues and digital subscriptions. More on this later.
First of all, it’s always crucial to understand how social media works, how search engines work, and how users behave on websites and in apps. And a feeling for the right media genre, the best form of output for the respective content.
Many journalists come from print and accordingly always try to bring their content to their readers primarily with the power of words, illustrated with photos and infographics. Newspapers in the paper age were not searchable, sharing an issue or article with friends could not lead to so-called viral hits as they can on the web. Once the newspapers was sold it used to be not so relevant, whether the readers turn the pages or not, whether they like the articles or what kind of opinon they have on them.
Trained TV producers still think very much in terms of linear TV because of their background. Here, journalists usually try to squeeze all content into the moving image form. If there is no strong material from the event itself, they work with moderation, live broadcasts, graphics, archive material and TV talks. The question of how many viewers see a contribution depends largely on the placement within the program or a linear stream, on the pre-program, on the TV station. In traditional ratings measurement on TV, it is less important whether viewers are committed to watching or leave the program on the side.
On the web, it is also important for content creators, i.e. for us journalists, to become aware of the mechanisms that lead to success there. Search engines and the way algorithms work on social media platforms determine the reach of a piece of content much more than the paper’s creator or the program director.
User engagement is the magic word; the web is not a one-way street. Whether it’s interaction or dwell time, how users engage with individual pieces of content is measurable and decisive. How much a piece of content moves users is usually the decisive question. How do I reach the target group emotionally. Video is valued not only by users but also by the creators of the platforms; average dwell times and prices for advertising are higher with moving images. Social media algorithms are trimmed accordingly.
Online journalism has what it takes to be the best of all time. Why? Because here there is the chance to choose the best form for the story. When is a continuous text inspiring, when moving images, where are photos or infographics the means of choice, when audio – and how can users be integrated through the direct feedback channel on the Internet?
Channel-appropriate content rather than simply transferring content from one world to another is the foundation. One lever for reporters is also the right timing. Mostly, it’s about speed. For years, none of my seminars has been as popular as mobile reporting, the recording, editing and publishing of videos and photos directly on the smartphone.
So why is it that a short video that anyone in downtown Berlin could have made with their cell phone, from a channel with only a four-digit number of followers, manages to reach nearly a million people and my son in the schoolyard?
Rapping and dancing, the content is predestined for the moving image form. The topic is explosive. The short tweet text appeals to users who don’t have the sound or autoplay turned on. The hashtag reaches interested parties outside the company’s own community. And quite crucial was the timing: still edited on the spot on the smartphone and published.
Do we “give away” monetizable reach when we publish videos directly to social media before the post is ready for our own platform? Not at all. In this specific example, a six-minute summary that was ready three hours later initially drove high marketed traffic via website and search engines, and later drove double-digit new digital subscriptions. And more than 7,500 users got there via Twitter alone, attracted primarily by the previously shared viral video of the rapping dancing demonstrator. Let’s embrace the power of the Internet.
Who is Martin Heller?
Martin Heller, 45, is a journalist, lecturer and founder of Into VR & Video GmbH in Berlin. Heller and his team work for national and regional media houses as well as in education and training for several journalism schools and universities in German-speaking countries.