So, I’m starting this blogpost with a disclaimer, to avoid anyone else feeling the need to state the obvious.
It was a quickly created survey, done solely to test out the Surveys for Pages feature on Facebook, and comprised five short questions about attitudes towards local news in my town of Kidderminster, in north Worcestershire.
It was hardly robust, and with just 69 respondents during a two hour window, I wouldn’t claim anything could be inferred from the findings. A statistician would reject it in a heartbeat.
And it was promoted only on Facebook, so understandably the results will be skewed as a result. The place from where the biggest number of respondents sent their replies was Kidderminster Matters, a Facebook group.
But indulge me anyway; for despite the flaws the results highlight an avenue for further exploration and, possibly, exploitation in my quest to find the biggest possible audience and engagement for my community website.
The five questions were:
- Where is the first place you turn for news about Kidderminster? Majority response: Kidderminster Matters
- Do you think the existing newspaper, online and radio news outlets covering Kidderminster keep you well informed? Majority response: Yes, or mostly.
- Would you like to see an alternative news outlet created just for Kidderminster and run by and for people living and working here? Majority response: Yes
- Would you be prepared to pay for a Kidderminster-focussed news service directly through a small subscription or sponsorship? Majority response: No
- Would you be prepared to advertise, or encourage the company you work for to advertise, in order to have a new Kidderminster-focussed community news service ? Majority response: No
Four fifths of respondents (remember, those responding are all Facebook users) declared the first place they turned to when looking for local news was Facebook.
Most of those (61.5%) turned to the town’s biggest, most popular Facebook site: Kidderminster Matters.
Only 23% turned to the website or newspaper of the traditional weekly, the Kidderminster Shuttle (21.5% citing the website); while just one respondent cited BBC or other local radio as their first port of call. None claimed to turn first to any other regional or national news outlet.
Kidderminster Matters: AN ONLINE PHENOMENON
Kidderminster Matters is a rapidly growing community group with more than 15,000 members. it’s been established for a couple of years, and is overseen by a group of moderators led by two admins, all operating in a voluntary role. The site is not linked to a website, or any commercial concerns; it is merely a site where everyone is pretty much equally able to post information, comments or opinions, subject to limited house rules around swearing, illegal activity, and so on.
It is a highly engaged group which claims to be open only to people living and/or working in the town, or with strong personal connections eg. ex resident.
Having enjoyed a sneak peek at the site’s analytics, it is clear the level of interaction and engagement is exceptionally high – in a typical week more than four fifths of members engage directly with the site by liking, sharing or commenting on a post. It’s returning the type of engagement that professional organisations and businesses aspire to.
The site also enjoys really high levels of interaction with opinion formers and officials – its members include local councillors, the town’s police chiefs, business owners and charity bosses, and all contribute actively to the site. Two councillors in particular are regular posters and commenters – one, county and district Lib Dem councillor Fran Oborski, is the single most prolific poster. As a result she is often called out by name to input into discussions on the site, with her comments often presumed to reflect official council positions, or to be more ‘truthful’ than those of other commenters.
At present the strategy of most newspapers around using Facebook appears to be to use their own branded facebook page as a promotional tool to drive readers to its website, pushing up visits and engagement, to the ultimate benefit of advertisers.
In addition, professional journalists are infiltrating community facebook groups like Kidderminster Matters to discover what the community is talking about and to earwig on conversations, picking up both leads and ideas as well as complete stories. Kidderminster Matters, for example, now has at least four journalists among its number (as far as I know I’m the only one of them living in the town).
I have posted my own exclusive stories on Kidderminster Matters, triggering huge interest and comments. These stories also, not surprisingly, trigger spikes in the number of visits to the originating website www.wyrelife.co.uk
One story that gained traction was a council decision that all binmen should undergo additional safeguarding training to spot signs of domestic abuse, drug dealing or child exploitation while on their rounds. The story generated 237 comments, many touching on how responsible we should all be for policing our community.
Stories about planning issues also generate huge interest – two short stories in quick succession about plans to build on an ‘edge of greenbelt’ field generated nearly 1,000 comments between them.
Indeed, while writing this post, the Kidderminster Matters page featured a post about news that Brent Council in London had struck a deal with a private landlord and was placing families on the verge of homelessness in the town.
It was a story that had been covered by BBC Hereford & Worcester locally earlier in the day but had apparently passed by many of those who commented.
The post triggered 450 comments – and counting- in just over two hours. Opinions were shared about housing shortages, homelessness, immigration (London, after all, is a foreign country…), with side discussions about school places, refugees and the cost of living.
The discussion was relatively well policed by the posters, the rights and wrongs of viewpoints were debated, local councillors got involved to share what they knew, and by the close the issue had been explored as fully as any lengthy feature could have done.
The only difference, of course, is that each comment was given equal validity and space; rumour quickly became established fact; and there was no experienced ‘mediator’ to factcheck observations, or highlight key messages.
And, crucially, the story they were commenting about only emerged due to the quality work of a journalist. Without him there would have been no revelation to discuss.
My survey also asked respondents if they felt they were “well informed” by the mainstream media operating in the town.
12% said yes; the majority (48.9%) said they were ‘mostly’ well informed; 25% said they didn’t feel well informed and were worried about issues being unreported; while 10% said they didn’t feel well informed but didn’t mind. 3% said they didn’t listen or read local news.
Interestingly for my purposes, 69% said they would like to see an alternative news outlet run by and for local people; 23% said they were ‘not bothered’.
But would they pay for it? Well, 12.8% said they would within reason; 25.6% were not sure; and 61.5% said no.
About half said they would consider advertising (or encourage their employer to consider advertising) to support an alternative news outlet.
According to Ofcom’s most recent marketing report, 41.2 million UK residents aged over 13 were Facebook users, making it easily the most popular social media site in the country. The average user spends 27 minutes each day on Facebook.
So the big question is: how do journalists and publishers respond to Facebook and the proliferation of Facebook groups and networks?
How do I, as a new community publisher currently with zero revenue and a small direct audience, use this information to solve my own sustainability conundrum?