Google Wants to Help Journalists Mine the Social Web

The time was 3 a.m. The day was May 28th. The place was Times Square, New York. A historic moment was unfolding in the Big Apple as CBS was removing Letterman’s logo from the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee. The street nearby was lined with onlookers using their smartphones to capture the deconstruction and the remains. One of these fans was digital marketing consultant Geoff Golberg. He went over to the scene after being tipped off by a friend that the sign was going to be taken down. He recorded what he saw and then uploaded his footage to Meerkat.

While searching for news about Lettermen, Patty Barrett, an assignment editor from CBS in New York, got ahold of his video and asked for permission to use it on air. Even though CBS was only located a few blocks away, they didn’t happen to have anyone on the scene, so Golberg’s video not only informed them about this event but also provided them with an engaging visual for them to use.

Modern Day Storytellers and the Journalists Who Rely on Them

In today’s world, anyone can be a storyteller. All you need is to be in the right place at the right time with your smart phone handy. Thanks to social media, citizen journalism has begun to play a more important role in news reporting in today’s world. While journalists would love to be in several places at once so that they could cover every single story in their territory as it happens, that’s just not possible. Many times, they rely on user-generated content they come across on social media to inform them about what’s happening near them. While this information can prove to be extremely useful, it might leave journalists feeling overwhelmed, especially if they’re not sure if it’s true or don’t quite know how they should present it to their readers. Thankfully, this summer, Google has come to the rescue by releasing new tools, such as News Lab, YouTube Newswire, First Draft Coalition and Witness Media Lab, to help journalists navigate their way through user-generated content online so that they can use this information to aid in their storytelling efforts.

Google News Lab


In June, Google announced that it was launching News Lab, a site aimed at connecting journalists with programs, data and other resources to aid in their reporting. The site features a number of tools for newsrooms, including tutorials and best practices on how to use Google products in reporting. Journalists can develop their stories using Google’s research tools. Below, I’ve highlighted just a few.

  • Google Reverse Image Search: helps you verify the accuracy of images you find online. Has this image been altered in any way shape or form? Google can help you get to the bottom of it.
  • Google Public Data Explorer: helps aggregate datasets from trusted sources and gives you simple tools to create sophisticated visualizations. Many times, journalists know that they want to use data for a story they’re writing but just don’t know how. Google’s Public Data Explorer can help them strengthen their story.

Public Data

  • Google Alerts: allows you to set up custom alerts about the topics you’re most interested in so that you get notified when something happens right away
  • Google News Archive: Google’s great at giving you the most recent and relevant stories about a particular topic, but did you know that you can also use it to search for historical articles? This tool is essential when trying to report on how a story unfolded over time.

News Lab is also home to a recently redesigned version of Google Trends that helps journalists get real-time data about anything and everything that’s going on. Find out what people are talking about online and discover how you can give it your own spin to stand out.

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Numbers can often be overwhelming for journalists and their readers. That’s why it’s so important that they learn to utilize the power of this data to tell an engaging and socially shareable story.

Both Mashable and The Huffington Post have already utilized Google Trends to tell more effective stories using data.

In April, Mashable partnered with Google to publish a Google Trends map highlighting searches for “Nepal” and “help” in various languages during the first 48 hours after their devastating earthquake to illustrate the global efforts to help the area in need.

After the South Carolina shooting a few months back, The Huffington Post used Google Trends to look for the top questions asked around the events to further its analysis by answering them and providing more context.

South Carolina Shooting

YouTube Newswire


Also in June, YouTube, which is owned by Google, and Storyful announced that they were joining forces to launch YouTube Newswire. This channel serves as a resource for journalists looking for user-generated videos from around the world by highlighting newsworthy videos uploaded to YouTube that have been verified by Storyful. In today’s world run by citizen journalists, there’s a plethora of eyewitness videos and other user-generated content out there for the picking, but how do you know which ones are legitimate and accurate? That’s where Storyful comes in. It wants to help “journalists find stories worth telling amid the noise of social,” said Mark Little, Storyful’s founder and director of Innovation.

Just to give you an idea of how YouTube has evolved as a storytelling tool over the last four years, when Storyful and YouTube first began working together in 2011, 48 hours of videos were uploaded to the platform every minute. Now that number has reached 300 hours. It seems that Newswire has come at the perfect time then.

But Storyful’s role in Newswire is about more than just making it easy for journalists to get access to numerous, attention-grabbing eyewitness videos about a trending topic; rather, the organization’s value lies more so in the fact that it’s verifying the content that gets uploaded, making them “safe” for reporters who are trying to cover a story as accurately as possible while still trying to meet their deadline. The Storyful team has made sure that every video on YouTube Newswire goes through an extensive verification process that ensures the date, location and source are correctly identified. That, right there, is a HUGE help to journalists.

First Draft Coalition & Witness Media Lab

Along with Newswire, YouTube announced another new service called First Draft Coalition, which will provide journalists with practical and ethical advice and guidance for handling eyewitness media. Ethics and journalism go hand in hand…at least, they should. Knowing which content is OK to publish and which is questionable is key to being an ethical reporter in today’s world.

This summer, Google also launched the WITNESS Media Lab in partnership with WITNESS, a non-profit group that trains non-journalists in how to report on injustice and human-rights violations around the world. For its first two months, the lab is examining the impact of video in documenting police misconduct in the U.S. and its role in achieving justice and accountability. It is also developing a series of solutions to ensure that footage taken by average citizens can serve as an effective tool for justice.

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The Future

Google’s ability to recognize when it needs to step in to fill the gap has served as a huge help to today’s journalists. With social media, and the web as a whole, being filled with a constant stream of user-generated content, it’s important that journalists know what content they should be using and which tools they should be relying on for assistance. Thankfully, Google has made this all possible. I don’t think there’s anyone else out there that can look out for journalists as well as Google can. Do you?

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Jim Armstrong: A Storyteller and an Eavesdropper

A couple weeks back, we were tasked with reaching out to three reporters on Twitter to ask them how social media has played a role in their career. Sadly, I didn’t hear back from the three I had chosen. Now, looking back on it, I wish I had reached out to Jim Armstrong, an Emmy-winning CBS WBZ reporter based out of Boston. Jim knows how to leverage the power of social media to further his role as a journalist in the 21st century.

Although I just recently learned about him, Jim Armstrong has already given me a feel for the kind of journalist he is. In his Twitter bio, he refers to himself as a storyteller and an eavesdropper. A more perfect description of what today’s journalists should be doesn’t exist.

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Journalists as Storytellers

Social media allows journalists to be true storytellers. Despite Twitter’s character limit, it’s an extremely powerful social platform that gives journalists an opportunity to connect with people from all over the world who might not have access to the TV channel they’re featured on or might not read the specific articles they write. When journalists choose to tell stories on Twitter, they’re giving users an opportunity to take part in the conversation, something they might not otherwise have been able to do.

What I like most about Armstrong’s style on Twitter is that he doesn’t use it primarily for self-promotion, something that so many celebrities fall victim to. Instead, he uses it as a means to live tweet his beat and inform the public about what’s going on in his area. Reading his feed is almost like a play-by-play of Boston’s current events.

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Journalists as Eavesdroppers

Live-tweeting about a news event happening on their beat is a great way for journalists to increase engagement and follower growth. According to Twitter’s section on Media Best Practices, for journalists who post a concentrated number of tweets in a short time span, follower growth is 50 percent more than expected. Thanks to his live coverage during the trial of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, Armstrong saw his follower count go up by more than 1,000 during the trial, with a 14 percent bump on the last day.

More recently, Armstrong live-tweeted from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial in Boston to make it easier for the public to know what was going on behind closed doors. Rather than making his coverage text-based only, Armstrong opted to include some visual elements as well, such as the painting below showing Tsarnev’s facial expression as he hears that he’s been sentenced to death.

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While text-based tweets are extremely informative, incorporating an artistic component in your coverage of a live event, like Armstrong did, will likely incite a bigger emotional reaction from your Twitter followers. It’s one thing to read something and imagine how it’s all playing out, but it’s a totally different one to see a picture of what’s actually going on.

Journalists as Humans

We often forget that journalists are people, too. I think the ones who choose to use social media to show their human side as well are able to develop a closer connection with their followers and, are, therefore, able to further advance in their career. I loved this tweet Armstrong posted after the trial was over. It shows that he was experiencing this journey right alongside his followers.

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And it seems that his followers loved it too.

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Final Takeaways

Believe it or not, many journalists are still behind the eight ball when it comes to using social media to enhance their journalism. They view it more as a platform to promote themselves and their work rather than as a way to provide a unique value to their followers.

The past few weeks in this class have made me realize how important it is for journalists to educate themselves on how best to leverage the power of social platforms in order to see what their competitors are talking about, gather new story ideas and better connect with their followers. Those journalists that choose not to make social media part of their overall reporting strategy are missing out on the opportunity to enhance their careers and engage with and inform their followers. Fortunately, Armstrong doesn’t fall into this category.

Why Some Brands Have Social Shareability and Others Don’t

When it comes to social media, businesses and individuals alike all want one thing…shareability. In other words, they want people to engage with their content and then share it with their network of friends.

The following data compiled by News Whip in January 2015 shows which brands made up the most shared sites on Facebook at the time and which made up the most tweeted sites on Twitter. After analyzing these brands, here’s my take on what accounted for their success.

January Most Shared Sites Newswhip

January Most Tweeted Sites Newswhip

Reasons for Success on Facebook

BuzzFeed and newcomer PlayBuzz both do a great job of engaging their audience, Millennials, through humor. Their posts contain really outrageous images and text that makes you want to keep reading and share it with your friends on social media. What I noticed about their Facebook posts is that they all link back to the company’s site. While doing this too often could alienate people who might not want to leave Facebook to read what you have to say, it seems to work well for both of these brands. The reason PlayBuzz seems to trump BuzzFeed when it comes to social shareability is because their readers need to complete a quiz to get a personalized result. Without completing this step, they cannot fully engage with any of these Facebook posts. Among the differences I noticed between the two brands were that BuzzFeed features a little more variety in the content that it posts. While PlayBuzz only posts quizzes, BuzzFeed posts a mixture of quizzes, lists, heartfelt stories, pop culture stories and current events. Additionally, BuzzFeed houses most of its video posts on Facebook and on its website. According to this socialbakers article, Facebook video has overtaken YouTube video in terms of overall views and user interactions. Therefore, more and more marketers are turning to Facebook to showcase their videos.

PlayBuzz Facebook

BuzzFeed Facebook

While The Huffington Post is also geared towards a younger demographic, its Facebook posts feature a more mature tone than do BuzzFeed and Playbuzz’s. The site uses Facebook to post about a variety of topics, including politics, entertainment, environment, technology, comedy and local news. The Huffington Post also makes sure that all of its posts link back to their site so that people who want to read more will be forced to continue reading the article on their site.

Huffington Post Facebook

News stations are also seeing an increase in engagement on Facebook. Industry leaders suspect that there are two reasons for this. First, Facebook’s News Feed algorithm update, which suggests content based on click-through rate, has cut out a lot of spammy content and images, thereby bringing Facebook posts from reliable news stations to the forefront. Secondly, news stations are becoming more savvy about how to use Facebook to present their content in the best way possible. The BBC, for instance, posts user-generated footage of breaking news events. Fox News, posts a variety of interesting/breaking-news-type posts every hour on the hour, so you can’t deny the network’s social-media-centered focus.

The thing with news stations is that they have so much more material to cover on social media than brands that have a more narrow or specific focus. They also appeal to a wide range of people. For these reasons, I think news stations will continue to remain top sharing sites when it comes to Facebook.

Reasons for Success on Twitter

There’s a reason the BBC is at the No. 1 spot on this list. The news platform prides itself on posting a variety of posts, from videos to still images to infographics to vines. Its headlines sound like they were written by journalists, which as we learned this week, is, oftentimes the way to go. The BBC makes excellent use of its 140 character count, utilizing unique hashtags when appropriate. Even before it began incorporating social media into its overall marketing strategy, the BBC already had a fair track record of inviting the audience to get involved in its journalism through web forums, debates, blogs and article comments.

BBC Twitter

Coming in in the No. 2 spot is The New York Times, a publication that prides itself on breaking news coverage. The publication knows when to use images in its posts and when not to, and it’s been able to save on character count by including by relying on watermarks to credit the images’ photographers. I think what makes The New York Times stand out from the crowd are its feature-length, in-depth pieces on particular people. They’re both captivating and exclusive, making them a huge draw for their online audience.

Taking the No. 3 spot is Mashable, a site that’s always on top of the latest Internet and social media sensations. Mashable is timely, contains easy-to-read-content and posts tweets that feature well photographed images, such as this one below. It knows who its audience is, what they want to see and how to best reach them. While they pride themselves on writing entertaining content, they know how to differentiate themselves from other more playful Millennial-centered sites like BuzzFeed and PlayBuzz.

Mashable Twitter

Many people might be surprised by the fact that BuzzFeed, whose Facebook posts tends to go viral, is clearly missing from the most tweeted sites list. But when you stop to think about the reason behind this, it makes more sense. BuzzFeed is a very visual brand. While Twitter allows for images, it doesn’t place as high of a focus on them as Facebook does. Perhaps BuzzFeed could find other ways to engage users on this platform by coming up with really creative hashtags.

Key Takeaways

Today’s social media market leaders are doing a few things that I can take with me moving forward both in this course and in my marketing career.

1. Include eye-catching images and videos when appropriate. Knowing when an image is unnecessary and knowing when it will drive engagement are key.

2. Try to be as concise yet creative with your tweets as possible. Just because Twitter allows you 140 characters doesn’t mean you need to use them all for every tweet. Allow your followers room to retweet and reply to your content.

3. Know your audience. Know who they are, when they’re online, what they want to read or see and how they want it delivered to them.

4. Include a link back to your site when appropriate. Find a balance between doing it for every post and never doing it at all. Ultimately, you want to drive traffic to your site so that people can read more about you and your organization but you don’t want it to come across like a sales pitch.

5. And finally, be timely with your social content to increase your chances of social shareability.

NBC News Shows Us That Good People Still Exist

Qdoba Man Feeding Disabled Employee

When I’m trying to find out what’s going on in the world, I usually do what 88 percent of Millennials do — log on to Facebook and Twitter and see what people are talking about. As I was scrolling through my Facebook News Feed to try to find something that caught my eye, I came across a really heartfelt post from NBC News about a Qdoba Mexican Grill employee who took time out to perform a random act of kindness. He helped a woman through the line, sat her in the lobby, got her a drink and then helped her eat. This long-time Qdoba customer is wheelchair bound, and if not for this man’s help, she would’ve had a very tough time eating.  “I mean, she needs help, and if I wasn’t going to do it, no one was. Who else is going to do it?” said the employee. Once the restaurant’s manager saw his employee’s good deed, he knew he had to record it and share it with his friends. He obviously had no idea that it was going to go viral.

With all the sensationalism out there from both national and local news outlets about shootings, robberies and social injustice, it’s refreshing to comes across a story that gives me a little more faith in humanity. More than anything, this piece of content is trying to engage users and prompt them to have an emotional experience. I love that NBC News included the video right in its Facebook post so that users could watch the clip right then and there without having to be redirected to NBC’s site. And best of all, the clip is 13 seconds–not too short and not too long, in my opinion. However, if you’re interested in hearing more about this story, you can click on the link included in the Facebook post, which will redirect you to NBC’s site where you can watch a longer, more detailed video that explains the backstory and the employee’s reasoning for choosing to help this woman. This story is very visual, so I think that those news outlets that opted not to display the video in their post missed the mark. Despite the fact that the story was short, sweet and to-the-point, I was still able to find a story arch that included the set-up, the backstory of the woman; the problem, the fact that she needed help eating her food; and finally, the resolution, the Qdoba man actually feeding the woman. While I would’ve liked to have seen a short written piece of content accompanying this story, I thought this video was great social content because it showed a more accurate representation of the kind of everyday acts that are taking place in our society.