Throughout 2007 and 2008, Public Interactive has worked with public broadcasters to better understand how to effectively engage audiences online. We gathered experience directly from dozens of stations and programs such as KQED, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and Car Talk® using our online community engagement tool. One important lesson, particularly for those new to online engagement, is that it takes creativity and persistence to engage individuals and get their participation.
That thoughtful listeners have many opinions comes as no surprise to Michael Rass, senior online producer for PRI’s “The World.” He’s been using Public Action to invite listeners into online discussions, and he’s watched theworld.org’s community grow. Find out how he is creating a vibrant and dynamic online community around “The World’s” content.
In preparation for this year’s Beyond Broadcast conference taking place on June 17th in Washington, DC, The Center for Social Media featured a nice writeup on our Public Action software. Each year, Beyond Broadcast explores the evolution of participatory digital public media. Won’t you join us?
We’ll also be demoing Public Action at the 2:45 demo/networking session and again during the closing reception at 4:30. Look for the Public Interactive table – and we hope to see you there!
South Dakotans take their high school sports very seriously. Since launching Public Action in November, SDPB’s Web site has attracted hundreds of registrants and tens of thousands of visitors, all diving into discussing the games and the teams. Part of SDPB’s secret to success was understanding that they already had a community at hand, one that was looking for a forum to engage. Read more about their success in an online interview with Director of Online Services, Kent Osborne.
Alexa, the popular Internet traffic service, ranked the Car Talk Community, which runs on Public Action, as their third most popular car repair forum on the Internet. The Car Talk Community is the top all-inclusive forum where advice is supplied entirely by the community. The preceding discussion areas include a professional mechanic advice forum and a Land Rover advice forum.
Alexa simply states “A very good general questions forum for vehicle repair.”
Detailed “how-to” instructions (PDF) are now available for creating, embedding, and customizing two Public Action Widgets.
Widgets are small snippets of HTML that you copy and paste into your existing website. Our widgets automatically pull and display dynamic content directly from Public Action. No programming is required, and you can choose the content to display and customize its styles (CSS).
Question-Comment Display Widget
Use this widget to display the question and live comments from a specific discussion on any page of your website. It’s like taking a live conversation out of Public Action and putting it anywhere you’d like!
Discussion List Widget
Use this widget to display lists of Public Action discussions on your website. As new discussions are created, they automatically appear in this list. Users can link directly from your lists into live discussions.
Download the PDF.
Oregon Public Broadcasting has certainly hit the ground running with Public Action. They’ve been live for about two months, and already have over 1,500 submissions from an active and growing base of registered users. The new talk show “Think Out Loud” has been their focus in deploying Public Action, with discussions tied directly to daily show content. The effort has been spearheaded in part by Online Host David Miller, former Producer for the forward-thinking “blog with a radio program” Radio Open Source.
Kudos to the team for both visual integration as well as clear leadership in putting the discussion content front and center for their audience. They’ve put a lot of effort into compelling topics, leading questions, and top notch presentation. By focusing their audience on only a few key discussions at a time (talk show discussions usually launch day-of), they get lively participation, and by asking their listeners to register with real names, they use accountability to create high quality discussions.
Bottom line, OPB is leading the pack when thinking about how to tightly integrate online participation with on-air presentation.
How might media organizations better engage their audiences online?
Over the past year, I teamed up with several public broadcasters to try and answer this question. We collected lessons while rolling out online participation software at NPR’s Car Talk, KQED, Oregon Public Broadcasting, PRI’s The World and a dozen others. We are learning that the future of media engagement goes beyond invitations for listener comments. The leading examples involve much higher expectations from the “audience”; specifically, their partnership in delivering on more collaborative projects.
Take WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, who in late 2007 asked their listeners to share price inequities they found at local grocery stores. The results made national news, and not just for the novel use of crowdsourced journalism (turns out that the state regulates milk prices, and not everyone was playing by the rules). As the demand for richer and more compelling media experiences increase, you’ll likely see less “Come join the discussion” and more “Let’s solve a problem together”.
Most important here is the word “together”. What participants want is a team-oriented experience that is open, inclusive, and aims to produce valuable outcomes where they can benefit. While these co-directed endeavors can be challenging to conceive and manage, they can drive significantly more participation and yield real, lasting online value (they now have a nice map of beer prices across Manhattan). Successful initiatives give the opportunity for all to be involved, and for many to play the role of expert – whether as an authoritative voice, a creative problem-solver, a data gatherer, or even a tackler of basic tasks. The very best solutions have participants as co-creators, co-directors, and even co-owners of the produced results. In this more collaborative environment, the notion of “the audience” begins to dissolve.
These collaborative projects can involve varying levels of commitment from participants. The following list identifies a spectrum of media-driven initiatives, from those with the least individual involvement to the most.
Basic Task Completion – Why not crowdsource a simple electronic task? Well, for starters, coming up with a compelling outcome and building a system to do it efficiently are two likely reasons not to. There are a few good examples of ones that seem to be working, although tying it effectively to media might be a different story.
Shared Experience – Collect narratives around unique themes. Inviting in stories effectively involves finding unexpected, yet invariably human common ground.
Unique Expertise – If you have a big enough audience, track down the needle in the haystack by seeking unique expertise. Proven ideas include troubleshooting car problems, soliciting peace corps volunteers, or getting hot tips on possible stories.
Research Data & Analysis – You don’t need rare skills to roll your sleeves and do some primary research or apply a critical eye. Audience members have proven their ability at spotting celebrities, measuring a city’s SUV density, and helping slog through the JFK files for conspiracy clues.
Creative Content – Accumulating creative submissions around a common theme is a time-tested method for getting media junkies engaged. Consider offering incentives and showcasing the best. Examples are endless: photos, top-10 lists, t-shirt ideas, show names, fan fiction, and full-on radio stations to name but a handful.
Ideas & Solutions – “Given enough eyeballs, all [problems] are shallow.” Arguably the oldest crowdsourcing endeavor was the British government trying to solve the longitude problem. And since then, pumping your community for insights to address specific issues has inspired everything from the online suggestion box to trying to find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease.
True Collaboration – Bringing a community together, deploying varied skills over time in a dynamic and massively productive process is the holy grail for online participation. It’s like applying the complexities of open source software development to the media industry. Three noble efforts in this regard include spurring organized community action, collaborative story coverage, and, of course, cataloging the World’s knowledge.
[Post was edited on 4/3 to match what had been previously posted on www.keithhopper.com]
Early this AM, Public Interactive launched two Public Action enhancements: regional time and an automatic link from the account portal page to the Admin area. Enhancement descriptions below:
Regional Time– all time-based display and logic in the admin, discussion, and widget (no code) interfaces will be updated to reflect localized time. This means that all of your users will now see timestamps relative to the local time affiliated with your station or show (rather than East Coast time, which is the current default). If you are already based in EST, you will see no changes to your system. The update will affect all times for all objects, current and past in your system. This update does take into consideration daylight savings time switchover.
Public Interactive Admin Portal Link – For those stations and shows using the Public Interactive Admin Portal, you will now see the Public Action module listed amongst your other subscribed modules and be able to link straight to the Public Action Administration Interface.
Headed to this year’s IMA conference in LA? Come see what’s new with Public Action™ as we show off the latest features and customers and share what we’re learning about building community. You can even get a sneak preview into what’s next in online engagement…
Find us at the booth!
Look for our Public Interactive booth, where we’ll be on-hand to show off new product features. Test drive our Election ’08 discussion widget and ask us about the chance to get nation-wide visibility for your station’s Public Action election discussion.
See us on stage!
Come see Product Manager Keith Hopper’s sneak peak of a proposed new Public Action feature at the Demo Breakfast Speed Demos on Thursday, February 21st at 7AM. Keith will also be chairing the “Talk Show and Social Media” panel on Friday, February 22nd at 9:45AM.
Check out our latest customer launch!
See how KQED has integrated Public Action into their new distributed “You Decide” feature during the “Social Media Election Tools” session on Friday, February 22nd at 4:30 PM.