Why Is PRI's The World Having Social Media Issues?

Some raw notes on why PRI’S The World (especially “The World Tech Podcast” or WTP) is having issues with social media. It may sound bad, for many reasons. But I won’t adapt the tone.

No offense intended.

Thing is, I don’t really care about WTP, The World, or even the major media outlets behind them (PRI, BBC, Discovery).

Reason for those notes: WTP host Clark Boyd mentioned that their social media strategy wasn’t working as well as they expected. Seemed like a nice opportunity to think about social media failures from mainstream media outlets.

My list of reasons is not exhaustive and it’s not really in order of importance.

Social media works best when people contribute widely. In other words, a podcaster (or blogger, etc.) who contributes to somebody else’s podcast (blog, etc.) is likely to attract the kind of mindshare afforded social media outlets. Case in point, I learnt about WTP through Erik Hersman because Afrigadget was able to post WTP content. A more efficient strategy is to actually go and contribute to other people’s social media.

The easiest way to do it is to link to other people, especially other blogs. Embedding a YouTube video can have some effects but a good ol’ trackback is so much more effective. In terms of attention economy, the currency is, well, attention: you need to pay attention to others!

Clark Boyd says WTP isn’t opposed to interacting with listeners. Nice… Yet, there hasn’t been any significant move toward interaction with listeners. Not even “letters to the editor” which could be read on the radio programme. No button to leave audio feedback. Listeners who feel they’re recognized as being interesting are likely to go the social media route.

While it’s a technology podcast, WTP is formatted as a straightforward radio news bulletin. “Stories” are strung together in a seamless fashion, most reports follow a very standard BBC format, there are very few “conversations” with non-journalists (interviews don’t count as conversations)… Such shows tend not to attract the same crowd as typical social media formats do. So WTP probably attracts a radio crowd and radio crowds aren’t necessarily that engaged in social media. Unless there’s a compelling reason to engage, but that’s not the issue I want to address.

What’s probably the saddest part is that The World ostensibly has a sort of global mission. Of course, they’re limited by language. But their coverage is even more Anglo-American than it needs to be. A far cry from Global Voices (and even GV tends to be somewhat Anglophone-centric).

The fact that WTP is part of The World (which is itself produced/supported by PRI, BBC, and Discovery) is an issue, in terms of social media. Especially given the fact that WTP-specific information is difficult to find. WTP is probably the one part of The World which is savvy to social media so the difficulty of finding WTP is made even more noticeable by the lack of a dedicated website.

WTP does have its own blog. But here’s how it shows up:

Discovery News: Etherized.

The main URL given for this blog? <tinyurl.com/wtpblog> Slightly better than <http://tinyurl.com/6g3me9> (which also points to the same place). But very forgettable. No branding, no notion of an autonomous entity, little personality.

Speaking of personality, the main show’s name sounds problematic: The World. Not the most unique name in the world! 😉 On WTP, correspondents and host often use “the world” to refer to their main show. Not only is it confusing but it tends to sound extremely pretentious. And pretention is among the trickiest attitudes in social media.

A strange dimension of WTP’s online presence is that it isn’t integrated. For instance, their main blog doesn’t seem to have direct links to its Twitter and Facebook profiles. As we say in geek circles: FAIL!

To make matters worse, WTP is considering pulling off its Facebook page. As Facebook pages require zero maintenance and may bring help listeners associate themselves with the show, I have no idea why they would do such a thing. I’m actually having a very hard time finding that page, which might explain why it has had zero growth in the recent past. (Those who found it originally probably had friends who were adding it. Viral marketing works in bursts.) WTP host Clark Boyd doesn’t seem to have a public profile on Facebook. Facebook searches for WTP and “The World Tech Podcast” don’t return obvious results. Oh! There you go. I found the link to that Facebook page: <http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=2411818715&ref=ts>. Yes, the link they give is directly to the new version of Facebook. Yes, it has extra characters. No, it’s not linked in an obvious fashion.

That link was hidden in the August 22 post on WTP’s blog. But because every post has a link with “Share on Facebook” text, searching the page for “Facebook” returns all blogposts on the same page (not to mention the “Facebook” category for posts, in the right-hand sidebar). C’mon, folks! How about a Facebook badge? It’s free and it works!

Oh, wait! It’s not even a Facebook page! It’s a Facebook group! The difference between group and page seems quite small to the naked eye but ever since Fb came out with pages (a year or so ago), most people have switched from groups to pages. That might be yet another reason why WTP isn’t getting its “social media cred.” Not to mention that maintaining a Facebook group implies just a bit of time and doesn’t tend to provide direct results. Facebook groups may work well with preestablished groups but they’re not at all effective at bringing together disparate people to discuss diverse issues. Unless you regularly send messages to group members which is the best way to annoy people and generate actual animosity against the represented entity.

On that group, I eventually learn that WTP host Clark Boyd has his own WTP-themed blog. In terms of social media, the fact that I only found that blog after several steps indicates a broader problem, IMHO.

And speaking of Clark Boyd… He’s most likely a great person and an adept journalist. But is WTP his own personal podcast with segments from his parent entity or is WTP, like the unfortunately defunct Search Engine, a work of collaboration? If the latter is true, why is Boyd alone between segments in the podcast, why is his picture the only one of the WTP blog, and why is his name the domain for the WTP-themed blog on WordPress.com?

Again, no offence. But I just don’t grok WTP.

There’s one trap I’m glad WTP can avoid. I won’t describe it too much for fear that it will represent the main change in strategy. Not because I get the impression I may have an impact. But, in attention economy, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Oops! I said too much… 🙁

I said I don’t care about WTP. It’s still accurate. But I do care about some of the topics covered by WTP. I wish there were more social media with a modicum of cultural awareness. In this sense, WTP is a notch above Radio Open Source and a few notches below Global Voices. But the podcast for Global Voices may have podfaded and Open Source sounds increasingly U.S.-centric.

Ah, well…

7 thoughts on “Why Is PRI's The World Having Social Media Issues?”

  1. What a load of bollocks! (IMHO)—–

    Without addressing all of your points ad nauseam I will address a couple. I believe it is called “The World” because it is about the world-not pretentious just a simple fact—if the name fits why change it.

    Social networking sites work, sometimes slowly, but they do work and to imply that those who listen to radio programs such as those in the NPR / BBC genre are not tech savvy is a statement of sublime ignorance and arrogance. Maybe some of the titles and names used don’t quite fit with your view of how things shoule be, but then, who really cares!!

  2. I gotta say this seems unnecessarily harsh.

    Could “The World” have a better social media strategy? Yup. I’ll agree with you there. There could be a concerted effort at the show level. That being said, Clark has taken it upon himself to reach out to the Social Networking (SocNet) community as much as he can while he does this paid reporting gig thing at the same time.

    I first heard about Clark from Mark Hunter, of the Tartan PodCast (a show that takes the occasional long hiatus) and PodCastMatters. The story I heard was that Clark was busy trying to get acclimated to PodCasting and the SocNet thing. It’s, in part, thanks to the early work that Clark did to get interviews with the band Amplifico that Donna and the gang picked up their new distribution deal. I bring this up, because Clark has been working to be real in the SocNet environment for a while.

    Again, the other examples that you’ve brought up here, can be spun in a positive way as well. Imagine if you will, someone whose hands are tied because of marketing agreements and a supreme lack of funding. He starts a Facbook group as an experiment, a Ning group, gets accounts in the various micro-blogging sites, and works around the restrictions of URLs.

    You see, Clark has been trying to find ways to expand listenership for “The World” using the various tools that are out there. Before Alex Gallafent went into the Amazon, Clark made sure he got set up on Twitter, and people knew he was out there. As another example, if you look at his Twitter feed, you’ll see that Clark had opened it up to allow some of “The World”‘s reporter to post in it… and ended up having to re-explain a couple of times exactly how to use this tool.

    That TinyUrl example of yours took Clark several tries to resolve. In tweet-versations and emails I exchanged with him, he settled on the idea of using TinyUrl because Discovery wanted the marketing benefit of having their “Etherized” blog branding on his content. The TinyUrl abbreviation seemed to be the easiest work around he could come up with.

    I’ve been working to keep Clark involved in the community because of some of the very things you’ve mentioned. “The World” doesn’t seem to have a coordinated SocNet strategy. The PRI/BBC joint venture seems to hinder the individual producer’s outreach more than it helps. We’re watching an individual reporter do what he can to get involved in the community, while maintaining the quality of the work in his day job.

    I’m thinking that, as a fan, I need to step up and offer some more of my time to bring some of your ideas to Clark, and see if I can help him implement some of these, as well as get some brainstorming done to raise the level of awareness about a show that I enjoy.

  3. @Peter
    Thanks for your intriguing reaction. It’d be interesting to know more about its origin (what your connection with the show is, etc.), but I appreciate the gesture nonetheless.
    It’s somewhat unfortunate that you chose to misinterpret some of my points but the fact that you at least entertain some thoughts as to the potential effects of the show’s name and format in terms of its internally perceived social media issues can be useful at some point.
    So thanks again for your kind consideration and please have an excellent day.

  4. There are some valid points here about the polish and integration of WTP’s online brand / image. Cross linking the points of presence, a clear online ‘home’ and, my personal pet peeve, using your online presence to educate listeners in ‘subscribing’ to the podcast rather than pushing the latest download link, would benefit the show and add value for the audience.

    tinyurl.com/wtpblog is a step in the right direction, though the title, ‘etherized’, is confusing.

    However, I think the show deserves a bit more credit. To me, it is not about being pretentious or some management forced “we shall have a podcast” type thing.

    WTP is one man’s passion for radio and his way out of the 5 minute segment constraints of his broadcast life. That passion shines though in the show. Whether you enjoy that or not is of course a personal matter.

  5. @Niels
    Thanks for your thoughtful and contextualized comments!
    I quite agree that my post should give WTP more credit. An issue there, that I was trying to describe, is that new podcast listeners have no way to distinguish Clark Boyd’s labour of love from what could well be a half-baked attempt (by “management”) to “have podcasts out there.” Some listeners may know and my educated guess was that the podcast was indeed Boyd’s baby, but the podcast is decontextualized enough that it’s somewhat unclear to those who listen to the podcast by itself.
    One easy way to solve this is to add a single sentence at the onset of the show describing the project. It might also work if WTP were to become more of a persona or, as social marketers tend to say, “a brand.” If individual bloggers are now branding themselves, it might be useful for a podcast with corporate support to adopt some of the same strategies. Nothing fancy. But something about WTP which is distinct from The World.
    I also think that going toward other social media producers (by posting comments on blogs or by doing interviews on other podcasts) can greatly help. Though it sounds like extra work, it seems to be an essential part of the “participatory culture” in which social media and online social networking systems are set.
    As for the main show’s name, I think the effects aren’t about the name itself but about the way the name is used in WTP. First, there’s something related to “search engine optimization” from a user’s perspective. The set of keywords necessary to find online content related to WTP specifically isn’t that obvious to those who didn’t know about the main show. (If the show is to be global, this includes a lot of people.) Sure, Google returns the main show’s site as the second result in a search for “the world” (even without quotes). But the connection between WTP and The World isn’t that obvious to WTP‘s would-be “social media collaborators.”
    What I find pretentious-sounding isn’t the main show’s name but the use of the main show’s name as a label in WTP to refer to content and correspondents from the main show. It’s mostly confusing (as if a show were called Senior and participants in another show kept saying “senior correspondent” to refer to “Senior‘s correspondent”). But it ends up sounding pretentious to those who have no connection with The World because no oral equivalent to italics is used. If Le Monde diplomatique were to have a podcast and participants were to frequently say «journaliste du monde» to refer to contributors from Le Monde without using prosody to make matters clear, there might be an issue with all those people who have no idea what Le Monde is (i.e., the vast majority of the planet).
    By the by… I do enjoy WTP and I do perceive Boyd’s passion. I was simply commenting about possible reasons for the show’s alleged issues in terms of social media and social networking.

  6. @Brad
    Thanks a lot for the explanation!
    Unfortunately for me, your comment was sent to the moderation list (because of embedded links) and I’m only seeing it now. It would have helped me understand the situation a lot better.
    In fact, a constant among comments here and on Twitter is to point out that WTP is Clark Boyd’s personal work. I did have the impression that it was the case but I didn’t notice anything in the show that made it clear.
    So I now get the idea that the main problem here is framing. Boyd’s WTP is framed as a part of The World (a venture I know nothing about but I’m assuming it’s well-known in some parts of the world). So we hear segments from The World and it sounds like Clark Boyd is mostly a host. In other words, it sounds like a “podcast and radio show” project from large media institutions. The Search Engine analogy isn’t too bad as the two shows have similar formats.
    Nothing wrong with “podcast and radio show” projects. I happen to listen to several of them and they tend to be impressive in “production quality.” They don’t tend to work so well as social media, but that’s not their main goal.
    What I now get to understand is that WTP is Boyd’s personal work, backed by The World. It might be obvious to people who knew Boyd outside of WTP (and/or people who knew The World itself). But really not that clear to those who subscribed to the WTP podcast.
    As should be clear, my comments aren’t criticisms of Boyd’s work. They’re about problems facing major media outlets trying to go the social media route. Sure, because WTP is Boyd’s work, the target is the same for those who know the back story. But my intention wasn’t to attack Boyd.
    Now, I did comment on the confusion between WTP and Boyd. From a naïve listener’s perspective (i.e., me), it sounds awkward that a show produced by PRI/BBC/Discovery should be using elements which are limited to the host. Actually, CBC’s Search Engine had similar issues and CBC’s managers seem to have mistaken Jesse Brown for Search Engine (since they replaced the award-winning show with the use of “Jesse Brown as tech correspondent”). But in Search Engine‘s case, there were several attempts at addressing the connections between the show, the host, the contributors, and the community. I’m not even saying that it was that effective a strategy. For instance, the Search Engine blog did accomplish a lot but I don’t think that the show’s Facebook presence had that much of an impact.

    A note about tone. For diverse personal reasons, I was specifically not cautious in the way I phrased this post so I was worried about how it may be construed. Turns out my fears were not only justified but the situation is even worse than I thought it might be. “That’ll teach me” to post raw notes… Or maybe it won’t. Even though some of those who read this post seem to assume that I had something against the show (which I don’t), it seems to be involved in some interesting discussion about WTP. For instance, there’s now a PRI’s The World: Technology Podcast Facebook page. Even if my post had no impact on the creation of the Facebook page, I really enjoy the result and I congratulate Boyd on his responsiveness.
    Still about tone (I happen to be a linguistic anthropologist): is it possible that “I don’t care about” might have been interpreted to mean “I don’t care for?” I always have issues with this one. What I mean by “I don’t care about” is something like “I have no vested interest in the matter and it won’t change my life one way or the other if things remain the same.” I know I should find a better way to phrase it but these were raw notes and I was using a conversational voice.

    As for the use of “FAIL!” in the context of the Facebook group… I felt weird about it because it connects to an (IMHO) all-too-common attitude in social media to quickly dismiss instead of describing. My use of that expression most likely contributed to the fact that my post was perceived as a direct attack (instead of reflections on possible reasons behind WTP’s alleged social media problems). The advantage, there, is that Clark Boyd has since requested help in attacking me, which gives way to this discussion. I don’t really mind the attacks and I think the discussion can lead to something broader than Boyd’s podcast.
    So, despite the perceived harshness of my post, a potentially beneficial development.

    Clark: sincere apologies for what appeared to you to be an attack on your work. I didn’t intend it that way and I now understand why my post might have been misconstrued.

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