Reuters Editors

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Throwing a pebble and watching the ripples

October 14, 2008

Thomson Reuters hosted a speech by the British Prime Minister in London on Monday and we opened up the event to the Web with the help of two advisors  — documentary maker Christian Payne and social media guru Mike Atherton.

These two have helped politicians, business people and even a Hollywood studio to connect with online audiences. Our event perhaps lacked a bit of Hollywood glamour but we had business people and politics in spades and we gave Christian and Mike full access to cover the event as they saw fit.

Christian created an alternative video feed of the proceedings using a Nokia mobile phone, and a wireless connection to the Qik social video platform.

This prompted a conversation in the Qik comments.


And somomething similar happened on Christian’s own site — OurManInside — which also carried a streaming feed and acted as a catalyst for another set of comments.

Meanwhile Mike Atherton ‘tweeted’ the proceedings throughout the event (for the uninitiated you ‘tweet’ when you use twitter , which is like blogging via SMS text message). He attracted hundreds of new ‘followers’ as the buzz about what was going on spread.


Meanwhile I had the more straightforward (but quite compulsive) task of monitoring what others were saying in reaction to Gordon Brown’s comments, picking out what I thought were the most interesting and featuring them on the Reuters website alongside our live coverage.

So, what did we learn from all this?

1. Interestingly, our two social media experts were able to create a ‘buzz’ around the event by keeping quiet about it. Dropping hints that they were involved in something big over the weekend served to raise the interest of their many followers in the social media world. Then going very quiet reinforced the idea that something was up. I’m not a PR expert but I think this is roughly the reverse of our standard approach.

2. It’s a lot easier to get a live video feed from a mobile phone out onto the Web than it is to take a professional video feed and stream it onto a website.

3. We can’t confine our attention to people who come to our sites to discuss our content –  conversations will happen wherever people gather online and we’ll have to learn how to find the nuggets.

4. Finding out what people are saying online is getting easier. But monitoring multiple conversation threads isn’t easy. As I watched Mike Atherton flicking between screens and tapping away at his keyboard it struck me that this is a particular skill that not all of us have.

5. Measuring the success of such coverage isn’t easy. One of my colleagues asked what the impact on site traffic had been. Answer: negligible. But mentions in social media shot up. Is that enough to justify the effort?

6. The technology is still  flaky. Bloggers complained they couldn’t hear the audio from our very own Thomson Reuters video widget.  They were referred to the Qik video stream being provided by Documentally — but this broke down at one point dueno-10-twitter.PNG to connectivity problems.

7. Downing Street is actively embracing social media. It has a very personable ‘twitterer’ in the Communications Office who is using this to communicate with journalists and bloggers and indeed did this in advance of the Reuters event.

8. What social media participants really wanted was to be able to interact with the Prime Minister himself  — that’s not something we’d negotiated with no. 10. But next time…

Mark Jones is Reuters News Global Community Editor


Refreshing to see, finally. Wonder how long it will be before the PM himself reads his own twitter stream during a speach to guide him accordingly to audience queries?

I’m hoping the rest of the Financial world will pick up on Twitter. Some are in the US, but since Twitter was forced to turn off the mobile updates function in the UK – it will slow down uptake. But hey it’s Free which is good in this down turn.

Well done all.


It was a brilliant initiative, and speaks volumes for Reuters, for the future of debate and access around political matters in the UK and should be seen as a wonderful prototype.

I can say that I’m one of those that didn’t contribute to your traffic, but was aware of and thought happy thoughts about Reuters for having the balls to learn about this important new terrain.

The invisible, passive ‘couch potato’ consumers are always going to be hard to measure in social media spaces which are often one step removed, but how many more invisible people were influenced through the project – I would think very many given the ripples on Twitter.

I don’t know Mike or Christian personally but do admire their work – this is my open and honest viewpoint, and hopefully reasonably well informed as the MD of a succesful social media agency.


Success often starts with small steps like this, so the negligible impact on traffic doesn’t matter — for now. But at some point publishers are going to demand a return on their editors’ investments in new ways of reporting and connecting with the audience. Let’s hope a softer advertising market doesn’t crimp the news industry’s ability to innovate next year.

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