WHISPER IT softly, but I have finally embraced social media networking. Not BookFace or whatever it's called, but I am now officially on Twitter. Yes, I Tweet.
I wouldn't say that it's been a simple process. In common with most newspaper groups, the suits at the Evening Beast's head office suddenly noticed the collapsing classified ad revenues and managed to convince themselves that all would be OK as long as we shifted everything online. This led to a succession of sharp-suited, tie-less whizz kids being appointed as Group Digital Supremos before being sacked after a year when the magic beans turned out to be of the Tesco Value variety.
We then went down the 'hyper-local' route, which meant opening our electronic pages to any lunatic who could work a keyboard. I did argue at the time that this might possibly pose the occasional legal difficulty. Personally, I wouldn't let a trained journalist write straight to the website without the opportunity for some subbing intervention, but the suits simply saw our assorted nutters as a source of free content so insisted that we went ahead.
It didn't take long to unravel. Scurrilous – and false – accusations against local councillors, blatantly libellous restaurant 'reviews', score-settling by warring neighbours â€¦ we were soon taking down stories as fast as they went up, while local lawyers rubbed their hands with glee. (They never actually had to fight and win a case. The letter-writing alone kept them in the manner to which they had become accustomed.)
So now we've arrived, accidentally and expensively, at a happy medium. The crap-spouting clowns have departed, we've decided what is a sensible level of subbed copy to put up on our sites and agreed that non-journos should take care of the mechanics, and we've disabled our forums and now only allow pre-moderated comments.
There's still a lot of nonsense rumbling around in the background, but life is a lot calmer and we're actually turning the odd shilling here and there. Which brings me back to Twitter.
I had always dodged the five-day 'Introduction to Social Media Networking' courses that the suits set up. Where the fuck am I supposed to find five days from? In the end it took one of the girls from our marketing department to show me the basics in 10 minutes flat. And you know, it really is quite useful.
When we wanted to find a local couple getting married on April 29th, we had four responses within 20 minutes. (I know, I know â€¦ but we're a local paper and it has to be done.) When I want to push a good front page, it takes 30 seconds to reach my 300 followers – and costs nothing. And just reading it can often find you a decent story. So there. Twitter is A Good Thing. But just remember that everyone can read what you're saying â€¦
(PS: I've found a website called whatthefuckismysocialmediastrategy.com. Click on it and up comes a phrase suitable for slotting into Powerpoint presentations or the kind of bullshit bingo bollocks our masters too often require us to produce. For example 'Activate audience by giving them compelling social experiences, encouraging advocacy' or 'Increase organic growth by exposing audiences to the brand through breakthrough viral communications' or 'Maximise buzz by driving word of mouth from relevant influencers'. Brilliant stuff, and very useful. )
This is an extract from the May column in Press Gazette magazine. Subscribe for the full version, every month.