In a lot of ways, 2012 was the year news organizations really got social. The days of simple headline/link tweets and mindless Facebook questions seem behind us, and genuine, meaningful engagement flourished across outlets of all sizes and types this year.
We’ve rounded up five social media projects from news organizations this year that we think exemplify some of the best social news has to offer. Of course, we couldn’t get everything in, so after you’ve finished reading, tell us: What was your favorite social project of 2012?
Ours, in no particular order …
The Wall Street Journal: Tracking Facebook’s IPO
To cover the unprecedented lead-up to Facebook’s May IPO, the social team at WSJ turned to Facebook itself to create a living, evolving history of the Internet’s biggest social network.
In one of the most deliberate and curated uses of Timeline around, WSJ created a page in April called Tracking Facebook’s IPO. On it, the newspaper compiled every major milestone in the dramatic rise of the company, along with the WSJ story that covered the event. In 2006, for example, we know that Facebook was on the verge of a huge cash infusion – because the front-page WSJ story is posted at that point in time on the page’s Timeline. The ability to track to a specific time in the company’s history makes the information tremendously accessible.
Even better: For the entire day of the IPO (May 18), the page was updated live with each WSJ story and breaking news alert – a total of 39 posts.
The page has been silent since October, and was perhaps a bit less practical and more proof-of-concept – there are only about 2,000 likes – but it still stands as one of the most thorough and navigable histories of Facebook available.
The Huffington Post: Highlights
The least newsy project on our list, Highlights serves another purpose: helping you sift through the relentless deluge of content that is the Huffington Post machine.
Highlights is the first product to come out of HuffPost Labs, the innovation arm of the behemoth organization. The tool tracks which text passages are being most frequently highlighted and copied across all of HuffPost. Once a specific passage breaches a set threshold – becomes “disproportionately interesting” – it’s kicked onto a landing page that collects the most popular clips of text.
The engagement with users is seemingly passive, but that’s sort of the point: in the unending river of HuffPost content, Highlights guides you to great quotes and ideas from stories you may not have otherwise see. Discovery is the crux, and leveraging the crowd to find a news organization’s best content is an ingenious way to add value to a reader’s experience. (And yes, you can share a passage directly to your social networks.)
Fast Company: The Rules of Social Media
This massive undertaking blended together everything that seems to make a social project successful: value added, interaction, expert analysis and, sometimes most importantly, it was about social.
The magazine’s primary social accounts solicited users’ advice for what make up the “rules of social media,” then cobbled together the best answers in, admittedly, an at-times overwhelming list. But it smartly broke down the responses into five digestible sections, such as “On Engagement” and “On Process & Goals,” with each area having at least one written-out expansion or analysis. It even came with a printable infographic of the 36 best answers.
But most interesting aspect was its blending of platforms. The results of the project were printed in the magazine’s September issue, which – coincidence? – was the social media issue. Both the digital and print components stood well on their own, but when taken as a complete multi-platform package, the project became some truly extraordinary.
The New Yorker: Black Box
Think Twitter’s 140-character limit can be constraining? Trying tweeting out an 8,500-word story.
That’s what The New Yorker’s @NYerFiction account did this spring with Jennifer Egan’s masterful fiction piece “Black Box.” Egan wrote the entire story in 140-character-or-less bursts, which were tweeted out from @NYerFiction every minute for one hour, 10 night in a row.
Less a hard news project than an experiment in storytelling, Egan wrote the piece specifically with Twitter in mind, hoping to incorporate the serialization and stream of the platform into the actual delivery of the story.
What resulted was a richly engaging and entirely unique experience for those who followed, turning what would have normally been a passive reading of a story into an active, participatory and genuinely one-of-a-kind reading experience.
ProPublica: Free the Files
Everyone’s favorite social project needs no introduction. What started as a push to put local TV political ad spending online became the pinnacle of integrating social media into the heart of an organization’s reporting.
The project came in two parts. In March, ProPublica solicited help from students, community reporters and anyone with a little free time to go their local TV station and request its “Public File” documents – files containing political ad buys. By early April, 180 people in 37 states and the District of Columbia had contributed.
Then in August, the FCC ordered TV stations in the nation’s top 50 markets to put the files online themselves. At that point, ProPublica switched gears and asked the crowd to help glean usable data from the files. Almost 1,000 civilians participated, and because of the massive help, the outlet tracked as much as $1 billion in political ad buys.
The project was fundamentally social, requiring the help of the crowd, and even encouraged a friendly competition among the volunteers helping. It turned out to be one of the most expansive and practical analyses of how dark money was influencing the election, and it stands as what is maybe the most ambitious social project to date.
The Guardian: 3 Little Pigs
This brilliant Guardian advertisement swept up journalists and the public alike with its vision of how the lauded British newspaper would use multiple platforms and angles to cover the case of the three little pigs.
The charming ad hit the web in February, and last month was recognized by Adweek as the top commercial of 2012. Intended to showcase the publication’s dedication to open journalism, the spot was earnest, clever and, above all, it offered a bit of insight into the future of reporting.