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A new BBC social media strategy for England

Robin Morley

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When it comes to journalists enjoying a close relationship with listeners, viewers and readers, it's hard to beat local media.

Tell a story well, or badly, and you'll soon hear direct from your audience - whether you're out walking the same patch tomorrow or just standing in the chip shop queue.

So it's not surprising that our teams in BBC English Regions have been embracing the immediacy and connectedness of social networking for some time - from Look North on Facebook and Dean Jackson's The Beat on Twitter, to newsgathering experiments like BBC London's award-winning deployment of Crowdmap during 2010′s Tube strikes.

But until now there's never been a unified document for BBC staff bringing together these activities and our plans to push them forward.

We've just launched English Regions' social media strategy for 2012. It builds on two existing documents: the BBC's overarching social media guidelines and - as we're part of the BBC's News Group - News' own social media guidance.

Creating a single social strategy for the BBC's local and regional output is challenging because of the breadth and variety of what we do. English Regions has 40 radio stations, some in big cities and some in the most rural of patches. We produce a wide range of TV output, including our 6.30 news programmes, the current affairs magazine Inside Out, our regional football league show Late Kick Off, and a weekly section of BBC1′s Sunday Politics.

We produce online news via the BBC News website (with 42 local indexes), and cover cutting-edge music in partnership with Radio 1 and other networks via BBC Introducing. Last but not least, we're geographically spread: over 3,000 staff, from the England/Scotland border to the Channel Islands.

What's needed is a strong framework which will, we hope, work across the board while still allowing flexibility based on locality and topic.

The first part of the strategy lays out our ten social media objectives for 2012. Here are three of the most important:

All English Regions journalists and programme-makers to have/develop a working knowledge of social media tools and their editorial value

Social media skills are essential for 2012′s media professionals, not a nice-to-have. This objective sets that in stone and demonstrates our commitment to deliver.

We're not saying that every one of our people must tweet. But they all need to understand how key social media tools work, why they're important, and how to use them in a professional capacity. This work has been under way for a while, largely thanks to our colleagues at the BBC College of Journalism who've been running excellent courses and hands-on newsroom sessions since 2009.

Social media to be a formal element in performance review - especially growth (or otherwise) in engagement stats

Like many organisations, we've often been guilty of analysing our social media performance too superficially.

Naturally we track Twitter follower stats and the number of 'likes' on Facebook. And between newsrooms we share tales and tips on finding great stories and contacts. But we've not given enough focus to measuring engagement around our accounts.

How much quality interaction are we generating? Are we sharing the right stories in the right way? How deep is our impact locally - are we just talking to ourselves?

Local and regional resources are always at a premium, so assessing whether we're making the best use of them in the social media sphere is something we're enshrining in our annual performance review for each region.

And we'll be adding intelligence on our social media activities to the online performance figures we already send around our teams monthly.

Minimum levels of Facebook and Twitter coverage in each area

Again, like many large organisations, the speed and enthusiasm with which we've embraced social media has varied from place to place, often dependent on the skills and interests of those who work there.

This objective aims to plug gaps where they exist, ensuring the audience will be able to keep tabs on its local or regional BBC via Facebook or Twitter, whichever part (or parts) of England they have an affinity with.

In the second part of our strategy document, there's detailed practical guidance to how our social media accounts should be managed.

Some is the kind of good practice any skilled community manager has employed since the year dot. How should we phase out an account elegantly if it's run its course? What tone should we adopt with our updates?

And some guidance is specific to BBC English Regions: who, for instance, needs to approve a new account before it's signed off? How do we ensure our three strands of output (radio, TV and online) are reflected in a joined up way on social networks, regardless of how their teams are structured and managed?

Here's the full strategy document.

What do you think of it? I'd be interested to hear from you via the comments below - or you can contact me on Twitter.

Robin Morley is social media lead for BBC English Regions, and a member of the BBC England new media management team.

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