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BBC Online's Social Strategy

There's a huge amount to say about the changes BBC Online announced last week. As a former member of staff with many friends whose jobs under threat, I'm prompted by both personal loyalty and passion for the BBC's mission and purpose to say a lot of things I might regret later. So this post isn't about the overall rights and wrongs of the strategy and cuts. It's about a narrower pet passion and area of interest of ours - social media and accountability.

Ian Hunter has written a concise and lucid post about this on the BBC Internet Blog, setting out some ways the BBC is seeking to move "from a site which offers a few fairly circumscribed social experiences to one which is more social everywhere". The most eye-catching and commented announcments are the closure of the 606 sport messageboard and the so-called "disposal" of h2g2 (in other words, the BBC is trying to find a sympathetic new owner for the latter project). There is also a reiteration of the deliberate trend away from messageboards and towards trying to shepherd interactions and conversations around BBC-generated content (blog posts, some programmes, some news stories).

There is also a restatement of the importance to the BBC's approach to social media of Facebook and Twitter. This itself takes a number of forms. Listeners to the increasingly cash-strapped World Service will have already noticed the extent to which the BBC has made itself dependent on Facebook in particular as CMS, CRM and user engagement strategy combined, with programmes often bypassing the BBC website completely in order to promote their Facebook pages. We've already blogged here about the iPlayer's integration with Facebook and Twitter. And we publicly recommended that the BBC engage more fully with external public conversation and comment around both its content and its strategy.

But there's clearly a danger here as well. In conceding ownership of the social graph, conversation and in many cases content itself to international commercial interests, an accountability deficit may emerge, where the BBC's audience and paymasters are less able to exercise their intellectual rights of ownership in a transparent manner. They may also be less able to own and manage the data they generate around themselves in relation to the BBC. It should be noted that Facebook and Twitter are both still entirely privately owned, unlisted companies.

There are of course additional concerns, such as the BBC losing control over its own content, and the building of private value to individual corporations instead of public or civic value to the commons. There are echoes with the long-running debate over the BBC's support of proprietary over open formats for audio and video. That one resolved pretty happily. And it's important to recognise the legitimate public service argument in support of, say, Windows Media or Facebook, on the grounds of meeting the habits of the audience - standards as defined by level of uptake rather than theoretical openness or public ownership.

As Ian puts it: "Much of this is standard practice across the web, of course, and we need to evolve to meet the changing expectations of our users." Absolutely right. But this in microcosm represents an overall concern with the BBC's online strategy - is there too much of a desire to fit in to the online world as it is, and not enough of a vision for the unique role that the BBC can play in shaping that world?

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//"Absolutely right. But this in microcosm represents an overall concern with the BBC's online strategy - is there too much of a desire to fit in to the online world as it is, and not enough of a vision for the unique role that the BBC can play in shaping that world?"//

I am do not think the BBc should be burdened with and innovator role. Whether Cancas is still alive and the new Radio (really music) player will actually reach lift off will be interesting. But the BBC's role is to meet the needs "of all the people who happen to be in the UK at any time'"

It can of course encourage innovators, even contract them in a small way, and purchase their intellectual property, but it surely hasn't the money to maintain the site and do it themselves.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Copping

Unfortunately, BBC and "SOCIAL" Media are not words which seem to go together. In recent years BBC staff appear to have done everything they can to annoy and alienate their existing posters in some suicide mission to embrace Twitter/Facebook and other privately run forms of Social Media (I wouldn't want to be a company in the same sphere as Twitter, given the amount of "plugging" Twitter gets from BBC). They have re-designed the formats of blogs and messageboards and have pleased few in doing so. The messageboards in particular have LESS functionality since the "improvements" they rolled out six months ago, (and which they keep "improving" with fixes and add-ons) which still have not given posters the functionality or aesthetically pleasing appearance of the pre-"improved" boards.

The telling word in your article is "shepherd" or "navigate" as BBC prefer to call it....towards what THEY want to discuss. And, having "navigated" posters to a blog they want you to read, they now feel that instead of leaving it open for their usual 3 months (if things get too intense for BBC) they can close it less than a week after they open it.....even if posters are still clammering for answers to their questions....simply because THEY can.....that is total control of a discussion.

So, basically, BBC do NOT do SOCIAL Media, they do, Bulletin Boards or Flyers. Blogs to BBC are where too many employees write a blog, and then......well nothing. Job done as far as too many of them is concerned. Messageboarders were warned that to have more meaningful interaction with BBC staff they (the messageboarders) HAD to go to the blogging area. Having done that, BBC then decided that THEY would set ALL agendas, including VERY tight moderation/hosting of blogs. USER-GENERATED commenting (as in messageboards) is almost treated with utter contempt by BBC.

So, the situation you now have at BBC is ... instead of little communities interacting either WITH the BBC staff (as in blogs) or with each other (as in messageboards), BBC are spending inordinate amounts of time and money trying to find ways to hack off their own posters.....linking them OUT of where they have chosen to be...(BBC) blogs/messageboards which are incidental to the posters real focus.....or to Twitter/Facebook etc which a lot of posters especially I would have to say, those using the messageboards (where I think there are larger numbers of older posters) don't want to "DO" Twitter or Facebook. BBC staff have been told repeatedly that all this tinkering/linking out is not what the posters are looking for in their Social Media experience at BBC, but, it is falling on deaf ears. Some folk within BBC walls have had meetings, and now the people who are actually CHOOSING to use BBC for their Social Media, are being treated as children who don't know what is good for them. So many posters have chosen to leave because they have tired of repeated pleas for a bit of flexibility from the BBC. What were once thriving messageboards are now withering on the vine (unless of course they happen to be in The Archers section), which is expanding. The reason for this is that BBC has a policy of allowing the individual programmes/channels to choose whether to provide messageboards or not from the programme's budget. The WHOLE of BBC Television falls under the remit of the Points of View TELEVISION programme (a fifteen minute seasonal programme), and so you get what you pay for. On the other hand The Archers RADIO programme must be sitting on a goldmine as they have EIGHT messageboards, whilst the WHOLE of BBC television (in the form of the POV messageboards has TWO messageboards).

Navigation around BBC online is horrendous. Posters can't find blogs easily, and instead of all being in one area, they, and messageboards are scattered all over the place, and funded out of different budgets (no Central funding for BBC). Of course, if posters can't find their own way around the site, BBC take control and "navigate" or "shepherd" them to the bits THEYwant posters to be. Social Media should be about choice.....BBC are slowly erroding any choice on the posters side, and controlling very tightly ALL aspects of feedback within its Social Media area.

It's one thing to move with the times, but when you have spent a fortune redesigning areas where people used to happily post, and turned them into areas where posters are unhappy with the "improvements", then you should be LISTENING to feedback to deliver what the posters will continue to engage with. Of course, BBC staff seem to be finding these "improvements" better for THEM. At the moment BBC seem to be more than happy just to "hack off" posters enough, so that they leave BBC altogether. It's a new form of cost cutting..............annoy and alienate customers enough that they leave, but hey, BBC is proving to be expert at this.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterniclaramartin


This comment is telling...."There is also a restatement of the importance to the BBC's approach to social media of Facebook and Twitter." for the simple reason that there has been NO such statement from their own posters who have chosen to interact DIRECTLY with BBC on BBC's own messageboards. Quite the contrary. The response from BBC to questions from messageboarders asking if their boards are safe/reporting faults with the new and "improved" messageboards, is either evasion or ..... silence.

This fullsome support from BBC for Twitter/Facebook etc is doubly galling, as BBC are interacting with those communities (who can't even be bothered to get their behinds over to BBC to interact within BBC), whilst at the same time alienating the communities of posters who HAVE chosen (some for many years) to use BBC for their social media.

It's akin to mummy and daddy bringing a new baby home from hospital, and giving all their attention to the baby, whilst ignoring the entreaties of their toddler to be played with. BBC has taken it's eye off the people who have SUPPORTED BBC's Social media by visiting BBC itself. BBC's own posters have been sent to the "naughty step" (well we were all treated as naughty children by the BBC employee who set up the new House Rules). The House Rules brought in to "control" the BBC's own posters were like some throwback to Victorian times, where children were expected to sit quietly whilst the grown-ups (BBC staff) talked, and NEVER EVER question anything the grown-ups decided.

At the same time, if you read the BBC staff's personal Twitter you could see that they themselves used their Twitter as their own form of "down" time.......or fun. They did not understand that posters to BBC are using BBC Social Media as THEIR "down" time. Posters were expected to, at all times, remain totally focused and under no circumstances.......enjoy themselves.

BBC has only itself to blame for disenfranchised posters (and former posters) who had previously used BBC messageboards happily for years, now feeling as if BBC are only interested in Tweeting/Twittering/Chirping/Twirping/Twerping.............or controlling all discussion within BBC by pruning away the USER generated messageboards and replacing them with BBC CONTROLLED blogs.

The result of this attitude FROM the BBC staff towards the general public (or messageboarders) who, had for many years engaged with BBC staff or other messageboarders, WITHIN the walls of BBC, is that there are now numerous private messageboards set up ...............................simply to voice their dissatisfaction with BBC's recent behaviour towards the very people who had supported BBC's Social Media...................from the beginning.

Loyalty works both ways, and I don't think you will find too many messageboarders (and former BBC messageboarders) who will be concerning themselves about your "many friends whose jobs under threat", for the simple reason that BBC's employees have seen it as their job to CONTROL every aspect of it's Social Media to within an inch of it's life. They have sucked the life out of BBC Social Media, and ultimately may find their own job prospects on "life support".

Oh, and whoever is rolling out the "new and improved" messageboards is having a laugh. "New and IMPROVED"!!!!!!! They are so bug-ridden, and aesthetically unpleasing that they have driven lots of posters away simply because of the "quality" of the software design, and the lack of/poor feedback from BBC about "fixes".

BBC should have made sure that they were keeping their resident communities happy, before even thinking of any excursion into other Social Media forum.

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterniclaramartin

sadly the sacking of nick reynolds would make the job losses worth it.

and kevin the writing was on the wall when the social media staff (im guessing reynolds) made it impossible to put in a formal complaint about the destruction of the was all rather shocking ..and it is now dead..

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermr joefish

and just to prove the point..a post on todays pov messageboard

"Posted by OfficerDibble (U1158251) ** on Monday, 11th April 2011 (1 Hour Ago)

Thanks Host,

perhaps it might be worthwhile for you to reply to the design team " don't bother lads... there is no-one left using the boards now."

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermr joefish

The WHOLE of BBC Television falls under the remit of the Points of View TELEVISION programme (a fifteen minute seasonal programme), and so you get what you pay for. On the other hand The Archers RADIO programme must be sitting on a goldmine as they have EIGHT messageboards, whilst the WHOLE of BBC television (in the form of the POV messageboards has TWO messageboards).

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermagento themes

Well, it's all kicking off over at BBC.....AGAIN. This following link is actually an area (and blogger) I haven't read I say BBC makes finding your way about their SOCIAL Media as difficult as possible. I only found it because Nick (Reynolds) linked to this blog (perhaps hoping that it would broaden the knowledge of the posters). What has actually happened is that BBC is rolling out a different format for it's news blogs, and the result is.........well, read some of the comments date after 177 postings.. there are only one or two positive comments (and one of those is from a ONE TIME poster hmmmmm)

BBC just has not learned from past mistakes, and certainly appears to be continuing on their headlong embracing of all things Twitter, (including reducing commenting to 400 characters)......not proving popular in yet another separate community within BBC's Social Media. Even "lurkers" have felt the need to register to complain, but, this looks like another "tumbleweed strewn area in the making".

It now appears to be an art form.....hacking of your bloggers/messageboarders, whilst sitting going "tralalalalala" with their collective fingers in their ears. Of course, without posters, there will be less and less need for blogs ..... or blog authors, so spiralling decline in commenting, and spiralling decline in need for blogs...equals even more staff pay-offs.

The other aspect is that BBC is now locked into annoying posters who have posted happily for years. These same posters are probably viewers, and so, if, you annoy customers in one area, it will have a knock-on effect on other aspects of your business. So, I hope the Producers/Directors/Actors/Cameramen/Sound guys etc who produce BBC Programmes are aware that their mates in the Social Media section of BBC are doing a sterling job for Sky, by alienating thousands of posters, with their wilful disregard of interacting/informing/and involving posters in their headlong pursuit of.........well, b'd if I know what, but it looks like ..... self-destruction?

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterniclaramartin

Well BBC has officially hit rock bottom now. They have announced that they are to be closing down the OUCH messageboards which are for the disabled community. There appears to be NO will or empathy to provide a place for posters who are disabled who wish to post in a safe area, under a well-known (and previously respected) brand name... BBC. Instead, as with all the previous closures, BBC's official stance is to send posters off to BBC Blogs (which posters on OUCH as with previous messageboard closures) have clearly stated is NOT what they want for a Social Networking experience, or even Facebook and Twitter, and leave some very vulnerable posters at the mercy of any numpty who may be frequenting Facebook or Twitter. The OUCH posters have also said that they prefer to post to a community they know (having taken time to build up that community), and CERTAINLY NOT on a one to one basis, posting to one unknown poster, instead of discussion taking place on the BBC OUCH messageboard, with the safety aspects which that affords.

I, along with others fought for the Points of View messageboards to stop receiving BBC "improvements", but, along with many other posters (or former posters in my case), I would rather see Points of View, the Archers, and all the other messageboards closed down, if BBC kept OUCH messageboards open.

A disgraceful decision, and a disgraceful way (yet again) for BBC to treat it's messageboarding Social Networking posters. If BBC really cannot understand why some posters prefer messageboards, then they really should not even be contemplating doing SOCIAL Media at all.

June 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterniclaramartin

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