iherald – newspaper group clones facebook

iHerald - it's facebook for local people
iHerald – it’s facebook for local people

Going through my feeds today I can across news, via Press Gazette,  that The Plymouth Herald had launched its own social networking site called iHerald

Thisisplymouth and Herald web editor Neil Shaw said: “The response has been great, with 200 members joining in our first month to upload more than 1,000 items including pictures, videos and blogs.

The first thing that struck me was why? 

Shaw said: “The site goes to the heart of our online strategy, not lazily duplicating our print product online, but interacting with our users so thisisplymouth and The Herald combine user-generated content with live input from our audience. It is a constant dialogue differentiated from and contributing to our print offering.”

The motivation here is apparently that Herald had exceeded the limit of 5000 friends on Facebook a limitation that has been taxing a number of users  for some time. And the only alternative, a Facebook page, has failed to convince those upset by the limit with its ‘fans’ rather than friends and less features.

The Herald has moved to a page, carrying 96 people across compared to the 4755 (not quite 5000 but near enough for them to stop them accepting unsolicited friend requests.) so you have to credit them with trying to do something about it.

But whilst I can cheer the desire not to lazily duplicate the  print product, I’m still wondering if the limitations of facebook is the real reason here.

4755 Facebook friends is credit to the way the Herald use Facebook. Compare that to 151 for my local paper.  But the fact that they have only shifted 96 fans on their page shows that the attraction is in Facebook as a platform and the features it offers when people interact with you as a friend.

Even with a  200 users of iherald  you have to wonder how many of them are from Facebook rather than new users and if their efforts would have been better spent working on educating more of their
‘friends’ to the benefit Facebook page. The fact that it hasn’t really been updated since August last year may say something about how successful it is.

Immitation creates more work

Part of me wants this to work – the site looks pretty robust. But I still can’t shake the nagging idea that this is another attempt by a newspaper group to reinvent the wheel in an attempt to try and control the cart.

It may be more functional but it isn’t Facebook and it strikes me it just adds to the workload – simply managing the amount of copyright music that has appeared in the audio section would be enough to keep a lawer busy for week.  With 4755 users of Facebook it would be madness to simply ignore them in favour of their new users so who manages that relationship?

It seems a weird duplication of effort.

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3 Replies to “iherald – newspaper group clones facebook”

  1. Hi, thanks for the interest – and you’ve made some good points.

    As to the disparity between the number of members, we hope that’s just a matter of time. We have been using Facebook for well over a year, while iHerald has been live since the start of January – and our marketing has been very restricted (non-existent) so far.

    The motivation behind our use of Facebook, iHerald, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter and YouTube has always been to interact with our users, rather than dump print content online and hope that appeals to the audience. We now get thousands of page views every day on thisisplymouth directly from these sites, and users on these sites discuss us and our news every day.

    Hitting the 5,000 limit on Facebook was the trigger, but the real drive is to create a platform where our users can interact with us and each other AND share their content with us. Gathering User Generated Content is a key part of our goal here.

    As for the Facebook group, its limitations have always disuaded us from putting in too much effort. The only advantage it has over the profile, so far as I can see, is that we can contact the group members in bulk – rather than only sending emails 20 at a time.

    Facebook has allowed us to take our content direct to a new audience who are genuinely interested in us and Plymouth news, and it has allowed those users to contact us with information (just today we were tipped off about a large number of job cuts in the city, while yesterday we were sent tributes to a young mum who died in the city over Facebook). But while it has raised the profile and altered the image of our brand among a key audience (damn, must have been spending too much time with the marketing team) it can’t really provided the interaction we want, or the UGC.

    Facebook has been great for us, we enjoy it and we will continue to use it, but iHerald is different.

    As to duplication of effort, using Twitter apps we take an RSS straight from our site, through Twitter, on to Facebook so effort is minimal and iHerald is mostly about monitoring – but as the number of users increases we are building a team of editors to moderate the content.

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