'It's time to jump on that bandwagon': Isentia's Russ Horell on social media, influencers and the future of journalism

  • Media
  • March 27, 2018
  • Erin McKenzie
'It's time to jump on that bandwagon': Isentia's Russ Horell on social media, influencers and the future of journalism

Gone are the days of media monitors delivering clients a package of newspaper cutouts each morning, but that doesn't mean monitoring is no longer required.

Rather, it's as important than ever clients have a pair of eyes on the news gaining attention across the expanding media landscape. 

Russ Horell, Isentia’s New Zealand country manager, has been in the media monitoring world for 11 years and in that time has seen it go from a job of cutting out newspapers and faxing them through to clients, to broadening the view to cover websites and social media, and feeding all the media to clients via an app.

“It seems like a light year ago”, says Horell when thinking about how far news media has come since the morning newspaper was the news breaker, adding that while it can be daunting and tempting for clients to run and hide, it should rather be seen as an amazing opportunity to talk to customers, voters or whoever their audience might be.

“If anyone is not embracing social media then it’s time to jump on that bandwagon.”

And because social media happens in real time, unlike a newspaper going to the printer the night following the news, monitoring social media raises the importance of knowing what is happening in real time.

"If you are just looking at what happened yesterday, you’ve got your eye off the ball.”

Machine learning

In response to these changes, Isentia has jumped on a bandwagon to improve its offer to clients. It’s working with the machine learning aspect of AI to take a wider scope with its monitoring, looking beyond client’s specified search terms that they know they are interested in, in order to create a bigger picture. 

“Growing up and watching Blade Runner and The Terminator, it seemed a bit grim. But we think of machine learning as something that can do those tedious tasks a lot better and quicker so we can do more creative things,” says Horell.

Giving Ford as an example, he says it can cluster stories relating to other automotive brands and industry topics as well as just stories about Ford and its people. It will also look at how important stories are based on how many people are looking at them and whether it's controversial or positive feedback.

“No longer are clients saying: ‘I’m going tell you what I need to know and then you tell me when it happens’. It’s us saying: ‘Hey, there’s something that’s happening here, it’s getting bigger and you need to be across’.”

And not only can it see what is happening in real time, Horell adds AI is also allowing it to assess and predict the best strategy to moving forward by taking a look at what did and did not work, in past scenarios.

The rise of the influencers

In clustering stories and looking at all forms of media to see what’s earning attention, an unexpected outcome has been going down what Horell calls “the rabbit hole” of influencers.

He says they’ve been popping up alongside stories on the front pages of The New Zealand Herald and questions are being raised about the importance of their influence and monitoring of Instagram and influencers.

Looking at Asian markets as an example of why attention needs to be paid, he says those social influencers can have the same credibility as news media. Tech Wire Asia, elaborates on this point saying influencers are taking off due to Asia Pacific’s highly social populations.

However, the same article questions whether the influencer market bubble is bursting as the audience is becoming hardened to commercially-motivated posts. It suggests digital marketers revise their approach if their messages are not to get dismissed.

Looking closer to home at New Zealand and Australian markets, Horell says while influencers may not take off to the same level here as that in Asian markets, the same fundamentals apply and the early adopters who get it right have a big opportunity to be ahead of the curve.

“We think it’s here to stay and we can look to our Asian brothers and sisters to see what’s it’s going to look like here in few years’ time.”

Homing in on the media

And beyond the innovation taking place in Isentia to monitor media across all media in all places, it’s also looking at location-based monitoring and homing in on an area to see what’s going on there.

Horell gives the example of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, at which Isenta will be analysing and evaluating all media coverage received to up to and during games.

To do that, it’s created ring fencing around stadiums to see what people are talking about within the area. Whether it’s the queues or warm beer, the insights will enable it to identify key markets, customise messaging and track sentiment to 'Share the Dream' – the campaign line for the games.

When it was announced that Isentia was the official supplier to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games back in February last year, it was already able to show the mascot—a blue surfing Koala called Borobi—had generated more than 3000 news articles since April 2016.

From letters to comments

Referring back to the days of cutting out newspaper articles, another change in the media landscape is those with opinions to share no longer putting pen to paper in a letter to the editor.

Now, they can comment directly below a social post or a news story, and when Horell put it to clients to identify their most important social media platforms at a recent event, comment sections sat alongside Snapchat and Neighbourly.

“Comment sections give new life and legs to stories,” he explains, adding that it’s only if the website allows.

Some, like RNZ, have disabled comments as well-researched options would descend into a few people bickering among themselves.

“It’s fine for something to go off-topic but not wildly off-topic and frankly between that and moderating comments through Facebook, and we get vastly more comments on Facebook, we thought it better to focus on those areas,” said RNZ community engagement editor Megan Whelan when speaking to StopPress about the decision.

Thinking about the irrelevant and incorrect comments that comment sections can attract, Horell looks at the move to paywalls – pointing out NZME’s announcement earlier this year that it plans to put a one around its premium journalism – and how they may have an impact on the tone of comments.

He says suggestions have been made that the point of view of comments sections may become limited to those who chose to pay to get behind the paywall.

The future of journalism

In the same way Isentia has changed the way it’s monitoring the media for clients, Horell sees the way in which journalists search for stories changing—so much so the days of press releases may be limited.

“There are so many different avenues and ways to get your message out there,” he says, giving the examples of Facebook and Twitter. So rather than sending out a press release to break a story, he sees them needing a rethink to possibly be something that directs people back to a website.

And looking further into the future, Horell says Isentia us looking into how its products will be able to sit within Google Glass or a chip that might integrate news into people’s lives.

“If I’m going to an interview with you, my app will tell me all the news articles you have written over the last 20 days so I can keep up to date with what you are doing and it will show me your LinkedIn profile so I know you connect with people that I also connect with, so we’ll have things to talk about. On top of that, I’ll know on my way there that there will be roadworks.”

It's an advancement that may have some quiver in fear, but Horell points out it should be seen as something that's "more exciting than worrying".

“Our lives will become more customised and things like AI will allow that."

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