What, if any, is the added value news sites can get from linking to bloggers?
If you're well versed in the dynamics of social media you might think this a silly question, but for news companies with a deeply ingrained 'silo-mentality' the answers are far from obvious. In fact, even if you run your own blog, it's not obvious that the benefits you get from linking up the conversations spurred by what you post on a very narrow niche topic will scale when you transfer the experiment to the country's biggest mass media outlets.
And since I work at the intersection of social media and mainstream media (MSM) – actually, I believe this is where all journalists work these days, whether they're conscious, or approve of it or not – I was curious about how news sites who link to bloggers felt this worked, so I asked a few newspapers in my 'neighbourhood' early this month (for this article, in Norwegian).
In Sweden, big nationals such as Dagens Nyheter (DN) and Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) have used Twingly, a blog search engine that can be used by newspapers to show blog links to articles, since early this year. In Norway, the country's second biggest tabloid, Dagbladet, has been experimenting with it since October.
In essence, they all said they had no evidence to suggest it created more traffic to their respective news sites, but it created more loyal users and was a way of connecting with the blogosphere which gave added value to their websites (Sweden), and it was valuable to hear what people thought about their journalism (Norway).
On the negative side, the biggest drawback was how many bloggers tried to 'game' the system and linked to the news sites' articles just to get traffic, though their content was completely unrelated to the articles they linked to and often nonsensical.
However, even though DN removed bloglinks concerning the caricature controversy earlier this year, controversial links represented only a minor problem for the newspapers, and Bo Hedin, head of digital media at SvD, told me it was extremely rare that they did block or remove Twingly links. He said he felt newspapers had to make a fundamental choice in this respect, and pointed me to an argument he'd made on his blog (my translation):
"As a media company we have to make a choice. We can either open up and accept that the odd link takes readers to opinions we don't share, or we can close the connection to the readers, op-ed writers and bloggers out there, and let the journalists publish their articles unbothered by the rest of the world."
Over at DN, Charlotta Friborg, the paper's managing editor online, told me that, like SvD, they had not experienced any significant traffic increase from linking to bloggers, rather it was the other way around: DN.se sent a lot of traffic to blogs.
As Media Culpa's Hans Kullin, I found it a bit puzzling to hear that MSM links send lots of traffic to bloggers. It may of course be the topic, both Kullin and I write about media stuff rather than highly controversial or political issues. Friborg did point out to me that Sweden has a lot high-profile political blogs, and those were often the blogs that spurred massive traffic.
Still, this blog has been linked up by a wide range of mainstream media, including Dagens Nyheter, Financial Times, Business Week, Washington Post, The Guardian etc. Of those, only the latter two have led to any significant traffic increase, and even then, the traffic has been miniscule compared to what happens when you get a link from A-list bloggers such as Dave Winer or Doc Searls.
The difference, I think, is community, and perhaps a different kind of readers. When I've been linked up by Washington Post and The Guardian, it has been via writers like Howard Kurtz and Roy Greenslade who both have a very strong following, or community, of readers who are passionate about the topics they write about, perhaps so passionate that they will follow the links to learn more?
But I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, and I'd also be very interested if you know of other, more formal or exhaustive, surveys on this topic (e.g. what are the experiences of really big papers like Washington Post and New York Times?)....