We've been experimenting with producing visual stories using the platform Social Shorthand, with the aim to open up and spotlight specific recommendations from committee reports.
There are other publishing tools out there which are worth checking out, but we've found that this one suits our current needs. I'll explain what they are, and how we've been using them to spread a message on social.
What they are
Shorthand is a web based publishing tool that allows anyone to create visually engaging stories and promote them easily on Twitter.
It can automatically write and schedule multimedia tweets to promote stories, based on the chapters within them.
So far, we’ve made 7 Social Shorthand stories:
- The UK needs a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles
- The Government should introduce a 25p latte levy on disposable coffee cups
- A million defective machines in people's homes
- Plans to repatriate 100,000 Rohingya to Burma are gravely concerning
- Our nursing workforce is overstretched
- A lack of trust in PIP and ESA assessments risks undermining their entire operation
- Plans for EU nationals living in the UK must be set out immediately
What we're using them for
We had three main needs that led us to trying out Shorthand:
- Focus on single message
Though there is a demand for it, it’s always been a big challenge to tell long-form stories on Twitter.
We've seen the emergence of Twitter Moments, Twitter threads and text images as proof of this demand, but these options don’t work well for spotlighting report recommendations. Take Twitter Moments, for example: they contain a collection of tweets that already exist rather than provide a space to tell a story in the moment.
Shorthands allow us to focus in on a single recommendation to government, explaining the background, the evidence, and the urgency.
- Grow our communities
We wanted to better engage the large audience on Twitter (330 million active monthly users) and grow the communities of each committee account.
Shorthand seamlessly helps grow audience size - if a reader likes our work, it's easy for them to follow our Twitter account from within the story.
- Learn from the data
Unlike other tools we've tried, Shorthand allows us access to basic analytics, including how many times a story has been viewed, and the amount of engagement on Facebook. With this, we can begin to experiment and build an understanding of what kind of content works best for this platform.
Things we've learned so far
- Don't be shy with the tweet scheduling
By enabling the scheduling feature for chapters within a Shorthand story, we found that our views doubled when compared to a Shorthand story where we didn’t. For example, enabling this feature for the Health Committee earned them 60k impressions on Twitter and over 900 views of the Shorthand, half of the which came from the automatically scheduled tweets.
We also found that the more, the better. Often our followers will miss tweets, so sending out several can significantly increase your chances of reaching people.
- Audio-visual content is important, but so is the copy
In order for a Shorthand to be successful we need more than great visuals.
Topical, easy to understand and interesting copy is key in determining the success of the story’s reach. Simply enough, the copy needs to contain information that people want to share with others.
- The social integration isn't perfect
The automatic promotional tweet scheduling is a great feature of Social Shorthand, but it doesn't work perfectly. The tweets are limited to 140 characters (unlike Twitter's 280 character limit), which means text can be cut off.
We've also found that videos don't pull through into the tweets. We’ve adapted to this by taking a video from the Shorthand, adding the story’s title to it and uploading it directly on to Twitter with a link to the Shorthand (as in the example below).
We’ve already started to experiment with promoting Shorthand stories on Facebook, and this has substantially grown the audience for each story. We’re hoping to further our reach by also promoting our Shorthand content through both Instagram and Facebook Stories.
We also want to move beyond just featuring report recommendations, and focus on opening up complex inquiry topics. We plan to do this by taking a data driven approach: seeing which committee web pages are most popular and letting that guide our selection of content to feature on Shorthand.
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