Customize your Olympics with the Breaking News app

Our updated Breaking News app for Android is available for download today! Android and iOS users can customize their 2014 Sochi Olympic coverage and stay spoiler-free.

The world is defaulting to Sochi time as thousands of athletes, politicians, journalists and spectators gather in Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

During the 2012 Olympics in London, we saw an outcry from users across news sites, apps and social media who were trying to dodge event results until they were televised in primetime. For many news organizations, including our own, it was counter to what we do – we report the news as it happens. At Breaking News, we called an audible and decided to stop tweeting and sending push alerts with results. Instead, we published real-time results to our apps and website and used Twitter and push alerts to tell users they could come get the information if they wanted it. Not the most graceful solution, but it solved the problem and we heard from many appreciative users.

We learned a lot from that experience. Users are not a homogenous group that all want the same thing. Personalization and customization are an essential part of any news experience, but especially a mobile experience.

At the end of 2013, we launched a completely new Breaking News app for iOS that lets users control what’s news to them and how they receive it. Today, we’re launching our updated app for Android users and we’re focused in on the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

NO SPOILER ALERTS NEEDED

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The Breaking News app for iOS and Android allows users to experience a spoiler-free Olympics with just a simple tap of the screen. Avoid event results entirely by clicking the mute icon on the Olympics event results topic tag. Want to avoid all Olympics coverage, period? Click the mute icon on the 2014 Sochi Olympics topic tag.

CONTROL YOUR UPDATES

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Our editors will be following the games and publishing updates on the events, as well as culturally significant moments (Team USA uniforms, anyone?) and related hard news, like protests and security threats. We’re organizing and sorting those updates to make it easy for you to customize your app experience.

Maybe you’re a big fan of figure skating and you can’t wait until after work to know if Gracie Gold lands her jumps, but you also want to wait for the broadcast of the US-Canada men’s hockey game. Maybe you’re just not into skiing and you want to skip seeing those results altogether.

You can get push notifications for the Olympic events you’re most passionate about by clicking the alert icons on the event topic tags. You can also save those event tags as “favorites” for a custom stream in the app. And you can avoid specific events by clicking the mute icons:

  • skiing
  • bobsledding
  • curling
  • figure skating
  • hockey
  • luge
  • snowboarding
  • speed skating

Breaking News lets you decide what’s breaking to you. Your Olympics, your way.

Don’t have our free apps for iOS or Android yet? Download them today!

(Post by @gracej89, @lfmccullough)

Mobile is about solving problems

News Corp’s mobile-first startup The Daily is done, publishing its last story later this month.  “The single biggest failing?” writes former employee Trevor Butterworth. “You can’t create an entirely new brand and take it behind a paywall after 4 weeks, while limiting its footprint on the Internet, and then expect people to buy it.”  He also said The Daily’s content wasn’t differentiated enough.

To me, the two-year experiment at The Daily — which we should all applaud — signals a bigger challenge.  Mobile is not merely another form factor, but an entirely new ecosystem that rewards utility.  To succeed, companies must solve consumers’ problems.

If you watch startups pitch their products, they frequently begin by describing a real-life problem. For example, when you open up the wine menu at a restaurant and struggle with a selection.  That’s the problem “Corki” recently described at a Startup Weekend event in Seattle, and the team plans to solve it with an app that scans wine lists and enables users to pick their favorite wines based on personal tastes.  The problem leads into the opportunity and sets the context for everything.

"The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself," explains Y Combinator’s Paul Graham. “By far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.”

In the journalism world, countless mobile efforts are platform extensions.  There’s an urgency to get our branded content in front of consumers, wherever they are.  Such extensions are a competitive reality, but they’re often just a new design for a new form factor.  A growing number of mobile-first efforts, like The Daily, aim to rise above repurposed content with a fresh approach.  But many lack a real problem to solve.

At Breaking News, we think about this a lot.  What are the problems to solve around breaking news?  That’s what we’re working on right now, and stay tuned for more blog posts about the unique challenges and opportunities of breaking news in a mobile universe.

(Post by @corybe.  Earlier: 9 ways to become mobile first)

Whitney Houston news drives mobile visits

Whitney Houston’s death Saturday night took many people by surprise. Unlike other recent high-profile deaths, like those of Steve Jobs and Etta James, this news seemed to come from out of the blue.

AP was the first traditional organization to publish an alert with the news that night, and our editors quickly pushed their report out to our mobile users and across BreakingNews’ social channels.

Mobile traffic to the BreakingNews apps and mobile site exploded after we sent out our push alert. In total, we saw twice the number of mobile visits compared to desktop website visits on Saturday.

That first tweet we sent out had a link to AP’s report, which has been clicked on 119,000 times according to Twitter Analytics. It has been retweeted just under 7,300 times. According to Topsy Labs data, that link was the most retweeted article after the news broke, with 14,000 posts including it.

In total, we tweeted 11 updates on Saturday night with seven links pointing outward to news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post. Those links have generated a combined 290,000 clicks. We pushed out two more breaking updates on Sunday, including news that Houston’s daughter had been rushed to the hospital. That link to CBS News’ report has received nearly 54,000 clicks.

We can’t take all the credit for these high click-rates. Twitter Analytics only shows the total clicks on a link and doesn’t parse out the impact of individual tweets. But we’ve heard from several colleagues who’ve attributed their traffic spikes, in part, to our promotion of their content. And it’s worth noting that we’re only measuring Twitter clicks here, not clicks from Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, our website and mobile apps.

As we announced earlier this month, Breaking News is sending more than 100,000 referrals a day to news sites and social services. Our mission is to help time-crunched users navigate the sometimes confusing vortex of breaking news information. By distributing links, we serve users and reward content originators with traffic and a burst of social followers.

(Post by Lauren McCullough, @lfmccullough; Photo by Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images file)

5 tips to grow your Facebook page from scratch

We’ve passed a big milestone over on Breaking News’ Facebook page: 100,000 likes!

True, this is a pretty modest Facebook audience compared to many other major brands. But unlike some of those brands, Breaking News is still a relatively new entity in the news ecosystem. We launched our Facebook page on June 11, 2010. Like many newer brands, we face the challenge of growing our page’s audience without the support of an established, traditional publishing channel and with a modest marketing budget. Sound familiar?

We’re celebrating this 100,000 likes milestone (and more milestones to come) because we think we’ve honed in on a Facebook strategy that is delivering real results – higher engagement, stronger viral sharing and clear audience growth.

Based on our case study over the last few months, we’re sharing five tips to help you grow your Facebook page’s audience from scratch.

TIP 1: Metrics are your new best friend.

Facebook has really beefed up their Insights offering over the last six months, making huge swaths of detailed information available for export as well as easy dashboard viewing. Clearly, we all care about growing our likes. But in order to gain audience, you have to determine what activities contribute the most to that growth.

The good news: You don’t have to guess!

Here are the main categories of metrics we watch closely as we look for correlations to like spikes: 

  1. Volume of posts (per day and per month);
  2. Stories created (“stories” are likes, comments and shares on a post);
  3. Reach (the number of unique users who saw our posts, either organically in their News Feed or Ticker, directly on our page, paid or virally from a friend’s like, comment, share);
  4. Impressions (Facebook’s aspirational metric for possible times your posts could have been viewed);
  5.  Link clicks (how many times users clicked on URLs accompanying posts).

TIP 2: Map out a straightforward strategy with actionable goals that everyone buys in to.

Breaking news: Not everyone on your team is as obsessed with perfecting a Facebook post as you are. Getting everyone to buy in to your plan is key, and you can do that with a to-the-point strategy that focuses clearly on a small number of tactics that serve your main goal (growing likes). Identify clear actions everyone can take as part of their daily routines. Also identify how you will measure the success/failure of those actions.

This shouldn’t overwhelm your team and should keep everyone focused on actions that are truly important.

Here’s an example from our strategy document:

THEORY TO TEST: We can reach a higher number of Facebook users on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

PROPOSED ACTION: We posted 85 times on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October: We posted 43 posts on 4 Fridays; 27 posts on 5 Saturdays; and 15 posts on 5 Sundays.

Let’s aim to increase our monthly total Friday-Saturday-Sunday output to 120 posts (~30% increase), with an average of 10 posts per day.

HOW WE’LL MEASURE: We’ll compare our month-over-month Reach and Impression metrics.

TIP 3: Experiment with posting photos and asking Questions.

A few months back, several folks on the Breaking News team noticed that photos being shared in our personal News Feeds seemed to be standing out more. We decided to start experimenting with uploading images directly to our page (instead of linking out to them), and we’ve seen a huge boost in engagement and sharing as a result. Photos as a peg to share news work really well on Facebook, especially when the photos are unique.

Facebook Questions have proven to be a great way to get our Facebook audience talking about breaking news, especially when the question is related to a “talker” story. Generally, we try to ask at least 2 Questions a week on our page. We try to keep them short and easy to answer. We try to avoid Questions that ask users to second-guess court rulings or arrests, and we also try to avoid Questions that would require the user to be an expert on the subject-matter.

TIP 4: Experiment with Facebook advertising.

We’ve been experimenting with Facebook ads, flighting campaigns in small bursts to discover the most bang for our buck. For some campaigns, we tied it to an ongoing story in the news. In others, we used Facebook’s “sponsored story” product to plug the overall page. In all instances, we discovered social ads – only served to people whose friends have already liked the page – proved to be the most effective way to draw engaged fans at an affordable rate. Overall, we spent a very modest amount of money to expedite our growth.

TIP 5: Test, learn, adapt (repeat).

The key to any goal-setting process is to be agile. Breaking News on Facebook isn’t perfect, and we don’t claim to have all the answers. What we do have is a process to test and measure our theories for growing likes. This structure allows us to experiment and learn and then experiment again. We’re looking at our Facebook performance every month and we’re tweaking based on the results we’re seeing. We can brainstorm new experiments and plug them into the existing structure that our team has bought in to. In many ways, this kind of discipline is an even bigger win than passing 100,000 likes.

(Post by Lauren McCullough, @lfmccullough)