British newspaper gets 'silver surfers' blogging

Earlier this month, Britain's best selling non-tabloid newspaper, the Telegraph, launched its own social networking site called My Telegraph, and the results have been surprising. I caught up with the site's community manager, Shane Richmond, to find out more...

My Telegraph logo

A couple of months ago I wrote about USA Today newspaper adding personal publishing and social networking features to its website. At the time I was a little skeptical about its chances of success, making the argument that while social networking software has become a commodity, community isn't. My argument was that the old adage 'if you build it, they will come', doesn't always hold true, and I was unconvinced USA Today's readers would choose to write a blog hosted on the paper's website, rather than elsewhere (or if at all). Only in this case they did come, and in numbers. Almost two months into its launch, the site reported a 380% increase in new user registrations, and according to Nielsen/NetRatings, there has been a 21% increase in unique visitors.

I was therefore interested to hear that earlier this month, Britain's best selling non-tabloid newspaper, the Telegraph, launched its own social networking site called My Telegraph.

I caught up with the site's community manager (via email), Shane Richmond, to find out more...

Briefly describe the idea behind My Telegraph? My Telegraph is about community and personalisation. Readers can create their own blogs, form networks with other readers and comment on each other's articles. They can also save articles to read later and, soon, get personalised news feeds delivered straight to their page. Both aspects of the site are set to expand with further feature releases over the coming months.

My Telegraph homepage
What kind of response have you had?

The response has been fantastic. So far most of the promotion for My Telegraph has been directed at readers of the newspaper. We really weren't sure how easy it would be to convince them to blog but in fact almost 3,000 people have joined the site in the two weeks since we launched and half of those have tried their hand at blogging. What are the demographics of My Telegraph users?

The demographics make the response even more impressive. We have bloggers as young as 10 and as old as 81. Some of our most active bloggers are in their 50s and 60s - a group that I think is under-represented in the blogosphere at large. There are more teenagers than I expected, too. And, of course, plenty of people in between the oldsters and youngsters.

We have more men than women so far but hopefully that will change. And most of our bloggers are UK-based but we do have a healthy selection of vocal expats. I'm hoping we can expand the non-UK contingent of My Telegraph soon.

What have you learnt since launching?

The main thing we've learnt is just how many people there are out there who are dying for an opportunity to say their piece. It's really rewarding to watch as they find their feet and work out what they want to say.

Any issues or problems that you had to figure out with managing the community? The biggest issue was managing the vast amounts of material the community has been writing. At peak times we're averaging a new post every two minutes and finding ways into that content is very difficult. We've already re-designed the front page, based on feedback from users, to better cope with the amount of content and today we launched our third version of the Most Popular page which increases the visibility of more posts and people. What do you think is the incentive for people to contribute content to My Telegraph? e.g. why start a blog there and not someplace else? and do they get a chance of being published on the main site or the paper itself?

Our primary audience is people who read the Telegraph and have not so far tried blogging. There are plenty of them. Typically, they are too inexperienced or too busy to start blogging elsewhere. And then there's the question of audience - we can't all be Robert Scoble or Mike Arrington - when an ordinary person starts a blog, nobody shows up. We have offered encouragement and delivered an extremely simple but very powerful blog platform. More important than that, however, is the fact that we've delivered an audience. If people show up at My Telegraph with something to say, there is someone there who will read them and comment.

I'm convinced that the Telegraph branding plays a role in this. Vox, for example, styles itself as a blogging community but in fact the only thing Vox users have in common is their choice of blog platform. What My Telegraph readers have in common is an attachment to the Telegraph brand which, in turn, assumes a set of core values. Our bloggers possess these values in differing degrees and in some cases not at all but those assumed values frame the debate.

I'm not sure how much sense that makes but if you watch My Telegraph for a while you'll start to see what I mean.

And yes, some of them will see their work in the paper or on the main website.

Thanks Shane for taking the time out to answer my questions.