The Washington Post (or, properly, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive) is one news outlet that gets social media: they seem to truly understand the the benefits that come from being a part of the broader internet conversation as well as the ability of user-generated content to build audience loyalty. Political operations interested in turning casual site visitors into passionate supporters can look to them as a model.
The Post was one of the first major media sites to host blogs, and the Post.com now fully embraces its own bloggers rather than sequestering them off as also-ran content (on the site’s top navigation bar, “Columns and Blogs” is a single link under “Opinion”). According to Post.com Opinion Editor Hal Strauss, they originally added blogs as an easy way to get additional content, but the ability of blogs to build a passionate audience quickly became obvious — an item by a popular blogger like Joel Achenbach can gin up a couple of hundred reader comments in a day.
The site is also very friendly to outside writers, with Technorati-powered “Who’s Blogging” features on most or all of its articles. Contrast this approach with that of the New York Times, which walls off much of its content behind a paid subscription barrier. When offered a choice between equally good Times and Post articles, is a site like e.politics going to point to the one that gives a reciprocal link in return or the one that acts as if the blogosphere doesn’t exist? Multiply that effect by the number of active bloggers, and you can see how significant this simple feature can be for traffic-building.
The Post.com recently took an even more radical step by forming its own blog ad network, making it a potential financial and promotional partner for bloggers!
Beyond blogs, the Post.com is seriously embracing the broader world of user-generated content and social media. Like many sites, they’re encouraging easy Del.icio.us tagging, but they’re also implementing reader comments on all news stories, starting with less controversial topics and expanding to political coverage after the editors are sure that the content filtering mechanisms work.
Next, according to a June presentation by Executive Editor James Brady, the site will encourage readers to create profile pages that gather all of their comments in a central place. Absolute genius — every reader becomes a potential author. Not only will this tie them more strongly to the site, but they’ll also have every incentive to spread the word about their own creations and draw more people to read the original articles. Turning a chunk of readers into both passionate fans and aggressive marketers is hard for a publication to beat.
Overall, the Post.com folks show an endearing tendency to try just about anything that might help build their audience, and I’m a big fan of editors who’ll throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. In a world in which many traditional media outlets are wondering how to survive, it may be the only approach that works.