2. The truth about news

In my opinion, Metro’s WHY is conversation.

People might say that they read the news to be informed about the world, but the truth is that people are mainly looking for something to talk about.

This isn’t unique to Metro. New York Times says, “Where conversation begins”. Huff Post says, “Conversation starts here”. Guardian says, “Comment is free”. The buzz in BuzzFeed is the sound of people talking about their stories.

Our WHY doesn’t have to be unique – HOW we approach conversation can differentiate us. The WHY just has to be clear.

What do we mean by conversation?

Google gives this definition for conversation: “a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged”.

(For comparison, it says this about sharing: “have a portion of (something) with another or others”.)

Some people equate conversation with reader comments, but they are mistaken. Metro is about bringing conversations to life, not about having whole conversations happening on our website. People can talk about our stories on Facebook, email or offline, it doesn’t matter.

Conversation vs news

Conversation puts a different perspective on what stories to write.

News is… the Scottish Referendum. One of our most popular news stories about the referendum so far was this piece about John Prescott – it got nearly five hundred shares.

Conversation is… a “How Scottish are you?” quiz – it got over five thousand shares. That’s over ten times more shares (and five times as many views).

Conversation breaks us out of the news straightjacket. Our tag line conveys this, “news but not as you know it”. That’s fine as a tag line but it’s not a purpose. It defines what we’re NOT (news as you know it), but it doesn’t define what we ARE (a brand that brings conversation to life).

Then and now

Metro’s content has always been conversational (before BuzzFeed even existed). Over the last couple of years it’s been taken to another level, driven by our focus on “made to share”. The focus gave us a massive boost in social traffic, but the real win was developing our conversational approach – something that users really identify with.

Update February 2015: The sales brochure for Metro.co.uk’s parent company has the strap line, “Be part of the conversation”.

Update January 2016: Metro’s official marketing now says, “plenty of conversation starters – our newspaper makes mornings worth talking about”.

Mission

What if we had a mission: to start 0.25 million conversations a day by 2016? (We currently start around 70k conversations a day).

We could have a counter in our masthead.

It will take more than just a clear purpose though. Cue next post.

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