5 Things the BBC Can Teach Us about Social Networks

The BBC recently published a set of editorial guidelines for interacting with social networking platforms and other third-party web sites. It’s part practical how-to for BBC producers, part Star Trek-like Prime Directive, complete with warnings to “be sensitive to the expectations of existing users of the specific site.”

The document hasn’t really gotten too much attention in the U.S.. In fact, I only found out about it through a German media blog. That’s unfortunate, because there’s definitely a few lessons in there for U.S. TV networks and online video startups alike.

Granted, some of the Beeb’s suggestions are due to the fact that they are a big, old and publicly funded broadcasting corporation. For instance, the guidelines call for caution when adding friends, because some of your friends may end up being less that polite later on, and you don’t want to endorse their behavior. That’s not exactly what the Robert “following 21,000 Twitter users” Scoble school of social networking would suggest.

Still, a lot of these rules about interacting with social networks make sense for old- and newteevee alike, which is why we picked five of the most important points:

Have an exit strategy. What’s true for Iraq is true for Facebook as well. Starting off with a splash and then slowly fading into oblivion isn’t a good strategy for social networks. There’s already enough blogs and profiles out there that haven’t been updated for months, which is why the guidelines asks: “What commitment are you willing to make to the site? Do you have the resources you need to keep it refreshed and relevant? For how long?”

Don’t mess with their culture. Instead, interact with users in a way that’s appropriate to the culture of the specific site, so users don’t get the feeling that you want to take over their community. From the guidelines: “If we add a BBC presence, we are joining their site rather than the opposite.”

Don’t be a security fanatic. Most sites have their own usage policies and dedicated employees to enforce them. Don’t set up your own private security measures if you can rely on the site and its community instead.

Link wisely. Broadcasters like the BBC have huge communities on their own, and they don’t need to redirect them to Twitter or Bebo to take over those communities. Instead, it’s fine to have separate audiences on your own site as well as other sites. The BBC always links back to its own properties, but it doesn’t use these properties to advertise its social networking presences. In their own words: “Links to social networking sites should be clearly editorially justifiable, as with any other external link.”

Hand over those keys. This is probably the most radical suggestion of all the guidelines. Many TV-related sites are only maintained for a limited time and get closed down or abandoned after a season or event is over. How about relying on the community to keep things going? Listen and learn: “It may be possible to hand a limited-life BBC page or profile over to the community which has grown around it, after a broadcast-led engagement has come to an end.”