Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: an Interview with Colonel Tribune

Written on October 27, 2008 – 1:46 pm | by Brian Wallace |

Colonel Tribune

With us today is the Daniel Honigman, part of the social media team that’s responsible for Colonel Tribune, a persona formed for the Chicago Tribune. Thanks for joining us.

1- Give us some background about yourself.

My background is in reporting and traditional journalism. Right now, I work as a social media strategist for Tribune Interactive (Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, etc.), where I work on ways to build local and national communities around our content. I also help evangelize the use of Web 2.0 tools in the newsroom.

2 – What was the aha moment at Tribune that lead to the establishment of the Colonel? Is the team full-time dedicated to social media, or is it incorporated with other duties?

When I started with the Chicago Tribune, I looked at people’s touchpoints with the digital brand, and I saw that while there were some traditional ways people could reach the paper, including via e-mail, there was nothing to inspire the local digerati, really.

I thought about Facebook pages, YouTube pages and Twitter, and seeing that someone had already reserved @ChicagoTribune on there — it was an RSS feed — Bill Adee and I decided to create something, and we settled on Robert McCormick, an historic figure in Tribune lore. We built out a persona for the ChicagoTribune.com and, all of a sudden, we had our Colonel.

3 – Is this a fad? Surely there’s a beginning and end to things, but as web ambassadors, does social media seem like a worthy investment for the Chicago Tribune with long-term benefits?

From what we’ve seen, just from a traffic perspective, social media is worth the effort. But I believe that for local news organizations, it’s essential to create one-on-one connections with people in your market. But social media is something that all mainstream media should embrace, because it’s only going to get tougher and more cluttered out there.

4 – How does The Tribune use social media, and do you see it as a threat to your business? Many fear that blogging killed the journalist. Your thoughts?

It’s not a threat to the business. Traditional media has sold on a CPM model, but for mainstream media to survive, it has to think outside the box. As an industry, look for more aggregation.

But for newspapers to survive, they need to ratchet things down for a bit. If anything, blogging has been a shock to the journalism system. But journalists still have skills that many bloggers just don’t have: access and accuracy. They just need to embrace the 24-hour news cycle and, I believe, be format-agnostic.

5 – You’ve had some successes through social media, such as being able to report a bomb threat. Care to elaborate on the experience or share some others?

Just having a line to the social space can bring you all sorts of information that you may not have had before through traditional channels. As reporters cultivate their beats in real life, social media can help them tap into sources and audiences they never knew existed for their work.

The reason the Colonel got the tip, however, is that he has the reputation of a man who knows what’s going on. And if he doesn’t, he can try to find out. Not many people have that sort of connection with their hometown newspapers.

6 – What has the Chicago Tribune’s social media team found to be the best ROI sites for it’s efforts? What sort of strategies seem to work the best/least?

When we find them, we’ll tell you. The great thing about social media is that there’s no one right way to do it. Everyone’s feeling their way around the space right now, and it’ll probably continue to be that way for a while.

7 – Do you use any tools to monitor people submitting their articles to social media? How do you attempt to monitor your brand in social media?

Metrics are the Holy Grail of social media. Right now, I look at referrals, number of friends in different networks, number of brand mentions in different spaces, some direct feedback and the amount of conversation going on — both about the Chicago Tribune and about Colonel Tribune.

8 – Have you had any negative backlash from the self promotion? Example – when looking at the Colonel on Digg, 9 of the last 10 submissions were Chicago Tribune articles. We’ve seen in many cases that if a Digg user only submitted stories from a single source to which they are clearly connected, they would be flagged as a spammer, even if it was Techcrunch, Cracked or Ars Technica. In fact about the only person who can get away with submitting all his own content is Kevin Rose. Comments?

The thing about anything in social bookmarking sites is that if your content is good, it has a good chance get popular. Period.

But it’s not just about the content; you have to find other ways to contribute to these online communities, whether it’s submitting outside content, commenting on other stories or sharing other stories. It’s important to bring something else to the table and to show you’re willing to be a part of the group.

9  – Ok, so who would win in a fight – Colonel Tribune or Colonel Sanders?

Funny story: My girlfriend Mollie’s grandfather opened the first KFCs here in Chicago, so he and Colonel Sanders were good friends, actually. But I still think Colonel Tribune would win.  Colonel Tribune has a pretty big posse, you see.

Thanks again for speaking with us, Daniel!

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  2. Oct 28, 2008: Tidbit of the Day: Featured in Collective Thoughts » Daniel B. Honigman’s site (Chicago 2016 news, epicure, cigar reviews, etc.)

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