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Taking audience engagement to the next level

Al Jazeera's Femi Oke is revolutionising the audience engagement game. Here's how.

Al Jazeera’s Femi Oke is revolutionising the audience engagement game, earning a slew of staunch supporters as a result – our very own Alexandra Middleton among their ranks. Here’s everything you need to know about this ingenious new approach to fostering genuine connections with your audience members.

I’m here to confess. Despite all the advice given to me over the years and my own better judgement I’ve gone and committed one of the cardinal sins of professional conduct. I’ve mixed business with pleasure and have fallen in love with a colleague.

It was while attending Storyology, a four-day festival hosted by the Walkley Foundation, that I first laid eyes on my crush Femi Oke, the host of Al Jazeera’s TV program The Stream. Before I lay bare my emotions, let me set the scene for you. I have never been formally introduced to Oke or even worked directly alongside her, however she is a fellow journalist. Now I know what you’re thinking, that I’m a psychopath reminiscent of the 1992 hit film Single White Female, but let me explain myself.

My admiration for Oke is purely professional and a sentiment openly shared by her peers. Her fellow Storyology panellists, including Walkley-award winning journalist Monique Schafter, comedian/journalist/filmmaker Dan Ilic as well as Patrick Abboud and Marc Fennel, the hosts of the SBS2 news program The Feed, passionately sang their praises of Oke’s work.

With each of these journalists currently producing successful news programs in their own right, what’s driving Oke’s fan following, and what can businesses learn from her success?

I like to listen.
I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.
Most people never listen.
– Ernest Hemingway

Self-labelled as a social media community with its own daily TV show, The Stream proves that it’s not difficult to deliver content that truly interests your audience so long as you’re listening with intent. The way Oke and her team see it, rather than them selecting content that comes close, but may not completely satisfy, why not ask their audience what they want and how they want it.

Viewers can interact with the program’s producers via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram or Youtube, or even submit their own podcasts that run live during the show.

What makes The Stream so unique is that rather than viewers commenting after a program goes to air, The Stream uses these conversations to determine what goes into a program. The Stream not only pulls content from their own social media channels, it utilises the content curation program Storify to tap into conversations all over the web. Essentially, their content is based on what’s already happening on social media, not the other way around.

In a recent article, The Stream reported on the protests of a group of Washington DC middle school students whose teachers had reportedly been fired for adding black history to the social studies curriculum. Sourcing content via #MS2Protest, the article (read here in full) featured video interviews from local news stations.

Tweets from students:

Femi-Oke_1

Femi-Oke_3

Femi-Oke_2

And vines of protests in action:

https://vine.co/v/OFBBe0txMFL/embed/simple

By listening to the voices on the ground, The Stream is able to cover events that are highly topical, but may not be featured in other mainstream media. The result being raw, human and highly compelling stories that interest their audience.

Engaging your audience through storytelling (but not in the way you’d expect)

When developing a studio show, Oke takes audience involvement one step further. After identifying a topic of interest she will invite contributors from social media to form an editorial board, using the unique and varied insights offered by these individuals to decide on relevant interviewees.

For example, in the episode ‘Putting the Freeze on IVF’, The Stream looked at the fight over legalising in-vitro fertilisation in Costa Rica. Rather than interviewing an expert removed from the situation, The Stream spoke to those who know the situation best, including a live Skype call with a Costa Rican woman who was forced to travel to Colombia for IVF. The end result is one powerful piece of content.

Valuable lessons from Oke and her Stream dream team

As I veer dangerously close to fan girl status I’m sure you’ve realised that I could talk about Oke for days. But as a journalist working in a completely different space, what exactly has me so smitten? Well, it’s the simplicity of the approach itself. As a journalist or as a content creator working in the business world, it’s easy to get caught up in the process of producing content and even easier to lose site of the wants and needs of your audience.

The Stream proves that rather than banging your head against the wall trying to pinpoint what makes your audience tick, it really is as simple as asking them, listening to them and where possible, involving them in the process.

To finish up, here’s what my future wife Femi Oke and her team can teach you about effective storytelling and audience engagement:

  • Don’t make things more difficult for yourself than they have to be. Your audience is most likely capable, and willing to tell you what they want from their content.
  • Don’t follow the crowd. Use multiple channels to look more broadly for unique and compelling story ideas.
  • Your competitors may not be, but if people are talking about it, it could be newsworthy.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your audience participate in realtime in your content.
  • Don’t let logistics stand in your way. If Okes can organise a temporary internet connection to facilitate an overseas Skype interview. You’ve got no excuse.
  • Most importantly, don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve.
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