Maybe newsrooms need to take a page from websites and use the “private beta mode” approach to introduce new hardware or software. There is nothing like watching the excitement as online users scramble to try and get an invite to a recently launched site. And the buzz those efforts creates amount to viral marketing that is hard to put a price tag on. So why couldn’t this work for your newsroom?
Traditionally, new initiatives are announced at a staff meeting or by memo, a timeline is attached, training sessions are scheduled and staffers are told that rollover will occur on X date. There is absolutely nothing exciting about that. Actually, no amount of kitch (you know the mouse pads, mini footballs, mugs, or pens that offer accompany these efforts) will excite a staff and truly engage them in the effort.
Now in the “private beta mode” approach there would be no distracting staff meetings or memos (that few actually entirely read). Instead, introduction would happen more subtly. Let’s say, for example, you want all reporters to start shooting their own video and plan to supply them with Nokia N95s (feel free to include me in that distribution by the way!). In this approach, you might select a core group of staffers (maybe some who are already tech savvy) and quietly corral them, explain that they are part of the “private beta” and provide them the new devices.
These staffers, won’t focus on having to shoot their own video and instead will be excited to be part of a select group chosen to use a new technology. You can tell them that they will help shape the program, that other reporters will be able to get the devices as the program develops and that you are excited to hear their thoughts and get their feedback. And this scales — you can do this in a small newsroom with one or two reporters and in a large newsroom with a dozen or more reporters.
In either case, members of the “private beta” will infect some with their excitement. They will show off, in this case, the device and what it can do. Others will be attracted by their excitement or by witnessing what these reporters are now capable of doing. After a period of time, you can implement a way for others to sign-up to be part of the program and then rollout the next round. Excitement will continue to grow and best of all, it will happen organically.
While this may sound like it will take longer then the traditional approach, I would maintain that it won’t. And in the end, even if it takes just as long, more staffers will be fully engaged when rollout is complete. As a whole, staffers will feel more ownership of the program and a sense of control that will infect the rest of their work.
This approach can work for everything from new phones and cameras to a new CMS or bookmarking software. And best of all, you can try it and if you decide it doesn’t work for your newsroom, you can still return to the traditional approach. But I think you’ll find that the viral nature of “private beta” will work for your newsroom just as it does for sites across the Internet.