BBC News reveals social media-only service for Thailand

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A screen capture shows the Facebook page of BBC Thai. (Photo: BBC College of Journalism)

A screen capture shows the Facebook page of BBC Thai. (Photo: BBC College of Journalism)

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is pulling back the curtain on a social media-only news service targeting Thai citizens in response to the government’s temporary blockade on foreign news channels.

Three months ago, international news channels found themselves blocked in Thailand following a military coup by the Royal Thai Armed Forces. The BBC’s international broadcaster BBC World News was among the channels affected by the blackout.

Though temporary, the blockade prompted BBC executives to consider how their news would reach Thai citizens in the event of a future blackout.

“One of the missions of the BBC World Service is to provide impartial, accurate news to audiences around the world, particularly in countries where there is a clear need to receive independent news,” BBC World Service editor David Cuen wrote. “Thailand ticked all these boxes so we began to discuss possible responses.”

The broadcaster initially considered creating a separate portal on the BBC’s website specific to Thailand, but abandoned the idea after realizing that most young news consumers were turning to social media platforms for information, particularly after the military coup.

“In terms of social media, the platform that was getting most of their time was Facebook,” Cuen wrote. “Of the 26 million Facebook users, 23 million use it through a mobile device.”

Drawing upon the experience of two other regional-specific pages, the network launched a Facebook profile specific to Thailand, where BBC editors filed text, audio and video reports in both Thai and English. Facebook’s Notes feature was used as the content management system for text reports, while an Audioboo account was used to distribute multimedia reports from the BBC team.

“The producers from BBC Thai, who are after all the heart of this operation, quickly became digital journalists and enthusiasts telling stories with a mobile and social mind,” Cuen wrote.

So far, the experiment seems to be working: According to Cuen, BBC Thai has more than 100,000 fans on Facebook. News from the page has reached more than 5 million people across the Facebook platform, and Cuen says the stories have received over 400,000 interactions and shares.

Cuen says this is the first time the BBC has launched a digital operation entirely on social media, and the project was approached with a startup mentality instead of as an extension of the larger company.

“It’s a significant milestone for the BBC to launch a social news stream, and recognizes how important digital media has become,” Cuen says. “If that’s where our audience is, it’s where we need to be.”

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