One talk at Le Web London a couple of weeks ago that I got far more out of than I expected to do, was the one by Baratunde Thurston, late of satirical site The Onion. His appearances on This Week in Tech have always amused me, and I sat down expecting 20 minutes of amusement, and not much else.

Instead, I learnt a whole bunch of stuff about how to create great content, fast, on topic and in a way that really engages people.

Baratunde brutally eviscerated the pretensions and humourlessness of journalists who took The Onion‘s twitter coverage of a fictional siege of congress seriously. The completely lacked the nous to spot it was coming from a well-know satirical site. Or indeed to see that the idea of a bunch of armed congressmen holding children hostage was inherently ludicrous.

But he also showed how to make stuff for the teh interwebs that really works. The Onion’s process for making the most of big, attention grabbing events is just inspired:

  • Compile a list of links to archive content related to people likely to be featured at the event (say, the Oscars
  • Monitor the hashtag for the event, as well as event coverage
  • As people are mentioned, tweet out links to archive content that matches, using the event hashtag
  • Enjoy the traffic gains

Their use of online tools for brainstorming is interesting, too. For big events – like the death of Steve Jobs – the team pulled together a Google doc outlining all the possible stories with associated headlines they could do, before deciding which one would strike the right balance of humour and taste for their audience. This may be all in the service of satire – but there’s plenty more conventional journalists could learn from them about how to use online tools for effective team working and fast response to breaking news.

Here’s Baratunde talking about running a campaign on Foursquare:

And here’s the whole thing:

(I actually make a guest appearance in this one – look for me at about 8:10… 😉 )