Anyone overseeing a newsroom’s social channels quickly learns that they’re all unique. Tanita Gaither is the digital content manager for Gray’s WIS-TV in Columbia, SC. She tries to develop strategies that leverage the most powerful elements of each.
“There’s this old saying, ‘You break news on Twitter, you tell the story on Facebook.’ I still think that’s very true. You really can’t get a whole composite of the story on Twitter. You’re just kind of seeing what is happening in that moment, and things move so fast. But Facebook is definitely one place where you can continue to get updates.”
Though Gaither works to stay current with the social media of the moment, she says her station focuses on four primary platforms.
“It’s really Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and then Twitter is what our audience uses the most.”
Within that list, there are important distinctions.
Gaither says Facebook is still responsible for about 75 percent of the station’s page views, so it’s still the most important social platform for her newsroom and many others. Yet, she says your Facebook strategy cannot be all about pushing people to the website.
“You don’t want to give them promotions you want to give them product. So, what I like to do is have a story, whatever’s run on TV and use that instead of just a promo to a story.”
She also uses Facebook to keep good stories alive.
“That’s what really the community is looking for are follow-ups,” Gaither says. “They want to see your consistency.” She points to one story she posted about a woman who had adopted an older shelter dog that was dying from a tumor and had been mistreated for years. The woman created a Facebook page detailing the dog living out his “bucket list” and Gaither’s post went viral, but Gaither didn’t stop there.
“So, about a month after we did the story, and it was all over the place, the dog ended up dying. The [woman] flipped the Facebook page for him into a legacy page where other people got to share their senior dog stories.”
Gaither posted that follow-up story and got the station’s Facebook community engaged a second time.
“If you think something’s gonna pop and go viral, you think you’ve got a really good story, you’ve got about a 24-to-48-hour window to put that on your social and see where it goes.”
But what happens if your gut tells you the story is great, but the audience isn’t reacting?
“You could always change the headline to something a little bit catchier or a little bit more thumb-stopping as we say because people are on their phones,” Gaither suggests. “You could make a video with that post, you could make it a photo post if the photo is what the story is about. There’s a lot of different tricks and ideas you can play with to make the story work. Facebook changes things so much, so we have to really just play with that.”
Gaither sees a lot of potential in this platform.
“What I want to start doing with Snapchat is doing more video stories, kind of scanning the area for more viral content in addition to adding more of our local news stories that aren’t just the same as what we link up to on Facebook and direct back to the digital platforms with our app or our website or what have you.”
She thinks the platform may be the newsroom’s best hope of reaching a younger social audience.
“What a lot of folks my age feel is that they can’t identify with local TV news as it stands, so you have to use social media platforms like Snapchat to engage that audience.”
She points to the Snapchat channel of NBC News as an example of what she’d like to do with the platform on the local level.
“I think Instagram is more of a vanity showing the lighter side as opposed to telling a news story.”
She says none of the social platforms are great for recruiting people to watch the newscasts, however, and Instagram is no exception. What it is good for, according to Gaither, is giving the station personality.
“We use Instagram to show a lighter side of the newsroom…we’ll post, ‘Oh yay, we’re eating ice cream!’ that kind of thing. Just kind of the lighter side of the newsroom. That’s what that’s for. Like I said, I think it’s a little bit more vanity than it is news aggregator or storyteller.”
As Gaither puts it, “We don’t use Instagram to advance stories.”
Though the station has more than 124,000 followers on the platform, it plays a small role in the revenue picture for the station as it doesn’t drive web traffic.
“Actually, some recent market research in our DMA here says less than two percent of our page views come from Twitter—less than two percent.”
But Gaither recognizes there are additional reasons to be on Twitter and other social platforms.
“A lot of stories start there too, not just people calling in with tips. Along with that effort to meet people where they are, they want us to meet them there, too. That’s why we have our Messenger open because people still give us news that way as well. They don’t call as often but they might tweet at us or Facebook message us more.”
The bottom line for Gaither is that digital strategies in television newsrooms have to evolve.
“The buy-in has to be real on all platforms. The digital people have to buy into TV and that has to be reciprocated,” Gaither says, pointing out that, for too long, the focus has been on “how to make digital work for TV, not how to make digital work for the local audience. And, I think that’s what kind of hindered digital buy-in in a local newsroom. Television still pays the bills but in five years what will those bills look like?”