Two things we know about social media. Sharing news is easy. Engaging the audience is hard. So why bother?
Engagement is key to building an audience for the journalism you work so hard to produce. Here are three tips for boosting engagement that I shared at the Broadcast Education Association conference in Las Vegas earlier this month.
1. Know your audience.
The BBC’s Facebook page for its soccer program, Match of the Day, has more than 2.7 million followers. What it didn’t have was much success referring its Facebook fans to the BBC website.
That changed when social media managers became more intentional about engagement. Digital development editor Chris Hurst says referrals grew by 6000% after making some changes on Facebook: more “fun” posts, regular Q&A sessions with pundits, and many more replies to fan comments. They also used analytics to figure out how and when to post to get the most referrals.
2. Target the right audience.
Facebook now allows pages to target fans by interests in addition to age, gender and location. The New York Times is experimenting with sharing TV show recaps on Facebook only with fans of the show in question, reaching a smaller but more passionate audience. The newspaper has seen spikes in engagement that sometimes reach 30 to 40 times what a normal post would elicit. VOX Media’s sports site SBNation targets posts to fans of specific teams. Any local news organization could do the same.
3. Use the medium correctly.
Twitter may be a megaphone but your message won’t go far if you don’t know how it works. Consider two tweets sent out the night a man was shot at the U. S. Census Bureau outside Washington, D.C. Both are from journalists, but you’d never know it from the first one. Clarence Williams is a reporter at the Washington Post. He has 227 followers. His tweet makes no mention of his employer (@washingtonpost), which has more than 4 million followers. Opportunity missed.
Producer Margo Shear (560 followers) does mention her employer in her tweet, so it’s amplified to the 66,000 plus followers of the television station, @wusa9. She also includes a hashtag, to make sure the tweet reaches anyone following the story that way.
One more point about engagement on social media: it’s a moving target. Facebook and Twitter are the big dogs, but it seems like there’s a new puppy up for adoption every week. Meerkat and Periscope make live video streaming easy for anyone with a smartphone, and allow users to comment on or ask questions about what they’re watching. Messaging apps like Snapchat are being used to share news. And even the anonymous gossip app YikYak may have news applications: the University of Florida’s J-school is experimenting with a YikYak feed, sharing campus news in the Gainesville area.
Whatever social sharing site or app you use, engaging the audience takes work. If you’ve tried something new and seen it pay off, we’d love to hear about it.
A version of this piece was previously posted at Advancing the Story