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Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Alex Marin: Benefits of Social Media

Alex Marin discusses the best practices of social media in the news business. He is a social media editor at  – a growing news & discussion platform that aims to spark thoughtful conversation among young people and give millennials a place to reachReach1) unique users that visited the site over the course of the reporting period,…


When did you first start integrating PolicyMic with Facebook and Twitter, and why?

Well, the company was founded in 2011 and as soon as it started they already had Facebook and Twitter. I initially worked doing SEOSEO (Search engine optimisation)The process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a mobile web site…

Do you see an increase of the people that are referred from social media?

Yes, definitely. For the last year social traffic has grown. It has been slowly but steady.

What about traffic from Google?

It is growing too. As we get older we get a better ranking on Google, our stories get ranked better, so we will keep getting more traffic, hopefully, from Google.

What about direct?

That started out really, really small, and now it is getting larger.

So it is really just direct, Google and Facebook that drive traffic to your news site?

Yes, and then Twitter and Facebook are different. Like I said before, we used to post a blog and then post a story and then post it on Facebook. Now we are actually creating content specifically for Facebook. We are just like any other company or organization that has adjusted their social media efforts over time. What worked yesterday does not necessarily work tomorrow. It is very unstable like that. But I want to close with Twitter and Facebook saying that the content people share on Facebook is more targeted to emotions. Or if you are the first to break a news story, it is just going to go crazy. One example is the Boston bombing. Someone tweeted a photo on Twitter right away and posted it on Facebook and it got shared like crazy. And then Facebook gives you the alternative that if you post a photo you can actually edit the blur, so you can just break a story on Facebook and then you can just link it to your post and it keeps going viral. So that is one way of getting Facebook traffic.

So you don’t post an article on your news site and then share it with a headline and a link on Facebook?

That is what we used to do. And think that is fine. But now we are trying the exploit the breaking news aspect of Facebook. So if, let’s say, they pass gay marriage, right. If you are one of the first pages to break it, it is going to go viral. But if you in a week from now post a story saying, ‘this is the legislation, this is what it means, and this is how it is going to work, and you post that on Facebook, it is not going to go anywhere because people have already heard about it all week. You also won’t get a lot of traffic posting a story that is not breaking but is kind of like a divisive story – women’s rights, gay marriage, abortion, religion – it’s a no no! You do get engagement from comments. (On Facebook you have different ways of measuring your impact, and it is going to depend on your strategy and whatever you are looking for. You can have likes, you can have shares, you can have comments.) But from these political, divisive issues you don’t get a lot of likes. You get a lot of comments and they are very toxic. By toxic I mean, you have to monitor it, making sure it is not something crazy, outrageous that you have to hide or delete. It is really not worth, going that way – for us right now, for our sort of objective company. For other ultra liberal or ultra conservative news companies that have really passionate followings, they of course are going to get all that traffic. But for us right now, that is not what we are doing.

So where do you see any kind of business opportunities emerge on these platforms for a news company?

Hm, I don’t work in the sales department. But we use Twitter to get more engagement and create more awareness of our brand. Our brand is becoming more well-know because of Twitter where we get tweeted and retweeted by professional polits or TV personalities, and huge traffic from that. So in that sense, it helps our brand. And then you have the chance to connect and network with other media. Yesterday, we had a mention in the New York Times, in one of the columns. So we got to interact on Twitter with the writer, Charles Blow, so in that sense that was a way to create awareness about our news brand. Absolutely!

What about loyalty? Do you think people that interact on Facebook and Twitter tend to be engaged with your site, or be more loyal readers?

Well, I found out that Facebook is probably a better place to create loyalty than Twitter – just because Twitter is very fast and the feeds come by the second. But you do get, I guess… The way we started our brand is sort of like crowd sourced knowledge or opinion for and by millennials, so in the same way our social presence is very crowd sourced in the sense that I’m in charge of PolicyMic’s Twitter feed, but let’s say some story get published, then more than just me tweeting this story on behalf of PolicyMic, I would rather have the same writer who wrote the story, tweet it from his or her personal social media account so you can see the face of the writer, and then his or her following gets that crowd sourced feeling. So there is loyalty in the sense that there is going to Twitter users that are interested in women’s right so every time our women’s right, writers post something or tweet something there is going to be that engagement; they are going to retweet it or they are going to reply, and there is going to a conversation based on that article and whatever hashtag about what people are for, or against. Like for example, they think Monsanto is awful or they love Monsanto, or whatever it is. You have people constantly engaging in the news.

And do you see that benefitting the financial viability of your website?

Well, again Twitter is a smaller piece of our social traffic pie, but that is an interesting question. We have some writers prefer to … at the bottom of their article they say follow me on Twitter or get in on the conversation on Twitter. Some people feel that it is going to take away comments from the actual comment section on our site, and other people on the contrary people believe that is going to compound the whole thing. I think more the latter. I do believe that the more interaction outside our site is good as long as you constantly have your social presence connected to your site, constantly trying to refer people back to your site, and vice versa – to your Twitter feed and your Facebook pagePageA document having a specific URL and comprised of a set of associated files. A…

So what do you do on your site to connect your Facebook page and Twitter feed to it?

Well, right now we our redesigning our page. So we are going to have much more social buttons all over the place. We don’t have as many right now. Also we encourage our writers to a) under their Twitter bio say, ‘I write for Policy Mic’, so you can clickClickA click can denote several different things. It can be a metric that…

Do you see that happening right now?

Yes, social traffic is definitely increasing from Twitter. But it is also a matter of working along side the writers, sort of like coaching them on Twitter as well. Not a lot of people are on Twitter and if they are they don’t tweet as often. So we constantly give our writers tips on how to get better at Twitter. To me, it is supposed to leverage your audiences. And the way I see our Twitter and Facebook feeds right know, is almost like another section of our site. So we have politics, we have feminism, we have international and then I see Facebook and Twitter as just some sections that we create content for and get traffic back from.

So the type content that sits well with people on social media sites is more like breaking news, you said?

Yes, for Twitter it is breaking news, and also social groups the users belong to and identify with. So if you grew up an immigrant, or you are a European, or gay, or fighting for women’s rights, anything, African-Americans, Latinos. If it is things that people feel strongly about they are going to take action. That is what social media is about, triggering action. It is not about people looking at their feed thinking whatever. But it is about getting them to reply or retweet.

So you send out something on social media sites to creation action?

Absolutely. That should be the goal.

Does every journalist from PolicyMic dedicate a specific amount of time to Facebook and Twitter?

We post 100 articles per day right now, so every time an article comes out … well, we publish one hundred and … you know, on Twitter you can tweet everything, it doesn’t matter. But on Facebook, we have to space it out. Otherwise people would see it as spamSpamTerm describing unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Why is that different?

I think it is because there are much more tweets, there are like million of tweets. On Facebook people post whatever on their personal pages, but for a brand you could risk being annoying or polarizing. It is a reason for people to just unfollow.

But that doesn’t happen on Twitter?

I don’t think so. On Facebook you may have like 500 or 700 friends, on Twitter people have 20,000 so the turn around is much faster. The thing with social media is, you know, we all use social media more of less, so when you send out news you have to put yourself in the user’s shoes, thinking what annoys you, what would you like, what would you tweet and retweet. So I guess, you have less Facebook friends and you may think that the first article about IRS or Obama is great, but the when the second one comes, you think what is next, I’m over it. So for that reason we don’t get to post as many articles on Facebook. So instead we post a story and then we also post an infographic or some image from a company or a peer research, so we don’t get perceived as too pushy or self-promoting or self-serving – that annoys people, and they will just unfollow you. So for that reason you cant really push everything on Facebook. And that is what I fight with editors and writers about every day. They are like, ‘post my article, post my article’. Also, Facebook is very performance based, so if you want to keep it free your posts have to perform. So you post something and it gets all these likes, then the next post is going to have a large audience. But if you post something that doesn’t get a lot of reaction, your next post is going to get just a couple of likes, just forget it. It is just going to reduce your audience. I know you can pay for it by getting people to promote your posts, but we are not on that phase yet. At some point we will start doing it. But for us right now it is just about making our content perform well, so we can get as much traffic as possible. The same as we did, and keep doing, with Google.

So was it the individual journalist or you that share the news on social media?

Both. But in my ideal world, the journalists are very engaged on social media and have a large following, so they can always post their own articles. Again, it comes back to leverage, you know. It is much better if we have a community where people engage, than having only one or two person engage. It is an exponential-effect. That is what social media and viral reality is about. It is basically exponential, you know, two times four, and then six and then eight. So that would be ideal.

How many hours a day do you think the average journalists from PolicyMic spend on Facebook and Twitter right now?

Hm, I will say, uh … uh, probably three to four hours a day on average. Again, we are sort of changing into an integrated, simultaneous culture, where you have a tap open on your site, a tap open on Twitter, a tap open on Facebook, etc. because you are constantly getting ideas from Facebook as well as breaking news from Twitter that is feeding into your news feed. So it is not anymore about writing one article and then posting it, it is more like … do you know, those tweet-curated sites? One of them is called TweetSheet. It is basically a blog that, instead of writing about some news story, mine Twitter for the power users and the actual sources tweeting about it in real time, and then they lay out all the tweets. That is how they tell the whole story. I think that is where media is going. So that is where PolicyMic should be going, I think. So it really has to be simultaneous. With Twitter being so instantaneous and so fast, if you disconnect for a couple of hours to write a story, you have things happening and changing in the meantime with your story. So it is just going be faster and more real-timeReal-timeEvents that happen “live” at a particular moment. When one chats in a chat…

Do you have any benchmarks for success with your strategies on Facebook and Twitter?

Well, our strategy is to drive as much traffic as possible. We have ads of course, but we also have investors, venture capitals, so they are going to be looking at the numbers and the reach – social and Google. So for us, it is about driving as much high-quality traffic in our demographic, which is millennialls. In the past, we were doing stuff with pop culture and driving all this traffic from celebrities. And it was great. We had a lot of traffic. But it is not necessarily one hundred percent in tune with our mission and with our demographic.

So you are looking mostly at volume metrics?

Yes definitely. But also … I guess another business opportunity would be to partner with other similar news news sites and personalities, or even larger sites like the New York Times. Just to keep that engagement with them and hopefully get them to mention our brand on their much larger sites so we can bring even more traffic and also even more people to write for our site, which will in turn help our brand. We have posts from Paul Franc, the former congress man from Massachusetts, Paul Ryan, the senator that is probably going to be the presidential candidate, Clare Macasgo, etc. It has been great because, for instance Senator Clare Macasgo wrote about sexual assaults in the military, so we gained not only specific traffic concerned with that particular issue, and internal engagement on Twitter and Facebook, but also … we were one of the first sites to report on that news story, and it became a big issue in the mainstream media, so that was a gain for us in terms of traffic and brand wise – having our name associated with a United State senator. It gives us a lot of credibility.

So in that way social media helps you attract advertisers?

Yes, I guess. Because if you want to sell a product to millennialls, and you see that the United State senator is writing on our page, it probably has more credibility than more amateurish college blogs – not that there is something wrong with these blogs and all companies have different targets, like … but I guess in that sense, I mean, I haven’t seen the actual metrics on how social media has helped bring in more brands, but if browse on our site you are going to see big brands advertise on a regular basis. So I think it has made a positive business opportunity.

Do you think social engagement metrics will help attract advertisers?

Yes, I guess from an advertiser’s point of view you want to see the numbers on their traffic, but also their Facebook and Twitter feeds. You want so see how many fans, followers and likes they have, and if people interact on every single post. I’m not in advertising but we do advertising ideas in a way, so I would say the more social engagement you have, the better for attracting advertisers and also business opportunity partnerships. Right now, we have a potential partnership in the works with one of the big media companies, so in way they have been able to find us because of tweets or Facebook posts they saw somewhere, a share and then they tracked back to the site. So absolutely!

To answer your question about if it is worthwhile to engage in these social networks, I would say as long as it is free and easy to use, absolutely. Beside free and easy to use, the advantage is that you can pretty much mole that into your mission statement or your brand identity. And Twitter is just like … I can’t tell people enough how amazing Twitter is. I started on Twitter in 08, and people didn’t get it and it annoyed me a little bit. But I would say stick with it, get into it because not only do you get these business opportunities, it’s basically like you have a real time focus group in your pocket, in your Twitter app. Anything you want to know about anything basically you can see there. You see what kind of opinions people have in real time. It is probably not terribly scientific as a pole, but still it is very useful.

So Twitter is more about feeling what is out there, getting to know your audience, whereas Facebook from a business perspective is a generator of traffic?

Yes, well, Twitter is also about breaking news like the Boston marathon. So you keep tweeting about it and if you do it the right way, you get a lot of mentions and retweets and favorites, which is going to rank your tweets up. So people who are searching for some news story will see your tweets first. So it is all about keeping your ranking up there, just like on Google. Twitter is the same. And yes, you basically want to keep an engaged and hopefully large audience.

But since Twitter is not as much a generator of traffic, it is still worthwhile for a news company to integrate with from a business perspective?

Yes, for us it is not that large, but there are other news sites that get all there traffic from Twitter because they have a different strategy and different missions and different approaches. I don’t know if you know Buzzfeed – it is a viral blog. Almost 100 percent of there traffic is from Facebook as opposed to Google. So it depends on how you approach it. But even if you don’t generate traffic from Twitter, you create a lot of brand awarenessBrand AwarenessResearch studies can associate ad effectiveness to measure the impact of online…

Yes, but you kind of need the traffic to create brand awareness as well. If you don’t get a lot of traffic, they won’t be aware. But if people retweet your content, your brand will get around on Twitter, right?

Yes, absolutely! But you better realize that there are a lot of people that get their news from their Twitter feeds, who don’t necessarily go to your site. So I guess in that sense you definitely need to be out there. Ideally, you have a lot of engagement and brand presence. But people are going to be searching. They are going to search “New York Times Facebook” because they want to go to that particular company Facebook page or Twitter page. I don’t know exactly how many, but I don’t see a lot of people doing that, so I would say that it is probably decreasing that you go to a browserBrowserA software program that can request, download, cache and display documents…

Do you see any disadvantages of integrating with Facebook and Twitter? Any risks that you may be taking?

Uh, well, I would say, you risk being inaccurate in the name of being fast and being first, which is not going to change. We are a for-profit company, we are running a business, so we need the traffic, we need to make the calls everyday, we are going to try to break the news first. There is going to be some risks, like, you have to say this information may not be confirmed yet, or if the New York Times said or the CNN said it, you say it. So I guess the disadvantage for your brand is that if you are trying to be a respected news organization. But I guess that is the risk that you have to learn how to manage, because people are going to be tweeting, and as much as the users are going to complain, they are going to be the first to search for breaking news on Twitter. They want to be the first to get the information to tell their friends or coworkers. You don’t want to be the last guy knowing that Michael Jackson died. You want to be the first one, so people can say “holly shit”. So yes, that would be a downside.

Do you think there is a risk in linking out your news items on social media or to other news aggregators? Perhaps, readers won’t come back to your site.

Yes, that is something you also have to work on. I worked on mobile advertising before and we had these conversions. People actually pay per-click in that business. So you actually want that traffic coming back to your site, and not only do you want them to come back to your site, you want them to perform an action, whether it is buying something or, in our case, share the news story. So you definitely want that, and that is tricky. But I don’t think it is different from traditional advertising, where you have to track how many people come to your products, and how do you do that? I guess that is also another risk internally. It depends on how you measure your success.

How do you do that?

Like I said before, ideally it is about driving traffic to our site. Secondary, it is about increasing our social media footprint. So even if a hundred percent of people from that tweet or that post don’t come to our site, if their friends see on their profiles that someone liked a PolicyMic article that is still a win for us, because maybe that person will be like, “oh that looks interesting.” The bottom line is driving traffic into a site. And if you are selling products, you better have people auditing that product. That is the bottom line.

So are you actually taking a bigger risk not being on these platforms?

Absolutely! As long as it stays free and easy to use. They have huge audiences that you can reach. I mean, how could you not want to reach that? Any downside that it could have, the benefits totally outweigh. Going back to your question if it is worthwhile for a news company to spend human capital or money on Facebook and Twitter, it is going to depend on your strategy, but you definitely should have a social media presence. Right now, on Pinterest and Tumblr we do have a smaller audience and we post, and every here and there a post go viral and we get traffic from that, but we don’t have people dedicated completely to these platforms. Maybe if we hire someone else, someone who can dedicate more time to Pinterest or Tumblr that would be great. But you have to allocate your resources depending on what your priorities are. So if you have one guy doing social media and if you see that you get much more traffic and conversions from Facebook than on Twitter, by all means invest more time and effort on Facebook, but do not neglect the other ones. And as you get more resources you can basically allocate them better. But I guess the bottom line is, how could you not be on social media, whether you are a NGO or a vitamin shop. You know, Jamba Juice they have all these promos and stuff that creates huge engagement. And they are not charging you for that on Facebook or Twitter. They could charge you for that. Facebook encourages you to use promoted posts, and yes if you have the budget and you want to promote posts by all means. The reason why Yahoo bought Tumblr is because they are now doing promoted posts, so they are going to start charging people who want to reach specific demographicsDemographicsCommon characteristics used for population or audience segmentation, such as…

Article by Ulrikke Albertsen

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