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Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

What social media success looks like and how to achieve it

With hundreds of millions of internet users flocking to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and regional networks, news organisations have wanted to take advantage of the large audiences attracted to these networks and other social media. However, one of the most common questions has been how to measure success. Would success simply be measured in increased page viewsPage ViewsWhen the page is actually seen by the user. Some platforms, like Facebook cache…

At the recent News Rewired conference in London, journalists from newspapers, radio and television, and social media managers explained in concrete terms what social media success looks like and how to achieve it.

The Guardian, where I worked as blogs editor and latterly as digital research editor, has a well-deserved reputation for being a leader in social media. The Guardian’s community co-ordinator Hannah Waldram outlined what social media and community strategy success looked like for them:

Having key goals editorially, socially and commercially is important to the success of your digital journalism projects, and digital media allows you to measure where your strategy is succeeding and how you might modify your approach to get the best results. Here are some key questions you should ask and try to measure with your web analyticsWeb AnalyticsWeb analytics is the process of measuring, collecting, analyzing and reporting…

The last question might be difficult to answer unless you have a user registration system like the Guardian’s. Registration systems can give you much richer data about audience behaviour. Some users might be resistant to registration, but if you are clear about the value of registration to users, you’ll have a higher response rate. For instance, when the BBC rolled out its Have Your Say community platform, the majority of debates were pre-moderated, meaning that every comment had to be reviewed by a member of staff before going online. However, a handful of debates were post-moderated, comments would go live to the site without a staff member having to look at them. Users weren’t required to register, but if they did, they could take part in post-moderated debates.

How to build audience engagement

The News Rewired conference also provided a number of insights from journalists and broadcasters using social media in how to achieve the kind of success that Waldram outlined.

1. Journalists must be involved in carrying out your social media and community strategy. Waldram said, “You can’t just sit back and watch or set up the game and walk away, you have to participate and get involved.”

Such engagement not only benefits news organisations but also individual journalists as well as they try to build their profile and an audience for their journalism. You only have to look at Al Jazeera to see how they effectively used social media to reachReach1) unique users that visited the site over the course of the reporting period,…

2. Monitor social media to see what’s important to your audiences. Al Jazeera has not only used social media to promote its own content, but also makes smart editorial choices about how to amplify meaningful messages coming via social media by bringing them to their global audience. It has even dedicated an entire programme, The Stream, to tap into discussions on social media. Malika Bilal, co-presenter of the programme said the team looks at topics gaining traction on social media and turns those “into meaningful discussion that is not found in the mainstream”.

3. Be specific in your requests with a clear call to action for your readers, viewers or listeners. I was part of the launch team for the BBC’s World Have Your Say interactive radio programme, and I also helped co-present the programme. RosROS (Run-of-Site)The scheduling of Internet advertising whereby ads run across an entire site,…

4. Build contacts in social media just as you build contacts using traditional methods. When you are working to build up traditional contacts, you work hard to verify the credibility of their information and you build up trust with them over time. You can apply the same process to social media contacts, tapping into the expertise, experience and eye-witness accounts you find via social media contacts or social networks.

Some organisations such as the BBC and Al Jazeera have dedicated teams that evaluate social media contact. In the US, public radio has developed the Public Insight Network, which is a way to send focused requests and questionnaires to audience members who have expressed interest or have expertise about a story to share their experience or knowledge.

Making social media choices

Other than how to measure success, one of the questions I’m asked most often is how to stay on top of the dizzying pace of change  in social media and how to strategically choose which platforms to use. My advice is:

  • Go where you audience is. Focus on the platforms where your audience is talking about your coverage or the topics you cover.
  • Don’t try to be everywhere. That will dilute focus and over-stretch your staff.
  • Different social networks attract different users and foster different types of interaction. Learn the differences between social networks and social media platforms to decide how and when you use them.

At another News Rewired conference, Liz Heron, formerly at social media editor at the New York Times and now the director of social media and engagement at the Wall Street Journal, outlined the key strategic goals the Times had in terms of social media. She put the Times’ approach succinctly:

1. Be stragetic

2. Be different

3. Strive for meaningful interactions.

Social media and an effective community engagement strategy can definitely deliver larger and more loyal audiences. Combine this with a strategy to capture richer data about your audiences, and you can start to make a strong case to advertisers that you can deliver highly engaged audiences and target them effectively. That will help increase revenue and help you meet your commercial as well as your editorial and social goals.

Article by Kevin Anderson

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