Community-building tips for newsrooms

by Kristin Deasy
Oct 30, 2018 in Miscellaneous

In a world connected by social media, journalists can no longer serve up the news with the attitude that “we are the experts, and we’re going to give it to you in the format that suits us, in the way that suits us,” said community-building specialist Jeanne Brooks.

Instead, she said, a news organization should engage its audience and create its news and information products--whether those are articles, apps or even a radio station--in response to audience needs.

Brooks, executive director of Hacks/Hackers, shared her advice on community building at the recent Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires Media Party and with IJNet before her presentation.

Brooks is a big proponent of design thinking, an approach in which you craft your work to meet a specific audience’s needs. That’s the approach she took as a project manager for New York public radio station WNYC’s successful Clock Your Sleep initiative, which invited participants to track their sleep patterns twice a day over a period of two months. “Design thinking gives you the proper framework for building a solid foundation so that your product reaches the communities that you want to reach in the places that they need to be reached,” she explained. Here are some of Brooks' tips:

Know your audience

If your goal is to reach everyone, everywhere, “that’s a pipe dream,” Brooks told listeners during her presentation on Friday.

Instead, you need to “understand who the user is, and the audience you want to be reaching, and identify the ways to reach them,” she said. “And then build your product accordingly.”

To get to know your audience better, you could survey them about their needs or invite them to share their thoughts on the air or in print. Then “get all of your team in a room to figure out who you need to be reaching, and how,” and set goals for growth.

She also emphasized the importance of knowing the age and communication needs of the people you want to engage. Older people often prefer email newsletters, she said, while teens may respond more quickly on hot new apps like Snapchat.

Form partnerships

Brooks said reaching out personally to small, grassroots community groups can be just as valuable as partnering with big companies. She’s found that collaborating with small subcultures that are already engaged in an issue you’re working on can be more effective than launching a full-blown social media campaign from scratch.

Make simple and direct “asks”

When you run an online campaign, “you have to make sure you know what you’re asking people to do,” Brooks said. Do you want them to read the article? Post it on Facebook? “Like” it? Comment on it? Pick one or two such requests, or “asks,” and simply make them.

Empower community influencers

For journalists, community influencers are likely to be “super-users,” the people who comment on your articles, share them often, or email you about them. This calls for a response from you. For example, you could give a “micro-affirmation,” such as marking one of their tweets as a favorite. You could respond directly to their thoughts on your piece, both to thank them for participating and to encouraging them to do more of it. That kind of response is very empowering for people, Brooks said.

Deasy is a Buenos Aires-based freelance journalist.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Alessandro Prada under a Creative Commons license.