How journalists can make their time on social media more productive

by Irshad Daftari
Oct 30, 2018 in Social Media
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In the past 12 years that I’ve been working in newsrooms, it seems like more has changed in the past three than the first nine.

With the rise of new technologies and distribution platforms, more newsrooms have gotten their act together and become multimedia organizations, mixing the web and mobile with print and TV.

Sure, some may have initially scoffed at these new technologies (talk to some old-time print journalists and they still think that TV news is in for a comeuppance). So it’s heartening to see how Twitter and Facebook (and for younger journalists, Instagram and Snapchat) are now widely accepted as storytelling tools.

That doesn’t mean there’s a wide understanding for how to best use these tools. Take a regular newspaper or a TV channel in India (the country where I work as an ICFJ Google Fellow). Typically, their websites publish more than 400 new stories a day, sourced from their own journalists or wires. If we scale this up to a national-language daily, the number of stories being fed to the national desk is probably 5,000 a day. Imagine fitting all of that into a newspaper!

Given the amount of content that media organizations are publishing, how is a social media editor supposed to decide which stories are worth promoting? Which ones should be tweeted and shared multiple times?

On an average day, about 80 percent of a news website’s traffic will probably come from 20 percent of its stories, based on what I’ve seen in my work. So how do newsrooms and journalists squeeze the most out of their social media presence? Here’s a few tips:

1. Experiment. Even something as simple as changing a headline or an image on Facebook, or inserting different description texts on your tweets, could prompt a bigger reaction from your audience. These minor tweaks can determine whether your story will get a hundred clicks or just five. CoSchedule comes with a wonderful tool that lets you figure out which headlines may get a bigger reaction on social media.

2. Share and seek feedback. There’s an unspoken fear that social — and especially Facebook — is all light-hearted, frivolous fun, so passively posting your content and seeing what gets a reaction is the way to go. Nothing could be further from the truth. Organizations and journalists will get more engagement if they’re conversing with their followers rather than mechanically posting. To that end, open-ended posts, polls and live videos should be part of your social media arsenal. Keep the channels open for communication and prepare to be surprised.  

3. Analyze and reanalyze. Most major social platforms will provide you various analytics about your audiences that are simple to understand (Twitter does it for individual accounts; Facebook does it for pages). You’ll find data on when your audiences are most active, which posts and media get the most interaction and your most influential followers. Monitor each of these closely. Before long, you’ll figure out the right time to post links to more opinionated stories, the video or pic that’ll go with it, a few keywords that seem to attract more engagement and finally, whom you’ll need to tag to give it that little bit of organic boost.

None of this is really science. It’s all trial and error. Yet having a more nuanced approach to social media — one that is seeking a more specific outcome than getting all of your articles published on every platform — will lead to better engagement, and will make the time that journalists spend on social media more fruitful and productive.

Irshad Daftari, an experienced media strategist, specializes in digital journalism, audience engagement and news product development. He has a strong background training local journalists on the latest online journalism tools, including Google Fusion Tables, Dataminr, Newswhip, Facebook Live, interactive timelines and a variety of analytics platforms. Learn more about his work as an ICFJ Google Fellow here.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Jason Howie.