10 tips for stations
using interactive web tools
Social media: It’s how people know you, how they come to listen
Twenty-four-hour news networks, an infinitely expanding blogosphere, and ever-updated news sites: It’s a rushing river of information with growing new tributaries fed by social media.
But if you think all media consumers are inundated by all of this information, you’re wrong. “People are becoming much more savvy,” says Todd Mundt, chief content officer at Louisville Public Media. “There’s a river of news flowing by, and they can step in or step out of it at their will. They can manage it.”
One of the easiest ways to manage all of that information turns out to be social media, even though it may seem like an indirect route to information. Users find meaningful information online by following the guidance of a trusted network of like-minded friends. And content producers can use these same personal networks to capture readers’ attention.
But for producers, using social media effectively requires a solid strategy.
Here are 10 tips, gleaned from interviews with public media professionals, for creating a social media strategy that swims along the current.
1. Get everyone involved and proficient with social media, including you. Knowing how to use these tools on a personal level is part of basic competency for media professionals today. Many listeners know these tools. It’s a part of life that isn’t going away anytime soon.
Andy Carvin is a senior strategist who oversees NPR’s social media desk. “We manage our major social media activities, such as our flagship page on Facebook, or our major Twitter accounts, but then we work with individuals and shows here to teach them how to use social media successfully,” Carvin says.
“Ultimately, all the folks who work here are expected to run their own activities because the public doesn’t want to see a particular host or a particular producer as filtered through Andy Carvin,” he says. “That’s not an authentic experience, and it’s not a productive one, for that matter, either.”
2. Make a plan. What can social media do for your station’s service to the public, and how? With these goals in mind, who will be in charge of each Twitter account and Facebook page? How often should you post updates? These questions need to be answered with a plan.
Julia Schrenkler, an interactive producer at Minnesota Public Radio, says each of MPR’s social media accounts has a “social media production sheet.” It lists the URL, title, expected frequency of posting, the topic the account will cover and the kind of audience it seeks to reach.
3. Create a family of accounts to highlight your specialties. Facebook and Twitter are great ways to emphasize the reporting that sets you apart from other news organizations. This is how Adam Schweigert, an interactive producer at Indiana Public Media’s WFIU-FM in Bloomington, quadrupled its number of fans and followers in less than a year. The service most valuable to users is the one that concentrates on the particular niche topics they care about most. If your station has an arts reporter, you can dedicate a Facebook page and/or a Twitter feed to promoting the arts coverage and interacting with people engaged in that community.
4. Get help from third-party software to keep up with social media. There is plenty of free-to-download, easy-to-use software to help you track activity in both your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Seesmic, for example, is desktop or smartphone software for handling Facebook and Twitter. HootSuite, TweetDeck and Twhirl are other free tools available online.
You can use the website TweetReach to get reports on how many users a tweet, link or topic reached. The report breaks down the total users reached by specifying how users shared your content and who shared it the most.
5. Embrace your new branding: your users’ experience. That’s ultimately more important than your logo or positioning slogan.
Social media can help you brand your station, says John Proffitt, a social-media advocate who has worked with stations in Anchorage and St. Louis. The traditional method of branding was to pick a color scheme and a catchy logo and basically beat them into heads of listeners through repetition. Now, Proffitt says, “the way you get to know me is by interacting with me, by doing things that are experiential over time.”
6. Realize: Social media isn’t just for kids. It brings with it a kind of diversity. Carvin says the average public radio listener is in the mid-50s, while the average podcast listener is in the mid-30s, and the average NPR fan on Facebook is from generation X or Y. “So the very nature of interacting with people on all of these different platforms is going to expand your audience,” he says.
It’s also important to consider who is using social media. When Laura Leslie, Capital Bureau chief for WUNC in North Carolina, uses Twitter, she’s not necessarily hoping to reach kids and college students. She wants listeners of any age who are deeply engaged with state politics and may also become terrific sources.
“A lot of the people who are on [Twitter] tend to be the early adopters, the thought-leaders, the public figures that you want to know what’s going on,” she says. “It is a news service, and if you use it right, and you’re following the right people, it can be a great service to your newsgathering and a service to your listeners.”
Some fans have the skills to virtually join your promotion team. When Michigan Radio staffers got to know Facebook, they realized how many uber-fans they have out there. Facebook users had built fan pages for two Michigan Radio hosts before the station created its own page on the site in 2008.
7. Be cautious. Remember that Twitter and Facebook have business plans that are more important to them than yours are. They’re not necessarily set up for easy use by news organizations — or any customer service that takes much of their staff time. North Country Public Radio in upstate New York learned this firsthand. Back in the springtime, Facebook users found they couldn’t reach NCPR’s website through Facebook. For some reason, Facebook had labeled NCPR’s content malicious or inappropriate. Jackie Souter, NCPR programming director, says she and the station’s webmaster repeatedly called and e-mailed Facebook but could not get anyone to help them. Almost two months later, the obstacle was lifted without explanation. Souter says she has no idea if the block will come back.
“Facebook not only has the right, it has the obligation to protect its users from abusive content,” acknowledges NCPR’s webmaster Chris Hobson. But he wishes Facebook offered more guidance and protection for organizations who use it as part of their business plans.
8. Don’t be a link farm. If users feel there isn’t a real person behind the posts, they’re likely to feel no need to interact with the account. Setting up your website to post updates automatically to Facebook and Twitter may seem a great way to save your time, but it doesn’t use either tool to its full potential.
“If something is a feed, people tend not to engage with it,” says Schweigert. Twitter users who just spew out headlines and links are nothing more than “link farms” — and they’re easily ignored by social media users.
So don’t just post for the sake of posting to Facebook and Twitter. Take the time to make your posts interesting and engaging. Be creative with the way you introduce a link to a story, and show a genuine interest in your audience by asking them questions. Your audience will feel there’s a real person behind the posts, and will be more likely to interact with you.
9. Cross-promote. Make it easy to find your Facebook and Twitter account on your web page. Promote your social media presence on the air. And of course, use social media to promote upcoming stories and links to past stories; doing this helps the story reach more of your audience.
Cross-promotion can help you recruit Twitter followers for newer and less-known accounts. Use a popular Twitter account to retweet posts from a lesser account and boost its popularity, as Indiana Public Media has done.
10. Give up on metrics. Will social media convert more of your listeners into donating members? No one knows yet, though it appears they may be more inclined to donate because they’re more engaged with your content. Users of the Bloomington station’s Facebook site spend 50 percent more time on its website than other Internet surfers. Facebook users also spend 75 percent more time on IPM’s site than users referred from Google.
Schweigert also says social media is a dependable source of traffic to the site: In any given month, Facebook and Twitter each contribute five to ten percent of page views.
It may be early to assume what statistical differences like that will mean to your ultimate performance as a public service. Chris Worthington, managing director of news at Minnesota Public Radio, says “experimentation and exploration around audience engagement” is the No. 1 reason for broadcasters to use social media. “I don’t think anybody knows how this is going to pay off, whether you have a million followers or 5,000. But it feels like the right thing to do, given where some of the audience is right now, and how the audience is spending some of its time. I think the challenge is how to create meaningful connections on those platforms to your news content.”
Brady Carlson, webmaster for New Hampshire Public Radio, says that some stations take the wrong approach when thinking about social media. “It always comes back to, ‘How can my station benefit from this?’”
Carlson says he favors the opposite approach. “When we put a news story together, we don’t think, ‘How can I get something out of this.’ It’s ‘How can my listeners benefit from this?’” The same question should be asked of social media, he says: How can listeners benefit from social media?
Tara Cavanaugh earned her M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri this spring. She runs an audio poetry site at http://thepoetspeak.com. She can be reached at
Web page posted July 15, 2010
Copyright 2010 by Current LLC