Social Media Opportunities 2012
Posted: 6/21/2012  |  By: E&P Staff
Reaching 10,000 likes on Facebook or 35,000 followers on Twitter is a significant milestone, but it’s not enough on its own to justify the investment in time and resources it takes to get there. Newspaper publishers need a defined strategy in place in order to turn those likers and followers into subscribers and advertisers.

By now we all know that having a social media presence is no longer optional; it’s required. But many publishers are still on autopilot — content to have duplicate news feeds pushed to each platform without consideration to why they’re doing it or what they hope to get out of it. With the social media landscape growing more competitive, each platform is diversifying and catering to a specific niche of the online population, leaving publishers to figure out which type of content works best for which outlet.

The best way to truly get a sense of what can be accomplished on social media is to spend time there as a consumer. Follow the publications that interest you, and pay attention to what gets posted to Facebook, Google+, and Twitter vs. what gets posted to Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest. The social-savvy publishers that have this sphere figured out typically have more than one account on each platform, allowing users to fine-tune the content they’re interested in consuming.

On Twitter, the L.A. Times hosts dozens of separate accounts for everything from education reporting and earthquake tracking to book reviews and obituaries — and that’s not even including the Times columnists who tweet coverage of sports news, outdoor lifestyles, local politics, and more. At the very least, many papers have a general news feed and another account that tweets daily deals and other promotions from advertisers.

Still a relative newcomer to the social media industry, Pinterest is exploding in popularity thanks to an easy-to-use interface and highly visual sharing features. The website is a running tally of all newspapers currently active on the new media darling, such as the Salt Lake Tribune, which pins editorial cartoons, Major League Soccer coverage, things to do in Salt Lake City, snow reports, recipes, news features, and more.

The New York Times launched a beautiful Tumblr blog called “The Lively Morgue” as an online home for historical photos from the paper’s archive. Longtime newspaper enthusiasts will appreciate that the blog also includes scans of the back of the photos, showing original captions, publish dates, and archive notes. The morgue has received so much attention that Tumblr staff chose it as the subject of a recent short documentary for its Storyboard project.

All of these outlets can succeed in growing audience, increasing website traffic, appealing to advertisers, and even increasing print circulation if used correctly. Social media appeals to consumers on their computer, mobile phone, and tablet, so no matter how they choose to spend their free moments, there is a potential for them to view your content. Make it unique, compelling, and addictive to keep audiences young and old coming back for more.

4 Ways to Use Social Media to Grow Your Audience

Social media can be one of the easiest ways to increase your readership, whether in print or online. But it won’t happen overnight, and it certainly won’t happen by accident. Use these tips to turn your paper’s social media presence into measurable circulation.

1. Distribute Content
There’s a not-so-funny joke among newspaper publishers that the reason they don’t get any traffic to their website is because everyone is too busy looking at Facebook all day. In order to increase your own page views, you need to meet your readers where they’re already spending their time. At the most basic level, this means posting links to the stories you post to your website, but many publishers are finding new and creative ways to disseminate their content without turning their feeds into a boring stream of self-promoting links.

While Twitter’s 140-character limit lends itself to a disciplined feed of news links, Facebook and Google+ make room for visual elements, discussion starters, and reader feedback. Tumblr users prefer shorter, blog-like posts from columnists, writers, and photographers, while visual-based Pinterest relies on imagery to catch the readers’ eye. Link back to your homepage, sure, but be sure to invest time to learn the ins and outs of each platform, and develop a content strategy unique to each one so readers feel compelled to follow your paper on every social network available.

2. Engage
Consumers of news and information on all platforms are eager to contribute and have their voices heard. Social media has evolved into a natural forum for this discussion. When posting new content, take a tip from savvy bloggers, and conclude each piece with a call to action: “What do you think of the proposed renovation of the downtown waterfront?” “Will you be attending tonight’s city council meeting?” “Were you at this Saturday’s festival? Post your photos here.” Open-ended questions signal readers that their comments are encouraged.

Social media is also the perfect forum for reports and columnists to respond to questions or clarify information. Not every comment warrants a response — often the topic will be one best debated between readers, without editorial supervision — but every now and then valid questions will arise. Editors and contributors should be prepared to be held accountable and respond to commentators who raise valid questions (and delete those that are offensive or spam).

3. Be a Community Leader
Make your paper’s social media profile a sort of home base for your area of coverage, with freshly updated news, viewpoints, photos, and calendar of events. This means not just promoting your own content, but curating news from other sources as well. Build connections with other influential people in your market — bloggers, teachers, business owners, PTA members — who will bring their respective audiences to your page when you engage in discussions. Follow them back and like their pages. Comment on discussions hosted outside of your own profile pages. By being visible and engaging on other sites in your community, you increase your reach and build credibility.

4. Build Your Database
The people who like or follow you on social media are signifying that they are interested in your content and want to receive more of it. Harvest these contacts to build up your email database for promotional campaigns and subscription drives. Encourage your followers to sign up for your e-newsletter and print edition. Host contests, raffles, giveaways, and other promotions. Remember that social media is a marketing effort at heart; don’t let idle profiles hurt your reputation or your business.