To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

By: Keith Jordan

You know that social media is important. Most likely, you have a social media strategy. But do your tools and publishing workflow support that strategy?


There are many questions to consider, such as which social media sites and services to focus on and who in your organization should head up these efforts. But I think answering two questions is the key to social media success.


How do you define social media success?

Are you hoping to increase your traffic and revenue metrics measurably, or are you more interested in repositioning your brand as part of a long-term strategy to attract younger readers?


Brad Hill, managing editor of the Huffington Post Media Group’s blogging sites, said how publishers balance these factors varies.


For publications with great viral presence, social media can account for more than half of external traffic, Hill said, but added: “For other publications, traffic crossover isn’t as meaningful as the branding effect.”


The most viral sites tend to be those created for the Internet, founded less than 10 years ago, and geared mostly toward social media. A newspaper may have the occasional story that goes viral. But for it to pay off day after day, viral exposure needs to be a core goal, not a happy accident.


Mike Porath is senior vice president of programming for Buzz Media, which operates more than 30 sites geared toward pop culture, including Just Jared and Stereogum. Porath’s sites and bloggers have more than 30 million followers on Facebook and Twitter. Some have seen 300 percent growth in the past year. “Social media is certainly something we focus on,” Porath said.


But most media brands predate Facebook and Twitter, and have established reputations going back years or decades. For those brands, social media is important but must fit into a larger brand concept and way of presenting the company. Remember, you’re trying to share your brand and content with more readers. If you cover serious topics, you should do this in a serious way, because that’s what readers will expect in any medium.


Which leads to the second question:


Automation or curation?

Do you want every article to go on Twitter when someone clicks the publish button, or do you want your social media presence to be managed by a human, in a tone that reflects your publication’s tone?


“The human touch is always more effective and helps bond the publication with its audience,” said Om Malik, founder of media site GigaOm. Porath agreed: “I think having the flexibility to write a tweet rather than having it spit out the article headline is key.”


That doesn’t mean your tools can’t enable the process. Building social media into your publishing workflow makes it difficult to ignore. The default setting becomes to share your content, and the question is how, not whether, to share it.


As both Hill and Malik said, social media success doesn’t really depend on the size of a media site. It’s more about the site’s brand mission and type of content. A small-town newspaper or a small niche magazine site can have great viral success within their sphere of influence. “The economics of small publications, plus social, plus Web, can actually make them more successful as part of the wider industry disruption,” Malik said.


So what does it all mean?


For most media companies, my general recommendations would be: Build social media into your publishing tools so that every article goes on Twitter, by default.


Also build in overrides so editors can block an article from social media or can bypass the defaults to allow custom-written headlines and promotional text.


Facebook posts should be manually published. Compared with Twitter, “Facebook is far more conversational and can be treated more like an alternate content destination,” Hill said. An automated list of headlines would seem out of place on Facebook.


Perhaps most important, make sure that whoever is determining your voice in social media is someone who you’d be comfortable representing you in other venues. Last summer’s intern may be a whiz at Facebook, but that doesn’t make her a whiz at being a company spokesperson. Your social presence represents you just as much as your editorials or client meetings represent you.


Keith Jordan is managing director of Upstream Digital Media, a consulting business that focuses on editorial site launches, redesigns, and workflows.

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