America’s many business travelers ? an ever-changing horde that fills planes, hotel lobbies, and convention centers and then moves on as new arrivals take their place ? constitute a virtual big city in the sky and ground. And USA Today is their local paper. So when The Nation’s Newspaper decided to experiment with social media, it started with the crowd it knows best: travelers.
USA Today’s social media sites ? “Cruise Log,” hosted by Gene Sloan, and “Today in the Sky,” with Ben Mutzabaugh hosting what the paper calls the nation’s “flight community” ? began as blogs, but with the redesign of usatoday.com last year became true social media sites, with interactivity among hosts and readers.
“I’ve started to promote a slogan internally that describes what I think we’ve achieved with Today in the Sky and Gene’s Cruise Log: ‘Author, Organize, Connect,'” says Kinsey Wilson, executive editor for USA Today and its home on the Web.
Everyone can be an author and distribute content easily, but USA Today adds the judgment and guidance that traditional journalists have always provided, Wilson says. The site connects people and collects insights and directions for content that the journalist might not have thought of. “It’s been interesting to see how strongly the audience identifies with the individual bloggers,” Wilson says. “The human voice, the individual touch that we’re able to bring even to other people’s news stories is critically important.”
At 25 years old the most successful newspaper startup in American history, USA Today has numerous claims to “Doing It Right” status, including circulation growth when nearly every other metro daily is shrinking. And it can now claim growth in social media as well.
“When we converted Cruise Log from simple blog to a cruise community, there was an immediate seven-fold increase in traffic,” Wilson says, “with half of that coming from search engines, meaning we’re getting new people.”