As our focus within the news industry shifts from paper to digital, social media has become one of our most valuable tools. Many people now rely on sites like Facebook and Twitter to share immediate happenings, and it has also become the place where people expect to see the latest news from their area.
Being a social media assistant at a local newspaper, my job is two-fold. On the one hand I have to decide what, when and how to share the stories we publish, using our newspapers’ Facebook and Twitter pages. To give an example of the scale of this, our ten Norfolk and two Suffolk titles that our patch contains collectively have a total of over 181,000 follows on Facebook alone, swamping the reach achieved with our print products.
On the other hand, I also use the social media sites to generate the news we produce. I tap into local community groups, pages, and use Twitter location searches to make sure we are up to date with what is happening.
More and more often, people are also using social media to alert us to breaking news themselves. This may be through a message via Facebook or a mention on Twitter. Quite often, these people then also become our immediate temporary ‘journalists’, if you like. They are usually at the scene, so can send us photos, keep us up to date with exactly what is happening, all while we dispatch our own journalists/photographers to cover the story.
In a web sense, this relationship and conversation with the public is vital. It allows us to put up a story straight away, before a journalist has even arrived. I can then post this story on social media, generating early views and sometimes even more information from people who comment on or share the post.
Thankfully, we also have software that helps us to stay on top of the hundreds of posts people share across the Facebook groups we are part of. Tools like CrowdTangle have quickly become a staple in most major newsrooms – using it, we can see the most engaged with posts on various groups, which may often turn into stories of our own that are engaged with socially, too.
We can also use CrowdTangle and daily reports to see which of our own posts are being engaged with the most, giving us an idea of what to share in the future. With Facebook’s newsfeed changes, this is becoming something we pay attention to more. The company are prioritising meaningful engagement – comments being key – so ultimately, we need to get people talking to stay on top.
Sometimes, it is difficult to predict what will be a hit on social media and what will not. For example (and this happened just a few days ago) I scheduled a story about Norwich’s Peregrines laying eggs, for around 10pm. For context, we tend to schedule softer, not as immediately ‘important’ stories for the evening, as this is generally when our traffic is least busy. However, the Peregrine story was a huge hit on Facebook, generating more comments (particularly from people tagging their friends, therefore more visibility) and likes/shares than usual.
Of course generally, the kind of stories you expect to do well on social media are usually the ones that take off. Breaking news, the weather (the Beast from the East increased our Facebook likes by 900 over the seven days), cafés/restaurants opening/closing, and hard crime are categories that excel for us on social.
Facebook Live’s also do particularly well, especially since Facebook have revealed this a feature they are prioritising. Our snowy walk around Norwich got 106,000 views, and our recent ‘Sinkhole Live’ video – where we filmed a sinkhole outside our office for a whole eight hours – got 223,000 views and even a local sponsorship.
I have spoken a lot about Facebook, but not so much about Twitter. For us, Twitter does not bring in a great deal of our traffic; however we have seen this increase since we turned on automated Tweets for our pages. Facebook is our go-to network as it has the biggest audience out of the two globally, and covers the widest demographics.
More than 1,700 postcards which call for dualling of A47 have been sent https://t.co/AnNCG02Xi6
— Norwich Evening News (@EveningNews) April 9, 2018
Twitter generally has a different kind of demographic, which for us means it doesn’t necessarily attract the kind of people who are interested in local news. However Twitter have also announced changes, which seem to mimic that of Facebook’s natural engagement drive, so we will have to see if this alters things.
Although not an ideal referrer for us, Twitter certainly is a great content generator; people tag us in breaking news and the use of location searches has generated some of our bigger stories: Did you get engaged at a Wetherspoon’s? and Danny Boyle looking for Norfolk extras in his new film.
Finally, as well as using already established Facebook groups/pages, we have also set up some of our own. Norwich Remembers is a great example, now with nearly 13,000 members. We also get content from there too (Readers share Jack Valentine memories) that we can then re-post back into the group and keep the engagement cycle going.
Recently, we’ve also created the Norfolk Going Out group and re-pushed our Eat Norfolk group. We have found that posting as ourselves (rather than from the newspapers’ Facebook pages) generates more comments and allows us to have a different voice from the big pages. Norfolk Going Out was started late last year and already has over 2,600 members. Most importantly, these members are also engaging with our own and each others posts.
We are also using social media to drive some of our newer projects. Enjoy Cromer More is a recent success story that really tapped into a community and created something where it was needed. We now have local businesses using our ‘Enjoy Cromer More membership cards’ and the connecting website is also increasingly popular. Because of the success, we have also launched Enjoy Diss More and are soon to launch Enjoy Beccles More.
So as you can see, there are lots of ways that a news industry uses social media. It goes beyond the simple posting and promoting of stories, moving into somewhere we can turn to, to actually get our news as well, whether that be from members of the public or official emergency services or business pages.
As sites develop their tools and give more priority to products like local news, I’m certain the importance of social media within our industry will only keep growing.