Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
8 mins read

The news publishers’ guide to engaging audiences on social media

social media icon painting

Social media plays a crucial role for most publishers, and they are pretty vocal when it comes to discussing the importance of social media in storytelling and engaging their audiences.

However, since the infamous Facebook algorithm update back in 2018 where Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that Facebook favors personal over branded creatives, the intensity of their praises has started to fade away.

Because of such changes, a lot of publishers have been forced to rethink their strategy and metaphorically ‘switch gears’. 

Publishers who relied too heavily on Facebook and used it as a place where they could just dump their articles for their readers have experienced great loses in traffic and engagement, which eventually (and perhaps inevitably) started to negatively reflect on their overall businesses. 

Since we at Content Insights have a lot of clients who use social media to provoke interest and engagement from their current and new audiences, we spoke to them to discuss how the latest algorithm changes have influenced their social media strategy. 

What we have learned from our conversations with our champion users is that to succeed on social media these days (without spending a small fortune on ads), you have to work with the platforms, not expect them to do the heavy lifting for you. 

In the following segments of this article, we are going to share with you some of the best strategies our clients use to effectively present the news on social media in 2019:

Turn from a product to people focus

The clue’s in the name. To use social media effectively, publishers need to start focusing on the ‘social’ aspect of it. Those who are harnessing the full potential of these platforms are those who understand that they need to think in terms of how to connect to people, and not necessarily get straight to their product (in this specific case, their content and news website). These are the ones who’ve worked to understand their audience first, and then work out ways how to successfully cater to their interests and habits. 

In marketing, customer personas are used to define and understand typical customers or target customers. There’s a lot that publishers can take from this approach. Marketers are driven by things like ROI, which might sound antithetical to the mission of publishers, but in fact, it’s absolutely critical. It’s important to dive deeper into the stats and monitor the behavior of people who interact with your product (your content and news website) across various social media networks.

Long gone are the days where publishers could just drop the same links across multiple social media networks at the same time and wait for people to eat them up. Not all content needs to be shared everywhere. And not all content is suitable for every social media platform. 

For example, if you take the time to analyze Twitter and Instagram, you will probably notice that successful brands post different things on these platforms. 

Let’s look at The Guardian as an example here. 

Here is their Twitter feed:

And here is their Instagram:

There’s a reason they’re frequently cited for good practice. Even without getting into the specific content on each screengrab, aesthetically it’s obvious which is Instagram and which is Twitter. 

People’s motivations to use each social platform vary and, in turn, drive different behavioral responses to brand content. Some use it for bonding and communicating, others use it for discovering new products and knowledge and taking action. Create a custom strategy that helps them natively communicate with users who have formed specific habits and preferences when it comes to consuming content.

Approach social media from a social user’s perspective

If publishers want to make social media work for them again, they need to become native users of each platform where they plan to post their content. 

Let’s look at Mondo and the BBC as prime examples of how to successfully utilize each social media channel and successfully communicate with their audience. 

Mondo and BBC run very successful Instagram accounts because they provide news for the so-called ‘tap tap generation’. Both of these publishers transform their regular news content into highly-engaging Instagram stories that effectively distribute information to people who are regular users of this platform. 

Why? Well, because they know what works with their users. Even though Instagram has been in the game for a while, Instagram stories is still a new concept that’s only just starting to be properly utilized by publishers. However, that doesn’t really mean that users are in the dark about them. In fact, most Instagram users now focus on stories far more than on regular posts. BBC and Mondo know that, so they made a genuine effort to make this Instagram’s feature work for them.

For example, under the #BBCShorts hashtag, the UK publisher posts 15 second-long videos every day to make daily news instantly digestible for people who are addicted to Instagram stories. The videos include a headline, in all caps, and the text runs across the bottom of the screen to explain the footage.

Utilize multiple platforms

The list of social media platforms is forever growing, and leading platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are always evolving and adding new features. With a greater and greater need for a social presence and an overwhelming amount of platform choices, it can be hard for publishers to pick which channels to use. As a brand, you might not want to spread yourself too thin by managing a channel on every imaginable platform, but you also don’t want to miss great brand-awareness opportunities.

The trick again is to go back to your audience and customer personas. Depending on the type of information you distribute and the type of readers you have, certain social networks might not work for you. For example, if you’re running an entertainment magazine that mostly writes about celebrities, movies, and TV shows – LinkedIn might not be the best platform for you. LinkedIn is mostly a business-focused social network, largely populated by users who are interested in sharing their business expertise and acquiring new knowledge. 

However, Facebook and Instagram have proven themselves to be much better playing fields for entertainment media websites. According to Hootsuite’s study, everyone is using Facebook, despite industry rumblings about its various problems. So, in spite of algorithm changes, this platform should still probably be your top choice for reaching the broadest audience. As multiple studies claim, people come to Facebook for different reasons, but mostly to communicate, discover, and entertain themselves. They click on the links, read statuses, message each other, and comment on posts that spark their interest. 

With Instagram, it’s a bit different. Instagram is a highly-visual platform that largely populated by younger audiences. According to SproutSocial, 59% of users are between the ages of 18 and 29, followed by 33% of users being ages 30-49. The people who use this platform are mostly there to discover, entertain themselves and feel inspired. 

Judging by the look of things, as a business, you should carefully pick your battles when it comes to social media. Instead of blasting your messages everywhere, you should take the time to learn all the ins and outs of every platform and where your audience hangs out. Once you figure that, you’ll have a good basis for developing an approach that will interest people in interacting with your brand on social media.

Customize paid campaigns

Social media promotion is a tricky thing. Publishers are aware that Facebook offers opportunities for them to create custom, interest-based audiences, but that is still not good enough. 

The best way to reach people on social media via advertisements is through personalization. No, we’re not talking about the “Hey $FNAME” gimmick. The goal here is to segment audiences by interests and preferences by gathering information from your interactions with them across multiple sources like the web, email, mobile, and social and use to serve them with content they care about. 

For example, if you have a popular sports section on your website, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should push your best content to everyone that reads sports on your website. A certain level of finesse makes all the difference here. Not all of your sports readers are interested in soccer and not all of them care if Neymar comes back to FC Barcelona or not. Some of them come to your website to follow up on the latest news about basketball, baseball, hockey, etc.

Let’s focus our attention for a moment on the official Facebook account of the NBA as a great example of how to correctly personalize ads. 

As you know, the NBA (National Basketball Association) is the biggest and most popular men’s professional basketball league in the world and has 30 teams and countless players from all over the globe. Since the league has a global audience and star players from many different countries, the people behind this account were smart enough to realize that homegrown talent is always celebrated, and certainly reported. The strategy that emerges from this is simply to push highlights to readers about the international players from their home countries. 

For example, I was recently in Spain and I started seeing more Marc Gasol highlights from the NBA (In case you’re not really into basketball, Marc is arguably the best Spanish basketball player currently playing in the NBA). There’s no question that people living in Spain are interested in learning more about how he performs, so it’s sensible for publishers working in the sports sector to serve content to these Spanish fans at a time that they can read them. Let’s not forget that time zones need to be factored in: most Spaniards are asleep when the NBA games are played.

This is a great example of how to cleverly segment your audience and get more engagement from specific types of followers through simple ad campaigns. Even though not all publishers can replicate this process, it’s certainly a good starting ground for developing their own custom strategies.

Over to you

Journalism, now it’s online, has the potential to become more personal and direct than ever before. Audience segments are no longer neatly categorized by geographical boundaries. There’s information aplenty out there about anything for anyone able to seek it out and, as publishers, we need to make that process of searching as straightforward and friction-free as possible. Social media offers us the potential to connect on ever more interpersonal levels if we’re only dedicated enough to spend time understanding how these various personas use each network.

The presentation of information – not only news – is continuing to evolve at a record pace, and to succeed, we need to be able to quickly adjust and adapt to these changes. This isn’t hyperbole: those who don’t adapt are unlikely to stay relevant in this climate. It’s a harsh truth, best learned quickly.

So, really it’s simple: know your audience, know the platforms. Ensure one serves the other. Platforms may come and go, but one thing will never change: publishers who succeed do so by being able to connect the audience with the article at the right time, in the best way.

by Goran Mirković

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.