Learning some #hashtag lessons

We tried something last week and it kinda worked; it kinda didn’t.

In the lead-up to the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, we had a bit of a brainstorm and came up with the idea of building a new storyline through Twitter.

After a bit of thought I put together a plan for the #bondstory to run over the course of a few days. Search for the hashtag and you’ll see that the level of engagement was pretty high and I was happy with the final result.

We began by asking for a title and followed it up with requests for names for Bond girls and the main villain. We then had a break for the weekend which, looking back, probably did not help phase two of the plan which was to try to build a plot.

We then asked for locations and for users to complete a sentence relating to why the villain wanted to take over Norfolk. This was followed by requests for gadgets and finally a theme tune.

I documented all responses into a Storify.

Obviously, it was intended to be a bit of fun and we had only positive responses albeit from a small sector of the @EDP24 audience.

We learned lessons from the small project which will be useful to us in the future.

Good things: We picked a hashtag that did not have material allocated to it and the majority of users included it in their tweets.

The audience saw it as a fun element alongside the daily news headlines from the @EDP24 account.

The first two days saw particularly good engagement and we had some very creative suggestions from our followers.

Bad things: After those first two days we took a break for the weekend and it was difficult to re-energise followers.

Some of the questions in phase two were also too open. We asked for new Bond gadgets but that takes a quite considerable amount of thought. Twitter thrives on quick conversations so build that into your planning process.

How about you? Have you tried new projects on Twitter and, if so, how did they fare?


Facebook posts – what’s worked and what hasn’t

Part of my presentation to offices regarding the use of Facebook has meant using examples which have driven good engagement.

I mentioned in my last post that very few offices had actually taken control of their branded pages. One exception was the Great Yarmouth Mercury which not only wanted to manage its own page but also saw the benefits of doing so.

Led by Anne Edwards, the Mercury created a Facebook page on February 7, 2011, and got to work. It took a lot of hard work and long hours from Anne in the beginning but it paid off and the Mercury is still the leading light in the Archant Anglia Facebook world.

A snapshot of the Great Yarmouth Mercury Facebook page. Engagement is consistently high.

Examples I have shared with other offices include the story of a 12-year-old lad who went missing and was, thankfully, later discovered.

The Mercury Facebook community shared the story 60 times, proving exactly what an engaged audience can do. A lot of talk in today’s marketing sphere centres around advocates and influencers – working with fans and followers so they share your good work – and the missing lad story is a great example of how the Mercury’s community shares the brand’s content.

The Mercury’s Facebook community really want to help.

As of October 29, 2012, the Mercury Facebook page has reached 2,708 likes and, more importantly, Anne works hard to make sure her audience feels engaged and a part of her community.

We have seen some other ‘easy-wins’. Uploading an album of photos and asking fans to choose their favourite for the page’s cover photo is a great way of getting the audience involved and feeling part of the community.

We asked fans to choose their favourite photo of Norwich for the Evening News cover pic. The successful engagement – about 100 actions – helped the content get in front of more people.

The Lowestoft Journal recently played on the fact that it was nearing 1,000 likes and the community actively got involved to hit the four-figure total. It was an excellent little piece of engagement.

But it hasn’t all worked.

The pages for both our county dailies – the EDP and the East Anglian Daily Times – struggle to gain momentum; not something our weekly titles in smaller areas struggle with.

It makes me wonder if Facebook users feel an affinity to their local towns rather than their counties.

And we still see posts and certain types of content receive little or no engagement.

Not one action with a story you would expect to be popular – the tale of a footballer whose team-mates were asked by emergency services to take him to hospital.

We’re still learning but the most important point is that we are now connecting to our Facebook communities – and that can only be positive.

Taking control of Facebook

Picture the digital scene: You’re checking out your friend’s new offspring on Facebook, have just posted a witty comment and you’ve still got a couple of minutes to spare.

You spot that a friend has liked a brand you know and you trust so you think ‘I’ll do the same’.

You take a look at the page, see the brand name and hit ‘like’ without really thinking. But you then take a closer look and you’re not very keen on what you see. Fear not, it’s not going to interfere with my newsfeed…or so you think.

You see, the brand regularly provides new content. And a feed has been created to populate the brand’s Facebook page. And those updates are beginning to dominate your newsfeed.

The first part of the above is probably very easy to imagine; the second part probably not so because it’s not what brands tend to do on Facebook.

Our Facebook pages were drab. We’ve added cover photos – some chosen by our Facebook audience – to prove that we’re taking them seriously.

However, it is actually what our brands within Archant Anglia (except for the odd exceptions) were doing.

No manual posts, no engagement with a considerable audience – well, I would count 20,000+ across our Anglia titles as a considerable audience – and, worst of all, not even any checking or managing of the pages.

It wasn’t good enough so we set about making changes.

I have now taken a number of our offices through a Facebook presentation which details stats on usage of the platform – things like 1 in 6 page views in the UK being on Facebook, a time spent on site per day of 22 minutes (as of end of 2011) and it being the second biggest referrer of traffic behind only Google.

Across our Anglia platforms, Facebook – with very little activity on our part – accounts for about two-thirds of our social media referrals. This surprised a number of staff.

Because Twitter fits into a journalist’s workflow much easier, more of our activity – a huge amount more in fact – has taken place on Twitter so a lot of staff made the assumption that it would drive a lot more traffic to our sites. Not so.

With a bit of Edgerank explanation – and the excellent Steve Buttry does a much better job than I ever could of explaining the importance of getting that right – and a few examples of good practice, I then set the teams off on their merry way.

All staff have genuinely been enthusiastic and willing to learn a lot more about what they can do for their Facebook audiences.

This is one of a series of photos taken of a van on fire. It’s just one example of how we’re trying to increase engagement with our audience.

As I see it, there are four main reasons for not only running Facebook pages alongside our websites and newspapers, but managing them and using them wisely:

1. Driving engagement. This is the most important one for me. We want our audience to play a major role in what we do and that doesn’t mean just giving them the opportunity to comment on a web story. It means valuing responses, genuinely wanting to listen and facilitating conversations around our content. Our audience can – and should – make our journalism better.

2. Increasing referral traffic. Pretty straightforward but we are looking to increase our traffic and our Facebook pages can support that strategy.

3. Brand presence. We want to have a place in the world’s biggest social arena.

4. Customer service. Providing access to us via Facebook pages allows our audience to ask us questions, interact with our content and tell us when something isn’t right. All hugely important to us.

The result is that our approach to our Facebook pages has changed. We’re seeking engagement and interaction, we’re listening, we’re providing customer support and, hopefully, we’re steadily building communities that can talk to each other.

Next time: How we’re connecting with our audiences via our Facebook pages.

Do you agree with the above? Have you got other techniques that work? Please feel free to leave your comment below.