The importance of listening to your social media channels

One of the traps we fell into when dipping our social media toes was to think purely about publishing.

It’s what Archant has done for generations and, to be fair, we’re pretty good at it.

So when Facebook brand pages came along (I’m not even going to go near those initial practises of setting up a brand as a ‘person’) we thought what a great way to publish more links to our web content.

Then came the magical idea of creating RSS feeds to populate those pages. Fantastic, job done. We could just sit back and watch the referral traffic to our websites rise.

Not only that, but Facebook users love to like, share and comment on posts. Great! They’ll start doing it on our automated posts as well. This just keeps getting better.

Obviously, the startling leap in web traffic and awesome comments didn’t materialise. We started to get wiser; to get our heads around what these new-fangled platforms were.

And what are they? They’re places for people to connect and interact.

This week, I’ve read pieces describing Facebook as a party and social media as a cocktail party or town square. And you wouldn’t turn up to a party and begin to shout in the hope that someone might eventually choose to listen to you. (You might do that in the town square but you’d probably end up being driven away in the back of a police car)

So, how does this apply to activity within Archant? Well, here are a couple of examples of how we’re listening and then even using it to generate extra content.

The first example took place last Friday evening via the @EDP24 Twitter account.

We’d been asked to look out how we could generate some extra print sales via our social media accounts.

We agreed on a strategy and began to implement it but it soon became apparent that our tweets were failing to hit the right chord.

I could embed a whole conversation between a few @EDP24 followers (if the embed server was working) and the account itself but it would go on for too long. The gist was that the promotional style posts were not appreciated.

“You have to earn your place in a timeline” said the excellent @Brays_Cottage, who is absolutely spot on.

Responding through the @EDP24 account, I thanked the followers for their feedback and my line manager and I had a conversation about the posts on Monday.

I don’t think the promotional message was the problem – it was the fact that they were written in a ‘Super Soaraway Sun’ style which isn’t a genuine method of interacting.

Hopefully, we’ve learned our lesson and it proves just how important it is for brand accounts to listen as it is to publish. You don’t simply push, push, push through your individual account so why should your brand account be any different? It’s still taking up the same space in a newsfeed or a timeline so it most definitely does have to work at earning that space.

The second example is of how we’ve used audience comments to generate extra content. A particularly engaging Facebook post will be cause for a decent debate so why not share that debate on our own websites?

The recent planning application by supermarket chain Morrisons in north Norwich generated some good comments so we did this with them. Well worth it, even if it did receive the perfectly-crafted response from ‘biglingers’, one of our lovely, lovely website commenters 😉

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.

A new job, a new challenge

Some big events in my life have taken place this year.

In June, I married the love of my life and, in July, we had the holiday of a lifetime in Tanzania. Earlier in the year, I’d been behind the launch of a new community platform – iwitness24 – for Archant (working with the great guys from Citizenside) and, on my return from my African honeymoon, I started another new job. That’s the third in a year.

All of those three roles have been to do with development so they’re pretty cool. And the new one poses possibly the biggest challenge of them all.

Since mid-July I have been Archant Anglia’s Social Media Manager and it has thrown up a crazy amount of challenges, some of which I will aim to share with you on this blog.

As a company, we have had it in the back of our mind that social media is something we should be not only focusing on but excelling at.

Yet, rather surprisingly, we have never had a properly-formed social media strategy. For example, Facebook pages have been created for our titles across Anglia…and then simply left to be filled with RSS feeds. Where’s the social in that? I hear you ask.

To my amazement, some big brands still mimic that now and believe that promoting the fact that you can like their Facebook page means they’re ‘doing social media’. Whatever that means. They’ve probably never thought about the need to talk and listen to their social likers.

Would they open a shop and then simply ignore customers when they come in to talk to them about products? I highly doubt it.

Anyway, with the odd exception, that’s pretty much what Archant Anglia had been doing with their Facebook pages and that’s a topic I will come on to in a later post.

Obviously, social isn’t just Facebook and, to be fair, a lot of our journalists use Twitter very well although we still have the tendency to view it more as a publishing platform than a conversational tool.

We’re keeping it simple to begin with and looking to improve the use of these two main platforms before we start delving into the world of LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr etc.

There are some major, major internal barriers ahead for us as well and, while I will not name names, I might nod to the odd person standing in our way and will, hopefully, be able to share what happened and how we overcame those barriers.

I would be very interested to know how other Social Media Managers started out, how they approached their strategy and what lessons they have learned as a result.