Ground Rules For Good Social Engagement

For local media companies, a good social media design requires a good strategy and that needs plenty of research and planning. The Victoria Advocate's Jessica Puente: "You need to think about your organization’s ultimate goal. Are you a small, local newspaper looking to expand your reach? Are you looking to target a new audience? Is your company looking to you to make up for a lack of advertisers or to create an online community with high engagement?"

Editor’s note: CrowdCheck is a new occasional commentary guest written by the media industry’s digital professionals offering ground game tips and insights.

When it comes to social media, in the end your audience is what drives your design.

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Coming up with the best social media design requires good strategy, which demands research and planning, and my first step is to figure out what my goals are.

I don't mean adding 200 new followers by next week. Rather, you need to think about your organization’s ultimate goal. Are you a small, local newspaper looking to expand your reach? Are you looking to target a new audience? Is your company looking to you to make up for a lack of advertisers or to create an online community with high engagement? Or maybe both. You need to figure that out first.

Talk to the leaders in your organization. Talk to coworkers who have been with the company longer than you. If you have clients, talk to them about their goals. This needs to be clear, focused and short. You should be able to explain it to everyone in your company — whether they are in your department or mow the lawn by the parking lot. Be concise. Try not to throw all the little aspects of what you plan on doing when stating your overarching goals.

When I asked my editor what our newsroom goals were he looked at me like I was kidding. But when I stressed to him that it was important for me to be able to outline these goals so I could focus my time toward the best social media plan, he gave it some thought and came up with the following:

Brand Connections
  • Transparency. Give readers the opportunity to see how we make news decisions and what we are working on.
  • Provide community members a platform for information significant to them and a means to contribute to their community
  • Reader engagement and tips

The Victoria Advocate covers Victoria, Texas, and 50 miles out in each direction. We’re a community newspaper, so that is where our priorities lie.

Now that I had my goals, I needed to do some research.

You might be thinking, this is going to take time and energy that I just don't have the manpower or resources for. Trust me: This is fundamental to creating a successful and efficient strategy. The first thing I did was get access to our analytics. In my case, the IT department was the administrator on the account and adding me was easy enough.

At the Victoria Advocate we use Google Analytics for Web reporting and analysis. Woopra, Chartbeat, Omniture, Parsely … there are tons of analytics programs out there. But if you're on a low budget, Google is probably the way to go.

Why look at site statistics when you should be tweeting or or posting to Facebook? Because you want to make sure you know your audience and where they are coming from. Study your traffic sources. What percentage of your audience is coming from social media referrals? This can be a big indicator that you are doing something right or something very wrong. You want your traffic to be balanced. Some should come from search, some direct and some referral. That way, you know you aren't focusing too much of your energy on one campaign.

If your company is stressing the importance of revenue more than other things, be sure to take a look at index value. There should be some variation of this across all analytics programs and you can find it in the page reports for content. The index value basically gives you an idea of what content is making you money.

Every company manages their advertising differently and you need to talk to your ad reps about how they are tracking revenue from your website. Use the experts in your company for knowledge. Chances are someone in your company is already looking at these numbers and can give you some insight.

In my case, this actually helped forge a relationship the company desperately needed between our digital media department and our site’s editorial managers. The focus of our joint efforts would be sports. This was the place that our site needed the most help.

Our developers redesigned the site giving it a fresh look and easier-to-use navigation. Our writers worked hard to produce the best content and for a small paper, sports content is usually overflowing. So next we needed an online marketing strategy.

Our digital media general manager has a background in IT and advertising so he was incredibly helpful in brainstorming a gamification strategy. Gamification is most often defined as the use of gameplay techniques for non-game applications. The idea behind this is rewarding readers for using the website. For us, we’re going to start a bracket contest of sorts for football season. This will get our audience interested and on the website. At the end of the season, the Web managers can come in and gain loyalty from those users by continuing to provide content consistently.


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