ABC 33/40's Social Plan Nets 100K FB Fans
As news outlets around the country grapple with how to consistently and strategically fit social media into their daily coverage — and persuade their already strained news staffs to take on yet another daily chore — Allbritton Communications Co.’s Birmingham, Ala. (DMA 39), ABC affiliate stands out.
WBMA-LD/WCFT/WJSU, known locally as ABC 33/40, not only has a detailed social media plan, it has three: one for every day, one for breaking news and one for severe weather. Each role in the newsroom comes with its own handbook and its own explicit expectations regarding social media. And when breaking news hits, the entire station, even the sales team, pitches in to make sure the community has access to constant updates.
“We want to be the source of news. Our slogan is ‘Alabama’s news leader’ — does that mean we should just do TV only? We have to embrace all avenues to deliver our information.”
The push for a more concerted effort on Facebook and Twitter came a few years ago, Murphy says, in concert with a complete redesign of the ABC 33/40 website.
After the redesign, Murphy and a Web team consisting of his news director, Garry Kelly, his online director, Jeff Wyatt, a member of the sales department and an additional member of the news team created a social media plan that was broken down to fit individual staff members. They held a meeting with the newsroom to explain the plan, and then met one-on-one with employees to go over the plan and solicit feedback. In some cases, he said, that feedback caused the team to further tweak the plan.
This past April, things changed again. Murphy was out of town when he heard there was severe weather in Birmingham (which is right in the heart of tornado alley), and he immediately went to the station’s website to learn more.
“I realized I could not find anything going on down here,” he says, “but I went to our chief meteorologist’s Facebook page, and he was updating it every three to five minutes. We had an ‘Aha’ moment — we said, ‘Hey, we’re not doing this right, and what we were doing was just glorified TV.’ We changed our policy on how we would handle breaking news and severe weather.”
Now, when severe weather hits or big news breaks, the station is ready: A producer is pulled off regular duties to write updates for the website, a reporter is assigned to monitor and continuously update the Facebook and Twitter accounts and a sales rep is assigned to stay on top of school and other closings.
Wyatt, the online director, says he or another staff member handle user-generated photos and videos.
“That’s why we try to include everybody, literally the sales department,” he says. “That way you don’t have one person trying to do 20 different things.”
Today, ABC 33/40 is just shy of 40,000 Twitter followers and 100,000 Facebook fans. James Spann, chief meteorologist, has his own prominent social presence, with 112,000 Twitter followers and 118,000 followers on his personal Facebook page. The station’s reporters all have iPhones to make social media updates easier.
The Web team meets each Tuesday to revisit and refine the station’s social media and online strategies. After the morning news meeting, reporters are given assignments and separate deadlines for Web and social media updates designed to inform and engage — and also to tease to the on-air story later that day.
“It’s a tough balancing act with social media,” Wyatt says. “We want to tell the people what’s going on, but we also want that to benefit our own website, our mobile site, our apps and however we can use it to get viewers back to the TV.”
The station, which is currently transitioning from Albritton to Sinclair ownership, uses Chartbeat to monitor Web traffic, Wyatt says. “We have it on monitors in the newsroom, in the Web world and at any time, we can see how many viewers are on every page of the site. It’s almost entertaining, when we put something important on Facebook and Twitter, watching this thing spike when you do that.”
Murphy and Wyatt say that measuring success with social media — and monetizing it in the strict sense — can be difficult, but the ripples from a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter benefit every aspect of the station.
The biggest success for both is the buy-in they’ve seen from staff. Beyond that?
“I will tell you that we had a good sweeps back in November,” Murphy says. “You’ve got to think ‘all of the above’ every time you do well. … It’s hard to judge. It’s knowing that we have more Facebook friends in the market than anyone else. It’s knowing that we challenge ourselves to become engaged daily.”