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Social media has empowered news consumers, and mainstream media needs to adapt and embrace meaningful audience involvement if it wants to remain relevant.
Fluid and fickle are probably the most common words used when describing social media communities.
Those involved in social media know they hold a lot of power and many are not averse to using it.
Lalita Taylor the author of this piece looks after BBC Breakfast’s social media
Managing social media communities for live news
The bottom line for every social media producer who looks after a news brand's social media presence is the number of followers and likes they have. There are no short cuts to building this type of traffic.
But to do this successfully you have to know your audience, know your programme and make full use your programme’s tone and distinctiveness.
The following tips are designed to help social media producers working on news programmes establish a presence on social networks.
They are aimed at helping extend the shelf life of postings and tweets, which will in turn help build loyalty to the news brand and traffic to its website.
1: Your social media presence
To build loyalty the most important thing you need to do is to maintain a regular presence.
You need to view your social media offering as a virtual channel amplifying what your news programme transmits.
It sounds obvious, but you need a strategy to ensure a steady flow of high quality tweets and Facebook post as your programme is broadcast.
As you do you need to make sure that there are enough mentions in your programme output of the social media addresses so that your online and mobile audience can follow and join in.
And you need to remember that it's a two-way street. Always monitor what the audience is talking about and inject value-added comments back into your programme in order to build your brand and attract more traffic.
Social media is a two-way relationship with your audience
2: Inform and add value
Give your audience as much of the transmitted material as possible and more.
Inform them about the headlines, promos (items being promoted), and the coming us (items soon to be broadcast).
Providing such information is essential and is one of the most important roles of a social media producer. Be sure to choose content which you think will draw a response.
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Always play to your programme's strengths. While it often makes a change to choose items which are soft and fluffy, don’t veer away from hard news stories if that is what your programme is known for. A mixture of hard, soft and quirky is usually a good strategy.
But your role is to inform and engage, so each tweet and Facebook posting should have value-added links to help the audience join the conversation.
Keep an eye on any unusual things the audience is mentioning.
For example, bad weather mentions can quickly become stories, which you can develop by retweeting the weather presenter’s tweets and then asking for pictures of what people are experiencing in the areas where they live.
These pictures can then be played out live on air and are often newsworthy, especially if pictures are particularly dramatic.
Bring the audience into your programme
3: Share and engage
Have a conversation with your audience, but always maintain the tone of your programme. The audience feels secure when the same programme style is used.
This was evident during the riots in England in the summer of 2011 when there were hundreds of comments being made throughout the day on the BBC's Breakfast programme site, long after we had gone off air. This indicated that the audience felt most comfortable discussing the issue in that programme's social media space.
Build a rapport with your audience. While the programme is live keep feeding back the audience response to the live output team. Send the latest postings and tweets to presenters so they can be read out on air.
Retweet and add your response by editing the tweets, even if it is an affirmation. You’ll be surprised how good it makes the audience feel. There have been followers who have told us how delighted they were to see that their tweets had been retweeted by the programme. This builds audience loyalty.
Keep in mind those who access the programme via social media using their smartphones, tablets and laptops on the move, they may have something valuable to contribute from the scene of the story you are covering.
Use words such as share, post, comment which promote interactivity and keep your tweets and postings short and use active language.
Make sure everything is spell checked and the grammar is right. The audience will be quick to let you know if you make a mistake.
You also need to be ready to admit when you have made an error so that they realise you are monitoring your own output and that you are a real person communicating with them.
Feed the audience response to the live output team
4: Signpost items and features
The audience has many distractions these days and you are asking them to give you some of their precious time.
By tweeting what is coming up you not only invite the audience to take part, but you are also asking them to drop what they are doing and turn their attention to you and your news brand.
You need to be honest at all times about the value of the material you are signposting.
If your programme has a clear editorial focus and your presenter has a loyal following, information about what is coming up, clearly sign posted is valuable to that audience.
You can also tweet where your reporters are going to be and, if those reporters are tweeting from the scene make sure you announce their twitter @username and the #hashtag they are using so that the tweets can be followed and retweeted.
Be sure to signpost all big interviews with social media call outs.
Think about tweeting all the new lines, but be careful not to duplicate announcements about what is coming up because the audience may not appreciate that.
Provide clear signposts to what is coming up
5: Special themes
Sometimes particular parts of the programme can deliver special content.
In the months leading up to a particular festive event you could ask celebrities waiting in your news organisation’s dressing rooms to share their favourite memories on camera. This can take a life of its own and can also deliver programme content.
Think of creative ways which will also develop the presence of your presenters and reporters. Tap into their authority by getting them to give a look ahead which you can film and put on your news organisation’s Facebook page.
Make the most of special themes
6: Frequency of updates
Be guided by what is on the programme. When you’re live tweeting, it’s the content not the number which is important. Some people even use the stream as a briefing tool.
As a rule of thumb 10 tweets an hour is good. But focus should be on content.
Don't tweet or post to Facebook without a reason
7: Cross trailing your social presence
Use Facebook postings and tweets to direct traffic to each other. For example a tweeter may be intrigued if you direct them to your Facebook page for some value added video content.
Adding a Twitter handle (account name) on your Facebook posting to increase follows for your reporter.
The audience is probably using several social networks and you should be, too
8: Promote and surprise
Ask your reporters to send behind the scenes pictures. It is a good way of building traffic.
Use video on your smartphone to continue this theme. It works especially well if the item has an emotional factor, and you will notice this by the number of shares your Facebook posting will attract.
Sometimes a simple posting with guests waiting in your hospitality area will extend the shelf life of the story and attract new audiences when shared.
Always remain alert for news making and quirky sound bites – these are likely to be retweeted many times.
Social media can help reach new audiences and expand your reach
9: Dealing with negative responses
Swear words, spamming, contributions which go against your news organisation’s rules on taste and decency etc, and those which are libellous, should be deleted immediately.
Opinions should be allowed that criticise your production values, including those which complain about an item or your choice of guest. You should tolerate and include criticism.
When dealing responses from your community a lightness of touch is essential. Your role is a moderating one, and ultimately the page operates on shared ownership.
Develop your brand by respecting your audience, they will return this respect.
You will soon notice the stream self-regulates and once a conversation continues like this, the stream is likely to continue to live long after the programme goes off air.
Ensure you protect your brands tone and values
10: Measuring success
There are apps (online and social media interactive applications) which will notify followers if you haven’t posted, and after a while numbers will begin to tumble fast. So it's always good to maintain a presence. Although it’s equally important that your presence is meaningful and always makes a contribution.
You can schedule tweets to go live when you are not there. But consider whether they will be still be accurate when they go out.
In order to give your best to your community you should monitor the performance of your postings by regularly checking Facebook insights and the various audience and performance measuring tools for Twitter.
Also monitoring your competitors’ postings, tweets and numbers helps.
You need to be continually trying to improve, experimenting with new tools, watching how the audience conversations are changing, and adapting to meet their needs so that you can continue to involve them in new and compelling ways.
Be alert to your news brand's social media performance at all times
Lalita Taylor is a journalist who has extensive multi platform experience – spanning 20+ years – mainly at the BBC. She currently looks after BBC Breakfast’s social media. She has been a launch journalist for two BBC websites working primarily to increase viewer engagement. She is recognised as a creative innovator and enjoys deploying technology to achieve results.