Opinion Piece: "So You Think You Can Engage?"
You’re an aspiring journalist. You find a story. You identify sources and interview them. You write a draft. Re-write. Re-write again. You submit it to your editor. Re-write again. Submit the final copy.
Then you see it in the paper. With your name on it.
You bask in the moment — for approximately 2 minutes (or however long it takes you to cut the article out of the paper) and then you move on to your next story.
That is how traditional newsrooms are. And that’s how they’ve been for years.
But that’s not how they will (and should) be in the future.
Queue audience engagement — realizing who the journalism is for and doing your best to involve the audience or community in it.
Here are 10 tips that help answer the age-old journalism question: “How do we get our audience to be more collaborative and social?”
- Visualize what “social” is. Do you act differently at a bonfire than you would a fancy dinner party? Do you act differently at a small powwow with friends or a glow paint 5K? The answer: A huge “yes.” In social situations, we listen. We validate. We seek and invite feedback. And then we adapt to our surroundings and conversations to master the art of “social.” Keep this scenario in mind when your organization thinks about where and how it is social. Apply it to how your organization should act in social spaces, such as social networks — as a guest who learns the customs of each culture and adapts to them.
- Bring the margarita machine. Go out and find where, both online and offline, people are already chatting about your story’s topic and bring them something sweet: your story. (Bonus points for bringing actual margaritas.) A community that is passionate about your story probably exists. Find it.
- Don’t stop after pressing “Publish.” Yes, it’s an oh-so-satisfying moment to see your byline in print or offline. But that’s not the final moment of your involvement with this piece — it’s just beginning! Reframe how you see stories and don’t just go on to the next one without thinking about how you can engage your audience in the work you made for them.
- Get your audience involved. Put more of a focus on post-production efforts of a story. Pressing that “Publish” button is the first step in your story’s journey — what are your next steps? Can you create a social media campaign around the story? Can you get it in the hands of the caring people at the margarita party? Can you bring it to life with photos or videos? Can you create a public poll or form to gather feedback? What can you do to go one step further than posting the link on Facebook or Twitter?
- Think about measurement. How do you know if the journalism “worked?” You really don’t, until you take a look at your community’s work in engagements, views, clicks and social shares. Have a trusty tool or process in place to keep track of how your stories are performing.
- Make a sound. If a journalism tree falls in a forest and no one is around to read it, did it make a sound? Avoid this question by making sure the people who would be interested in your piece know it exists. Find your audience. Identify key players. And bring the margaritas where people are already talking about your story.
- Care about social media. Huge numbers of users find your brand or organization this way. Think of your social media accounts as a way to find and attract potential audiences. To find those audiences, serve that unique, existing audience in a way that meets their needs.
- … But care with a purpose. Before jumping head first into social media, take a step back and see where your organization fits into the equation. Don’t just go on an account creation spree before you visualize how and why your brand would work well on the platform. Ask these questions: Is your audience there? Is your potential audience there? What do people do on this platform? How do we fit?
- Diversify content for each social network. Once you find your audience by searching local keywords, talking to influencers, or good old-fashioned experimenting, it’s up to you to learn what does best on each platform and capitalize on it. For Facebook: Visuals, especially videos and stand-alone photos, perform very well (but keep in mind that its magic algorithm punishes you for posting too frequently). For Twitter: This platform is all about speed, fast facts and zippy headlines. Make it easy to share and consume. For Pinterest: This is not about news. Keep it visual — quotes, lists, graphics, pages of magazines.
10. Tell stories for them, not you. Your audience should be your first priority. Get to know them. Understand your community. Listen to their feedback and provide channels for them to give it. If you invest in your community’s voice, your community will invest in yours.
Now get to engaging.