Editors and producers are integrating social media into their news strategies while developing training programs and policies for their use.
Not everyone is there yet, given the responses to an APME survey at the end of June. But as they move deeper into social media, some are now hitting a wall — a pay wall — and developing strategies to address that.
More than 97 percent of the 77 respondents said their top priority for using social media is to help grow their audience. A close second, at 92 percent, is to engage readers. Third, at 88 percent, is promoting stories after publication. And 81 percent said a priority is to find sources. Additionally, 70 percent said they use it to monitor what other news organizations are reporting, and almost 68 percent said they use social media to promote stories before publication.
Seventy-five percent of respondents said their newsrooms measure social media engagement with their organization. And 79 percent said they measure engagement on Facebook by looking at both the number of fans and the "likes.” And 68 percent measure by comments, while 53 percent said "shares.” Only 21 percent measure by story leads.
When it comes to measuring Twitter impact, 79 percent said they look at the number of followers, while 72 percent look at retweets, 68 percent count traffic back to their websites, and 53 percent consider "mentions.”
The next big hurdle for some in social media is figuring out how to use it with a pay wall. For some, it’s pretty simple. "We have a pay wall and did not make any exceptions,” said one editor. Another said social media referrals are exempt from the pay wall. While another said the goal is to "try to avoid Facebooking stuff that is locked.”
Many are just starting to develop pay wall strategies and have not yet addressed how social media will be handled in that realm. "Still trying to figure that out. Lots of ongoing discussions.”
And some in that situation are concerned. The "biggest concern would be that potential new readers who click through are not able to read our stories because they hit a pay wall.”
One paper is using social media as a way to overcome potential loss of traffic because of the pay wall: "As a paper with a metering system, we have put a heavier emphasis on social media to help us get the word out about our content,” wrote an editor. "The biggest concern is the frustration some people experience when they are told they need to subscribe to view additional content.”
A broadcaster said TV websites are benefiting from newspaper pay walls: "People expect to get it for no charge (from a TV station). We're hearing from viewers thanking us for providing free news, since the local paper began a pay wall in May.”
Of the 77 respondents, almost 82 percent represent print media organizations, and more than 60 percent are managing editors or executive editors representing newsrooms of 60 or fewer employees. About 16 percent represent broadcast media, and less than 3 percent represent Web-based media. Respondents were evenly distributed across the United States. About half said their audience is suburban.
More than half of the respondents said more than half of their employees are using social media on a daily basis.
Eighty-two percent said their news organizations offer social media training, most of it done in house by staffers, and 58 percent said they have a formal social media policy.
Fifty-two percent said they have "democratized” the ownership of social media in their newsrooms, meaning that a wide mix of editors and reporters contribute to the social media effort. And 26 percent said social media efforts are entrusted to a small group of social media editors. A little more than 10 percent put it in the hands of a small circle of trusted editors, and less than 2 percent give the assignment to specialists who post items but don’t write them.
Every respondent said his or her newsroom uses Facebook. Twitter is second-most popular, with almost 99 percent using it. From there, it’s a mixed bag. About 38 percent use YouTube on a daily basis, 33 percent use Pinterest, 23 percent use Google+, 21 percent use Storify, 16 percent use LinkedIn, 12 percent Instagram, 8 percent for both Flickr and Foursquare, 7 percent Tumblr and 4 percent use other social media.
"Twitter and Facebook are used multiple times a day, in that order,” one editor said. "We use LinkedIn primarily as a reporting tool, usually daily. We use YouTube to post our own video or look for others’ video multiple times a week. We use Storify to help tell breaking or complex stories, usually a few times a month. Pinterest is used primarily for lifestyle and shopping stories, typically weekly. We use Instagram in conjunction with Twitter, so typically that is daily. But that tool isn't really core to our journalism mission, as the others are.”
Alan D. Miller is managing editor / news for The Columbus Dispatch and chairman of the APME Sounding Board Committee.