A Q&A With a Social Media Producer at CBC News


By   |   August 18th, 2015   |   Reading time: 6 minutes Interviews

We talk to a Senior Producer at CBC News about the role that social media plays in getting content to readers on his platforms. 

Michael Bolen is a Senior Producer with CBC News’ Social Trends team in Canada.

A few months ago, we named CBC the second biggest Canadian Facebook publisher.

Read on to hear how the CBC News uses social to reach their readers, how they judge the success of different posts, and how the team is using Spike in their daily workflow.

1) Can you explain your role at CBC News, and what your daily routine is like?

I wear a lot of different hats at CBC News, so every day is different.

I manage the team behind the main CBC News social media accounts and the Trending vertical. I conduct training on social media optimization with groups across the CBC. I help plot strategy for the future.

One day I might be scheduling Facebook video posts and writing up UGC stories, another I might be training a team at a regional newsroom on how to package journalism more effectively for Facebook, another I might be attending an inter-departmental meeting on the future of social video. Usually, each day has a little bit of everything.

But my core job is ensuring our amazing journalism shines on social. I spend a lot of time looking at our Facebook Insights stats and analyzing how we present our news stories.

And I’m always on the lookout for a new story, so I spend plenty of time on Twitter, Spike and Reddit looking for opportunities and ideas.

2) When we looked at the biggest Canadian sites on Facebook a few months ago, CBC was up there at number 2. How important is Facebook in reaching audiences for CBC News?

It’s very important. Mobile is a key part of CBC’s plans for the future and if you want to reach Canadians on their phones you need to reach them on social networks. Facebook continues to be the most popular social network in Canada and so we put a lot of effort into getting things right there.

That said, we’re very aware of how quickly things change in the social space and how important it is to diversify on social.

3) Are you experimenting with other platforms or channels in getting CBC News content to new audiences?

Our reporters have been playing with Periscope since it was launched. It’s a great tool to bring the audience right to the scene of a story or to go behind the scenes to see how the news gets made.

Many different parts of the organization use Instagram and Pinterest to reach audiences. And we’re always toying with new things. We love to see our stories get picked up on Reddit but we’re careful to let editors know that they shouldn’t be posting and promoting stories on Reddit themselves.

But for news, our core focus remains on Facebook and Twitter. The social landscape moves so quickly these days that it’s easy to get distracted by the latest shiny thing. I think it’s important to experiment, but also to make sure you’re devoting your resources in a rational way.

4) What signals and metrics are you looking for when judging a successful post on social – audience engagement and conversation, click-throughs, or other?  

In a word, yes.

We want to see a combination of engagement, retention and click-throughs. We understand that a post on Facebook with 1,000 positive comments is not the same as one with 1,000 negative comments. We want people to visit our website, but we understand that not every post should be about driving to a link.

Obviously, there is a huge focus on video right now, particularly on Facebook, so I spend a lot of time talking about what a “view” actually means on different platforms. A lot of people are blown away by the views they get with Facebook video, but it’s very important to look at the retention numbers. Did your audience stick around to 30 seconds and beyond? At what moment in the video did you see a drop in audience? Why? How did the video perform compared to other similar videos?

So I take a holistic view when it comes to metrics. Facebook’s EdgeRank is looking at tens of thousands of factors to determine whether to show any given post in your Newsfeed, so it makes sense to be paying attention to as many signals as possible.

5) How do national broadcasters like CBC balance chasing a larger slice of the social media pie while retaining an authoritative voice and competing with the likes of BuzzFeed, Vox, Vice, and others? Is it a challenge, or opportunity?

It’s definitely an opportunity. While you won’t see f-bombs in our headlines any time soon, there’s plenty of room for editors at CBC News to speak the language of the internet.

Everyone at CBC News holds themselves to the highest journalistic standards, but that doesn’t preclude us from having fun on social. Recently we tweeted out the wrong photo on a story about Robert Downey Jr. being the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. We instantly responded with an awesome Iron Man GIF acknowledging the error. The correction got more engagement than the mistake.

CBC News also has some really strong competitive advantages when it comes to social. We have newsrooms in every province in the country producing local stories that others simply don’t get. A huge number of viral Canadian stories start in CBC’s regional newsrooms.

We’re also the destination for investigative journalism in Canada. CBC News is known as an organization that asks the tough questions and breaks stories that matter to Canadians.

Finally, you hear a lot about video and podcasts being two of the most important mobile trends. CBC News has a wealth of journalism to offer in both departments and we’re getting better and better at tailoring that content to mobile and social audiences.

So, while there’s undoubtedly lots for broadcasters to learn from organizations that have been digital from the beginning, I think there’s plenty for the upstarts to learn from us too.

6) How are the CBC News team using Spike in their workflow?

In the morning, I’ll usually check on the stories that performed most strongly on Twitter and Facebook the previous night. During the rest of the day, I’ll check in intermittently to see what is trending and to ensure we’re not missing a great story.

Less regularly, I’ll look at the stories with the most shares over the month. Looking at these stats helps us keep track of competitors and hone our packaging skills.

I also use Spike to identify success stories to share with my team. There’s few things more gratifying for a social editor than seeing a story you worked hard on at the top of the monthly stats. 

Finally, we’ve started to pay more attention to the numbers for Facebook and Instagram posts that were recently introduced. As distributed social becomes increasingly important, every social editor should be tracking native posts as well as links.

Previously in this series: 

Hannah Sarney, The New Zealand Herald
Heather Bowen, Mirror Online
Shauna Rempel, Global News

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