Top Tips for Local Publishers to Build their Audience on Social Media


By   |   September 14th, 2016   |   Reading time: 5 minutes Digital Journalism

How can local publishers make an impact on social media? We look at three key steps for local publishers to improve their impact online.  

Local journalism face a whole raft of challenges and opportunities in the mobile and social age.

There’s no doubt it can be a real challenge to compete effectively for readers when going up against some of the bigger names in digital media. But there’s plenty of opportunity for local news sites with strong digital and social strategies to develop their audience on social media.

Many local publishers are already seeing strong results.

Through Spike, we consistently see local and regional publishers around local content perform extremely well. In France, La Voix du Nord is one of the country’s biggest websites on Facebook, while the UK’s Manchester Evening News is one of the biggest sites on Facebook in terms of total interactions, full stop. They regularly rank in the top 25 publishers on Facebook in our monthly rankings.

And across the US, local TV stations and other news outlets are doubling down on their local audience by trying new content formats and methods of reaching readers in their catchment areas.

We looked at some key ways of successfully building a relevant local journalism brand on social media.

1) Develop a reader community and become their daily fix

Why do people read local news in the first place? To compete effectively in a fragmented media environment, local publishers need to utilise their most important asset: local news and information.

What you want is a loyal community of readers that see your site/Facebook page/morning email roundup as exactly the place to go to learn about what’s going on in their area each day. They’re getting their local news through your Facebook feed, and if you’re doing it right, that should reap return visitors in time.

To do that, local publishers need to double-down on the type of stories that differentiate them from bigger publishers that already have a massive audience. In short, local sites need to build authority amongst their readers.

In New York, local news site and NewsWhip client QNS covers the Queens borough in minute detail.

Their Digital Editor, Katarina Hybenova, told us that the site sees a lot of traction with ‘service journalism,’ as well as stories that their local readers can’t easily get elsewhere.

“We always get plenty of traffic & social media action if we break important news that the community in Queens really care about,” says Katarina.

One of their most popular stories of the summer was about an organisation that provides school supplies to teachers for free. With over 25,000 Facebook interactions, the story obviously piqued the interest of a wide readership. In terms of developing the audience on social media, Katarina says that the content itself has to be the most important element of any strategy.

“We are trying to write appealing content – that’s the most important rule, and afterwards we’re writing platform specific social media updates that come with the links.”

Local publishers need to consider what content they can truly deliver to readers that has unique value.

What’s really happening in your community? NewsWhip clients build detailed lists of local Facebook pages from organisations, government authorities, sports teams and more to quickly spot what’s happening in their community in real time.

Fostering discussion is also vital, through encouraging comments, and responding to readers’ queries.

And think of ways t maximise your distribution among other important local hubs. Striking up beneficial connections with other locally influential pages can be very worthwhile. Searching for your city and then selecting the ‘pages’ tab allows you to easily filter pages that might be useful.

2) Recognise your audience’s reading habits

Think of your readers’ daily media consumption habits. They’re on their phones, watching different videos, and are probably looking for a download of what they need to know from a name they can trust.

Local publishers need to capitalise on that, and make the most of their output.

At QNS, Kristina recommends applying learnings and observations from your personal use of social media channels to make the most of the different avenues at your disposal.

“Take notice what you like about it, what you don’t, what you find annoying when others post, observe the subtle differences between individual channels and then apply this knowledge to your company’s social presence.”

Another component of this strategy is being able to test and experiment with new content formats (like Facebook Live video) and distribution channels (like a local WhatsApp broadcast list).

While it can seem intimidating starting out, lots of these new formats have a relatively low barrier to entry.

We’ve see a number of local TV stations and news sites try Facebook Live video to attract interest from local readers.

Heading to an event? Try posting some clips and images to a Snapchat account, and seeing how quickly people latch onto your coverage. These types of experiments can help sustain energy through new areas of engagement.

3) Review and re-engage

To make the most out of your digital strategy, a sharp analytics plan is going to be crucial.

An in-depth Reuters Institute report from earlier this year lays out the three key things to think about in implementing an effective analytics structure.

News organisations need to think about how they can develop their analytics capability by making sure they combine (1) the right set of tools, (2) an organisational structure that incorporates the expertise to use them, and (3) a newsroom culture that embraces data-informed decision-making. 

So very often, it’s the collective mindset or culture of the newsroom that’s the most important first step in bringing actionable, smart analytics to the organisation. Start small and try figuring out what’s most important to you.

Move quickly. Look at the stories and posts that really sparked engagement for your page through Facebook Insights, and use that to inform your posting approach on the platform.

If readers aren’t picking up on your Facebook posts, perhaps it’s time to take a fresh approach to your timing and technique? Similar questions constantly need to be asked about all the different elements of social media engagement.

Are you a local publisher looking to make an impact on social media? Let us know your approach in the comments below, or on Twitter @NewsWhip.

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