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‘News Feed First’: How Global reaches listeners on social media

On the day of the UK election, we talk to digital editors from Britain’s largest private radio group to see how they are reaching their listeners and wider audience on social platforms. 

Global is the UK’s largest commercial radio company. The group runs popular national radio station like music stations Radio X and Capital FM, as well as talk and news stations like LBC.

In the past few years, the Global brands have also become significant forces online, especially on social media. On the day of the UK’s national election, we were keen to find out more about how a major radio brand is bringing their content to audiences on social media.

Global Radio Digital Team

We talked to two of Global’s digital team to find out more about the brand’s approach to growing their communities on social media and through digital. Steve Wilson-Beales (left) is the Head of Editorial for Global, and Charles Ubaghs is the Head of Social Media for Global. In this interview, they explain how they manage to integrate their radio and social media coverage, their efforts to build new social first audiences on social media, and how the Global team uses Spike in their workflow.

 

Can you explain your roles at Global?

 

Steve: As Head of Editorial at Global I manage a team of 25 digital editors across 10 fantastic brands. Our job is to extend the reach of those brands across digital, driving engagement be it via audio listening, video views or social media interaction. We work in sync with the radio teams, informing radio output with what’s trending that day, but also amplifying the best radio moments we think will resonate with our audience.

This could be anything from political analysis with James O’Brien on LBC to a celebrity interview with Russell Brand or Chris Moyles on Radio X. In addition, we also have two millennial digital brands PopBuzz and We The Unicorns which have been incredibly successful, driven, not only by a great content team, but by our by focus on data to drive the editorial.

In short, there’s always something happening, particularly this week with two huge events – the UK election and Capital’s SummerTime Ball

Charles: I’m the Head of Social at Global. We are growing audiences quickly, and that’s spearheaded by content. I’ve always been a believer in the fact that the readers need something to talk about.

There’s a real opportunity for publishers to be in a position to supply that.

With that in mind, for the last five years, we’ve been running a social strategy which we’ve simply called ‘News Feed First’. It comes down to my team working extremely hard to ensure that when a piece of content appears in a reader’s news feed, it is as optimised as possible.

So we do in-depth analysis on headlines, images, we look at the metadata that sits beneath the main title, to what photos we post natively to social, to what videos, and so on. We think about how we combine that together to create an editorial strand that is not only designed to reflect what’s happening on air, but can also has its own unique voice and space.

Off the back of that, we’ve seen a huge amount of growth across the board. To simplify the day to day workflow, I always tell the team at large: when you’re trying to write this Facebook post, or Instagram caption, ask yourself ‘if I saw this in my feed, would I react?’

If the answer is ‘no’, we start again, every single time. If we’re not telling a cohesive story in the post when someone sees it, we’re not doing the right thing. We have to tell a cohesive story at every single touchpoint, with the narrative, personality and so on.

 

Social very much sounds at the heart of how Global is looking to reach audiences online. Talking specifically about platforms, where are you most active?

 

Charles: We are active on pretty much every channel across the board. I would say that Facebook is key for us. It’s where the largest portion of our audience is, where we can drive the most shares, where we can drive the highest engagement. Twitter is also of immense value to us.

In recent years, we get a lot of outreach there from influencers and celebrities.

We’re now seeing Instagram becoming more important for us. We’ve found that the engagement rates there are quite high. Since we have verified accounts we’re able to drive a surprising amount of traffic through Instagram stories.

 

How do you go about integrating on air content from the radio stations with digital and social media?

 

Steve: Well, one way has been through our focus on video over the last three years. All of our studios are now equipped with cameras so we can live stream or cut the best moments for on demand video consumption across multiple platforms. So if a politician fumbles over their manifesto or a celebrity suddenly reveals something that we never knew about before, we can get that moment packaged in an instant and published.

But we’ve also spent a lot of time experimenting with other video formats looking at what drives views on social as well as onsite. If you take the example of LBC in January, we did an extensive period of experimentation across 30 days creating videos on a variety of topics both with and without presenters.

What we learnt through this whole cycle of experimentation was that, time and time again, opinion really does resonate on social. People want to hear opinions expressed in an accessible way and video is a perfect medium for this.

If we look beyond video, the integration of on air content with digital is really achieved through a mutual understanding of audience needs. That’s how we ensure all the content we cover is on-brand and shareable. If we take the example of David Cameron resigning last year, you may remember him humming to himself as he walked away from journalists after his announcement and back into No.10. Within hours our Classic FM digital team had analysed the melody he hummed and reached out to the musical community to create a whole composition based on a few simple notes.

It was a brilliant piece of original content that involved the whole Classic FM team and went viral as a result. Yes, this was all about reacting quickly, but also about working together and creating content that people will share.

 

How is Spike being used by the social desks?

 

Steve: We use Spike across our radio brands, and I think it’s adoption has been down to the fact that it’s easy to use and highly visual. In particular, the predictive functionality is something that our team has found useful because they can very quickly understand which stories have viral potential. It’s also a very easy way to present the information to other departments, such as radio teams, who just live and breathe for that kind of data.

We can now give them useful data on stories within seconds. To see that in an easy visual form benefits both teams, and ultimately helps us drive the business as a whole forward.

 

For big events, like the UK election, what can you do to capture some of the attention and engagement on social media?

 

Steve: Concerning the election, our job as digital editors is relatively straight-forward. Because we know that at the heart of LBC it’s opinion that drives engagement, our job is to simply amplify the great job the radio teams are doing every day. I think it’s vitally important to hear a variety of different opinions in the run up to the election and our presenters are certainly very good at doing that! That’s why LBC recently won the recent Drum’s Online Media Awards for Best Use of Social Media – our rate of growth has been exceptional due to our very talented LBC digital team really understanding what the audience want to share.

Charles: We have some very capable journalists, producers and social editors on the ground for major events. We always approach our event coverage with a frame work we simply call social broadcasting. Essentially, we assume with the social output that most people are not actually listening to the radio when they see our posts. While we of course make some pushes to listen, the majority of the social output is designed to be a complimentary but distinct editorial broadcast via social media. It will of course use content from on-air in the form of video and audio but we also produce a huge amount of social exclusive content on the ground, with a focus on making sure we’re telling the full story for users who access us via our social channels.

We’ve had a lot of success moving traditional radio brands into a social space with our feed first and social broadcasting approach. So much so that two years ago we decided to launch two non-radio brands built designed and built with the feed first idea at their very core. We also gave ourselves the challenge of going agile in our development, so we pitched, built and launched them in just a three-month window and have continued to iterate on them ever since. The first brand, Popbuzz is targeting a younger millennial and Gen Z audience.

The starting point of the brand is music and internet culture. Our longer form serious essays often get as many shares as the more irreverent pieces you’d normally expect for this generation. The brand has only been around for two years but it’s already reaching over 50% of the UK’s 16-24-year-old females and internationally is reaching over 100 million newsfeeds per month. It’s connected so strongly with a young, woke, female audience that we now describe the brand as the anti-lad home of internet pop culture.

The second brand, We the Unicorns, rose organically out of Popbuzz. The initial Popbuzz staff had backgrounds as YouTubers and we started covering YouTubers with a different narrative then what you were seeing at the time in the mainstream press. The dominant narrative then was can you believe how much money these young people are making just for making videos of themselves talking in their bedrooms. Instead of doing that, we treated these YouTube videos as a legitimate form of media and began covering them in the way other outlets might cover film, TV and entertainment. Every time we published these articles we saw huge spikes in traffic and eventually started seeing major YouTubers like Zoella organically sharing our stories about them. There was a clearly a gap in the market for a news brand focused solely on the world of YouTubers and YouTube, so we launched We The Unicorns. Again, we used an agile development process to build the brand and it’s now seeing similar numbers and social reach to Popbuzz.

 

What advice would you give to other publishers on social?

 

Charles: The primary thing that’s allowed us to grow over the last couple of years, is focussing on engagement first. We are very much obsessed by stats, and that’s allowed us to stay flexible even as the platforms and content formats evolve.  

We’ve grown the fan base of Classic FM on Facebook from 25,000 to over 1.4 million in four years, completely organically.

I do set a daily figure that my team have to hit, and it gives us a better sense of focus, and a better idea of where our audience are. At the same time, it gives us the flexibility to understand the changes from the platforms.

Over the last few years, we’ve rarely ever seen drops in reach when Facebook changes its algorithm. That’s because we keep a very consistent approach to things. We’re very clear that we treat the news feeds like juggling. We know that we have to work hard to keep web links, photos and videos up in the air. And because we’re extremely consistent with this mix of native posts and web links, it’s given us a nice cushion whenever a change is made to the algorithm.

 

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