Social media can be an RSS feed of your stories. Or, it can be a place to build a community around your audience. Personally, I’m a fan of the latter. So that means developing a brand voice, creating shareable content and interacting with our audience. Examples of this range from an informative Instagram post to a Facebook group created around a topic, such as coronavirus or wildfire updates.
One of the best ways to engage with your audience isn’t to just tell their story, but rather let them tell their own stories. That’s why I’ll try to bring our audience into the creation project. It can be something as simple as people submitted photos to show off their pets, Christmas lights or fall colors. Or, it could be something more involved, such as a collection of ski stories, an essay contest exploring mental health or an election-focused opinion section written by teens.
As much as online engagement is important, I truly believe the best engagement is offline where you can meet an audience face to face.
As a team of us set out on a year-long investigation into teen suicide, we wanted to be careful. News outlets across the state, ourselves included, had a history of poor coverage on the topic. We wanted our project to help our community and not re-traumatize or harm in any way. So we held a series of small, intimate, off-the-record community conversations across the state. We learned a lot as we went. The conversations helped set us on the right course with our coverage and helped us gain buy-in from pillars in communities before our project was even released. The ultimate success of the conversations led The Post to adapt this method newsroom-wide as we work to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in our work.
We had several promotional campaigns planned for the project. But they were all online. How could we reach audiences in the physical world? While we were mulling this over, we were also struggling with conflicting goals for the project. On one hand, we wanted to make sure our reporting reached everyone impacted by the issue, which extends beyond our subscribers. But to fund the project — and prove why we should have more like it — we needed it to convert subscribers, which for management meant putting the project behind a paywall. How could we do both? The answer was surprisingly simple: Postcards. We sent postcards to households with kids throughout the Denver area that included a steep discount for a subscription. The postcards, as well as a corresponding email campaign to non-subscribed readers with interests in health and education, ended up being a major converter of subscriptions.
To see the project off, we wanted to host an event with experts and readers to make clear to our audience that the conversation wasn’t over just because we hit publish on the story. The coronavirus posed a problem, though. So instead of the in-person event we initially envisioned, we hosted a Facebook Live where we let readers ask questions of experts, who could give them both the broad picture and specific advice to their circumstances.