Wick Communications

We must engage readers

In Online media on February 26, 2016 at 6:37 am

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Many thanks to Wick Digital Sales Manager Jim Keyes (and then CEO Francis Wick) for passing along some tips for digital engagement shared during the recent so-called Mega Conference, which is a partnership of the Local Media Association, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the Inland Press Foundation.

They come from Gatehouse Media’s Senior Vice President of Content and Product Development David Arkin. I think all of them are worth thinking about. Some of them are great. And a couple of them require careful consideration.

Arkin gave 10 recommendations for how a newsroom can increase reader engagement online. I know “reader engagement” is one of those buzzy terms that can set your teeth on edge, but, if you think about it, we all want more readers, right? All he’s suggesting are ways you might go about that and, even if some of the ideas seem a bridge too far, he gets credit for thinking outside the box. Now is the time to think outside the box.

The ideas:

Be conversational. Hit the right tone in social media. Yes. I would add a corollary: Understand the nuances of each platform. Tying Twitter to update automatically with your Facebook post is not thinking strategically about the former. Hit the right tone. …

Hold community events each quarter. Ideally, yes. Most of us have found events to be invigorating and they are good for the brand. They can also be a lot of work. Be realistic about what you can accomplish well then do it.

Make push notifications wider than breaking news. That is, seek to buzz readers’ phones as much as possible. Maybe. I think you can turn off readers by overusing notifications. I imagine some distinguished colleagues might differ. There is probably a happy medium.

Invite readers to attend your budget meetings. Story budget meetings, that is. Sure. Why not? Though why they would want to, I can’t say. I can imagine some attendees in my community being helpful and others being disruptive. Either way, it would certainly take the mystery out of these meetings, to the extent anyone finds them mysterious.

Have every reporter do video. Yes. We should all be able and willing to do video that complements your stories rather than regurgitates them.

Start a monthly reader advisory board. Yes. That is a great idea that most of us have tried and allowed to lapse.

Write headlines like the cool digital companies. Yes, but… We can all write better headlines. Each newspaper affords dozens of chances. We need action verbs. The right size and weight helps. We can do better. However, I’m not a fan of leading statements, faux facts, and sensational snark like, “This pro baseball player lives in a van behind a Florida Walmart,” which is one of the suggested “cool” headlines. If you know the story of Daniel Norris, you know that is a wild oversimplification of his story and does a disservice to a complicated human being. I’m not going to do that.

Ask readers to fill out surveys on big news. This is a good one. For example, survey readers’ feelings about, say, a laundry list of city council spending priorities. Next tornado, ask readers how they think the local utilities, public safety and city officials performed. Then include the resulting answer in your print and Web coverage. Good one.

Stop telling every story in a narrative format. Of course. The key word here is “every.” Fifteen inches of copy is only one way to tell a story, and often not the most effective way on digital formats. Lists sometimes work. Q&As. A series of photos. A video. Explore the possibilities.

Don’t be afraid to put an editorial on Page 1. We just ran a front-page editorial in Half Moon Bay. But it was the first time we had done it in decades. Are there opportunities to do it more often? Yes. Can you overdo it? Absolutely.

The point of all of these is to recognize a new day. We don’t have to do things the way we have always done them. We have new tools. Use them. Don’t be afraid to try something different.

Clay

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