A Guide To Audience Building and Engagement (Our September Monthly Challenge)

Those of you who have been pay­ing atten­tion to our webi­nar themes prob­a­bly guessed it: This month’s chal­lenge is focused on pro­mo­tion for your site and engag­ing your users. Our over­all goals for this chal­lenge are:

  • Gen­er­at­ing buzz around the StateIm­pact brand; get­ting peo­ple talk­ing about it
  • Build­ing up fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, Face­book, and your site
  • Build­ing a more loyal audience
  • Increas­ing the reach of your content

(This doesn’t mean we’re going to stop car­ing about top­ics pages. In fact, you should have got­ten a “report card” in your email with how to improve, based on the monthly chal­lenge assessment.)

For some of you, pro­mot­ing your stuff comes nat­u­rally. For oth­ers, it seems a lit­tle skeezy to be con­stantly push­ing your con­tent. By the end of the Sep­tem­ber chal­lenge, I hope it feels more like sec­ond nature. Words from our wise sherpa Matt Thompson:

Blog­gers design their posts to move. They craft strong head­lines, they spread the word through their social net­works, they dip in to com­ment threads, they pay atten­tion to met­rics. They work to develop a gen­uine sense of their com­mu­nity and its predilec­tions, and they adjust accordingly.

But here’s the rub: truly great blog­gers lead just as much as they fol­low. They use their mas­tery of their crowd to guide its atten­tion, to find ways to hook you into engag­ing with things you might not oth­er­wise try. This is how Ezra Klein gets his com­mu­nity to indulge him in a dis­cus­sion of actu­ar­ial values.


Yeeeah Nina!

This month’s prizes are:
1. A Nina Totin’ Bag (fea­tur­ing NPR’s Nina Toten­berg) … or an NPR Store item of your choice
2. A sub­scrip­tion to a pay-walled news source of your choice. Exam­ples are NYT, Wall Street Jour­nal, or a small town news­pa­per that charges for its web con­tent.
3. NPR’s Lak­shmi Singh will record your voice­mail greet­ing for you.

With the above-mentioned goals and prin­ci­ples in mind, I’ll be keep­ing a score­card of your pro­mo­tion and engage­ment that grades you on the fol­low­ing 13 factors:

Have you found the most impor­tant peo­ple in your beat com­mu­nity to engage on your topic? Take a look at your com­mu­nity and iden­tify who it lis­tens to, who holds sway, and who has the most fol­low­ers. What we learned from NPR’s Andy Carvin is that it pays to cul­ti­vate social media com­mu­ni­ties long before they become news­wor­thy. Carv­ing stood out in tweet­ing news from the Mid­dle East is that he was already fol­low­ing the right peo­ple in the region.

Have you grown your social media com­mu­ni­ties? I’ll reserve a few columns in the grad­ing score­card to mea­sure the per­cent­age of growth in the num­ber of your Face­book fans and Twit­ter fol­low­ers from the begin­ning of the month until the last day of the chal­lenge, Sep­tem­ber 29. Since we’re mea­sur­ing per­cent­age growth, you aren’t hurt if you have a smaller fol­lower base to begin with.

Two use­ful tools for iden­ti­fy­ing social media-ites with large fol­low­ings in your indus­try are WeFollow.com and MuckRack.com. Social leader­boards such as Klout.com and Hashable.com are also good resources for find­ing influ­encers. I’ll be assess­ing this by watch­ing how you’re reach­ing out to these influ­encers on Twit­ter, and through your fwd­ing or CCing me on your email call-outs to these folks when­ever you have con­tent to share.” –Poynter.org

Are head­lines pow­er­ful and share­able on their own? Remem­ber that your head­lines have to be intic­ing even out of con­text. If a user sees your head­line by itself, with­out a teaser or any other con­tent, will he want to read on?

Are you dip­ping into your com­ments and respond­ing to read­ers? What I’ll be watch­ing for here is respon­sive­ness when your com­menters ask you ques­tions or make asser­tions that you can clar­ify or respond to.

Is the page well-tended? The first and most basic qual­ity I’m look­ing for on Face­book is merely pres­ence. There are dif­fer­ent degrees of pres­ence, of course. You get low points in this cat­e­gory if your Face­book page is an auto-dump of head­lines from your blog, with­out thumb­nails (or with the same thumb­nail repeated over and over). You get high points if each day there are a num­ber of inter­est­ing posts with intro­duc­tions or teaser lines to the con­tent. Check out Poynter’s tips for max­i­mum Face­book engage­ment for more ideas.

Does it feel like there’s a per­son behind the posts? This builds on that first point. Face­book allows you to treat your posts with a lit­tle more TLC than Twit­ter does. In addi­tion to the head­line and an excerpt, you can share your mate­r­ial with another teaser – a ques­tion to the Face­book crowd, a key fact, a provoca­tive quote. High points if I see this hap­pen­ing often.

Is there good engage­ment with fol­low­ers and other pages? Face­book is a great place to start dis­cus­sions, and carry on con­ver­sa­tions among over­lap­ping com­mu­ni­ties. They’re more than just links — they’re invi­ta­tions to a con­ver­sa­tion. Using the @ sym­bol, you can tag other pages – includ­ing your sta­tion page – so your ques­tions or inter­est­ing con­tent goes out to their fol­low­ers as well, if they enable tagged posts to appear on their wall. Share other folks’ con­tent! Par­tic­i­pate in dis­cus­sion threads started by you and others.

How much do your tweets make me want to click on your links? Rather than sim­ply pro­mote your con­tent via social media, help read­ers see how they can relate to, or learn from, the con­tent you’re sharing.

Does the time­line feel robust and com­pre­hen­sive? Again, this is about pres­ence. High points for a good num­ber of inter­est­ing tweets. Low points if the Twit­ter time­line feels sparsely attended.

Are there links to a vari­ety of good stuff around the topic? If you tweet a link to a post you wrote that’s mostly an excerpt from some­thing some­one else wrote, I dock you points. I want a sense that you’re a good lis­tener, that you’re plugged in on your beat, and you’re bring­ing me the most inter­est­ing, valu­able links of the moment.

Is there good engage­ment with fol­low­ers and other Twit­ter­ers? I look for evi­dence that you’re in dia­logue with other folks on Twit­ter. Not just RTing stuff, but ask­ing and answer­ing ques­tions, bring­ing inter­est­ing mate­r­ial to the atten­tion of spe­cific indi­vid­u­als, and join­ing in on hash­tags that pop up around your beat when you’ve got some­thing rel­e­vant to add.

How cre­ative and appro­pri­ate is your use of Twit­ter? How are you using Twit­ter as a sto­ry­telling plat­form? How well-crafted are your tweets? Are you approach­ing the medium with inten­tion, or is it a work­man­like stream of the same type of thing over and over?

I won’t limit your cre­ativ­ity by set­ting up spe­cific vec­tors here. But this is where you can do some in-person or mis­cel­la­neous pro­mo­tion and write to me about it. Stuff like going to com­mu­nity fairs or events on your topic. Mak­ing a video intro­duc­ing your­self so that you seem more human to your com­mu­nity. Bring­ing your office to the audi­ence, as Cal­i­for­nia Watch does. It peri­od­i­cally has an “Open News­room” day in which reporters work from cof­fee shops in dif­fer­ent parts of the state. Reporters say they’ve con­nected with peo­ple who haven’t heard of the orga­ni­za­tion before.