A Guide To Audience Building and Engagement

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.

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