Ask yourself these questions before you post your story on social media

By David Arkin

Having success in social media takes thought, purpose and an understanding of the platform you’re working in and your audience.

Your social media strategy has to be much more than throwing a link in a box and writing a message and hitting post.

Before you hit post, there are a host of questions you ought to ask yourself.

I went to a host of social media experts and asked them what questions journalists should ask themselves before hitting post. Here’s what Ryan Morris, Client Strategist, Social News Desk; Julie Foley, Director of Affiliate Success, Second Street; Penny Riordan, Director of Audience Development, GateHouse Media and Mary Nahorniak, Deputy Managing Editor, USA Today, had to say:

And I have offered my two cents with each of their outstanding suggestions.

1. Does the post language encourage engagement?

Churning out post after post every 15 minutes is fine so long as you have the audience to engage with the content. But if half of what you’re posting just winds up plopping in the “zero-engagement” void, you’re hurting your long term reach. You’re teaching Facebook that your fans aren’t interested in your content, so the content you generate will not get the same priority as a competitor with a more dedicated audience. Facebook is all about keeping users liking, commenting and sharing content, as well as clicking through your photos and watching your Facebook native videos. So go ahead, ask a question in your post to encourage people to engage in a conversation through comments. Encourage your users to get the word out about a missing person or a person of interest wanted by the police, that will keep people sharing the content. And don’t be afraid to post something just for fun once in a while. People will “Like” it. —Ryan Morris, Client Strategist at Social News Desk

My two cents:  While digital headlines are incredibly important, the social messaging you connect with your story, may be just as important. Ensure the message does not duplicate the headline.

The image above from the Fort Worth Star Telegram shows how you can tag organizations even for hard news.

2. Have I tagged organizational pages?

Is there an organization page you can tag in order to get more exposure? — Penny Riordan, Director of Audience Development, GateHouse Media

David’s two cents: Any story has an opportunity for tagging. For a story about a program at a local school you could tag the school, the school district and the principal. A story listing things to do this weekend can feature all of the organizations holding events. This is a useful post from Facebook on how tagging works.

3. What metrics are your tracking?

Think about your social media strategy so you can identify metrics that define success for you. If your goal is brand awareness then measuring shares of a post is your metric of success. If your goal is to grow email subscribers, measure clicks on a landing page that is delivered after a sign up completion. — Julie Foley, Director of Affiliate Success, Second Street

David’s two cents: Looking at referral traffic and reach is not enough. Our goal clearly is more audience, but that audience is coming to us, even on Facebook, in different ways. You won’t understand if you are achieving a goal — whether with your overall traffic or on Facebook — if that metric is not defined.

The above image from the USA Today received a lot of reactions and a good number of shares. The post was useful and fun and you can see the results it got them.

4. What’s my goal for this piece of content?

Do I want people to share it, like it, comment on it, favorite it, retweet it, watch it, click through for more … not all content can drive all of those goals, so know which one this is meant for and shape it for that action. Refine your Call To Action if you want an action or a comment. Make sure the thumbnail and caption looks great if you want views. Fine-tune the experience to drive results. — Mary Nahorniak, Deputy Managing Editor for Digital, USA Today

David’s two cents: Everything you do in social media should have a purpose and goal. If the goal is a click through, then messaging on what someone is going to discover in the post or the rich experience they will get, is a good approach. But if the goal or opportunity is a comment, asking a question might be more appropriate.

So here’s what happens behind the scenes of a news programme. We were live from the studio and gallery as the BBC News At Six went on air, answering your questions.

Posted by BBC News on Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An example above of BBC News using Facebook Live behind the scenes. 

5. Am I using the best possible post style for this story?

Facebook recommends mixing up your post types to appeal to a broader audience. Facebook is built so that end users will see more of the post types in their feeds that they tend to respond to. For instance, if Bill watches a lot of video in his feed, he’ll see more video; if Bill flips through a lot of pics, he’ll see more photo posts, et cetera. So if all you’re posting are Link posts, you might be missing some of your audience. Yes, the majority of your posts should be Links because we want people to come to your website, but ask yourself — is there a more compelling image that you could be using and make this a photo post? Maybe there are 20 seconds of scene video related to the story that you could post natively to Facebook that tells the story. Video is very important right now as Facebook is encouraging its consumption. Video posts are getting the best reach and engagement of any other post type out there right now, especially if it’s Facebook Live video. Sometimes you need to sacrifice a little native content to the Facebook altar to keep your reach and engagement numbers up. — Ryan Morris, Client Strategist at Social News Desk

David’s two cents: Newsrooms should look for quick video wins using suggestions like Ryan’s 20 seconds of scene video or a minute inside the newsroom with a reporter on a big story. On Facebook Live, this News Whip story does a nice job wrapping up some best practices and Facebook itself has some suggestions.

The right image is so important for social sharing and engagement. And sometimes that photo can be generic. 

6. Is the image optimized for social?

As part of an A/B test we ran a few months ago we learned faces of local people didn’t perform as well as generic holiday lights images in a town in North Carolina. Think about that preview image a lot. — — Penny Riordan, Director of Audience Development, GateHouse Media

David’s two cents: All stories should have an image. Period. But they also should have the right image. If you can’t identify with the photo, meaning there is no emotional connection with it, it may be the wrong photo. Sometimes a generic photo, based on the contents, may create that connection.

7. Is the target content engaging?

You want the content you post to have the potential to capture your audience’s attention for more than a second. So the story that you’re promoting should be several paragraphs long, include video, perhaps a photo slideshow, and should certainly include compelling related content headlines. Facebook recently started timing how long a user will spend in your target page before coming back to Facebook. If the user goes to your page and the content is thin, poorly written, seems to be click-bait, or if the website takes a long time to load, they’ll come right back to their Facebook feed and move along. That tells Facebook that you aren’t posting quality content (a robot doesn’t care whether that’s a fair assessment or not). Don’t post a link to a two sentence story that some intern transcribed from a twenty-second VO; that’ll get you nowhere. —Ryan Morris, Client Strategist at Social News Desk

David’s two cents: There are times when you need to let your audience know something important during a breaking news situation and you may not have many details. In those cases, report what you know, but add related stories or background on the event or location to off the reader a more quality experience.

8. Would I share this?

Do you find it insightful, interesting, exciting, funny, heart-wrenching, incredible, shocking, or just plain informative? These are some of the reasons people share content. But if it doesn’t connect with you, personally, it probably won’t connect with your audience, either. Use yourself as a gut-check! — Mary Nahorniak, Deputy Managing Editor, USA Today

David’s two cents: A/B testing can be a beautiful thing to help understand how your audience is engaging. Another interesting approach would be to create a social media advisory board (think email or Slack group) that you put your message in front of for feedback before posting.

And a checklist …

A social media checklist that could help answer a few questions is a good idea. The checklist could ask things like: Would I share this, is there an appropriate image, is the message engaging, etc. This list goes a bit deeper but is a good example to consider, from Buffer.

David Arkin is the Chief Content Officer for the Local Media Association. He can be contacted at david.arkin@localmedia.org