At The Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina, the newsroom team has harnessed the power of evergreen lists as ways to connect with the community over topics it loves to talk about, and gain traffic by consistently sharing content that has a longer shelf life than many daily news stories.
Creating these types of slideshows and lists often involves audience input and sometimes collaboration with other newsrooms around the state. Beth Hutson, newsroom editor at the Observer, a GateHouse Media newspaper, shared insights about how the newsroom team approaches this content, tips for other newsrooms, and examples of some of the Observer’s top-performing lists.
1. First, can you explain the content types we are talking about and provide a few examples?
Evergreen lists are an excellent way to generate traffic, especially during a slow news day, while providing our readers with content that interests and entertains them. We’ve created lists using food (best hamburgers in town), music (famous musicians with Carolina ties) and activities (best local hiking spots).
2. How do you decide the best topics for these lists?
The ideas for the lists, which we tend to use in slideshow form, come from a variety of sources. Sometimes the lists are tied to local news. When Bill Murray stopped in Fayetteville to check out our new baseball stadium while it was under construction, we used that opportunity to create a slideshow of famous people who have visited Fayetteville. Ahead of our annual Vegan Fest, we put together a list of places to find a vegan meal. The time of year can also guide our content. Some of our summer lists include Fayetteville area ice cream spots and free and cheap things to do out of the heat. Several times a month, we hold a brief meeting we call “20 in 20,” where we brainstorm 20 online-only ideas in 20 minutes. The digital team hosts the session, but we always bring in other members of the newsroom so that we get a variety of content ideas.
3. How do you involve the community in contributing to this content? Who manages this aspect?
These lists can be especially fun and engaging for our readers when we involve them in the process. Earlier this year, we learned that Fayetteville would be getting a new restaurant whose burger had been named by Consumer Reports as the best in America. We decided to have a little fun with that and asked our Facebook followers to tell us which local spots make the best burger. We used the answers people left in the comments on the Facebook post to create a poll on Playbuzz. More than 2,000 people voted in the poll, and we used the results in a slideshow.
4. How do you use social media to involve the community and/or distribute the content?
Social media can be a great tool for generating lists. If we want to create a best-of list, we’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to ask our readers for their top choices in certain categories (you can’t really go wrong with food). When we share the links to the finished product, particularly on Facebook, they’re usually some of the most-commented upon posts on our page. People love to share their opinions, and unlike the comments on hard news stories, these are generally good-natured.
5. How often can you recirculate this evergreen content? Is it ever updated (such as when a business closes)?
We keep a spreadsheet of all our evergreen content so we’re aware of what we have and when we last used it. If something pops up in the news, we can check our spreadsheet to see if we have any content we can relate to a current event.
If we’re having a particularly slow day, we can refer to the list to see if there’s something we can refresh and repost. We created our Fayetteville area ice cream spots a couple of years ago, but we update it each summer with any new openings. We also make sure to reuse any of our seasonal content in subsequent years and add and subtract items as needed.
6. Can you describe the value this content brings to the community as well as the company? How does it perform?
People are always looking for something to do or somewhere to eat, so these lists in particular are providing our readers with content they can actually use. If the readers love what you’re giving them, it makes them more likely to check out more of your content, whether it’s evergreen lists or hard news. The reason we keep creating new evergreen content lists is because they’re such consistent traffic drivers. Even the more labor-intensive ones are worth the time they take because of the traffic increase.
One benefit of being part of a large chain like GateHouse is the ability to share and collaborate with our sister papers. If an idea works really well for the Observer, we’ll let other papers know about our success so that they can benefit, too.
7. Do you have any tips for other newsrooms approaching this content in their own markets?
Think about the kind of content that your audience loves to see. We’re a transient community because of our proximity to Fort Bragg, so people here really love their chain stores and restaurants because of their familiarity; stories about new chains always do really well for us. Knowing that, we asked people which stores or restaurants they’d like to see come to Fayetteville, and we used their answers to create a wildly popular slideshow list. I think it’s also important to involve the audience in the process when you can. It shows you value their contributions and you’re listening to them.