How the social team at Cleveland.com builds a loyal and engaged following using Facebook Live


From polling to sports commentary, the local community rallies for Cleveland.com social video content

The social media team at Cleveland.com has used Facebook Live, including polling, to foster meaningful engagement and build deeper connections with its audience. Using Live on average 2-5 times per day, social media reporters creatively share behind the scenes features, hard news and sports conversations with a welcoming community of viewers.

Cleveland dot com case study tailgating FB Live

Social Media Manager Kristen Davis (right) invited fan and viewer Jennifer Viancourt to co-host a Facebook Live of the Browns tailgating event.

Cleveland.com Social Media Manager Kristen Davis has been with the local news organization for 14 years. She conducts some of the Facebook Lives on Cleveland.com’s page, including a fun Cleveland Browns tailgating walkabout cohosted with a local viewer she met through the comments on Cleveland.com’s Facebook page.

Davis gives much credit for success with Facebook Live to the social-focused reporting team of five, which includes Jane Morice, Maura Zurick, Hayden Grove and Hannah Drown. The social media producers and reporters offer a personalized perspective to local news and look for opportunities to tell community stories on social media, and especially using Facebook Live.

“When Facebook made that big newsfeed change, and one of the big takeaways was meaningful interactions … we looked at how we can increase that, and one way was through being more personality-driven,” Davis said. “With sports, you’ve got talk radio. And basically, our idea was to do a social media version of talk radio: after games, before games, that sort of thing.

“With Facebook Live, we can compete with TV. Before it was like, we don’t have satellite trucks. But now out at a crime scene, we all have the potential to broadcast live to our audience. [Cleveland.com editor and president] Chris Quinn and I saw that as a big opportunity for someone who can be devoted to that, who can stay on and become a personality and really become connected to the viewers.”

Breaking news has been the most successful type of Facebook Live posts for Cleveland.com, Davis said, and she would like to produce more this year.

“The most successful are the hard news aspects, especially breaking news,” she said. “There are some courtroom [stories] of high interest, but breaking news by far is the leader.”

Hayden Grove used Facebook Live to build suspense ahead of LeBron James returning to Cleveland as a player for the Los Angeles Lakers. Throughout the Live, Grove interacts with viewers, talks about the upcoming game, and describes the scene on the court level.

While they can prepare for some newsworthy viral content, such as the return of LeBron James to Cleveland as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, planning other opportunities for Facebook Live allows the Cleveland.com team to maintain a strong frequency of highly engaging social content.

“We found we really have to keep our own calendar of ideas and use the resources that reporters send out,” Davis said.

Success with Facebook Live for Cleveland.com is measured by engagement.

“It’s interactions – likes, comments and shares. … You can have all the viewers you want but if people aren’t talking and asking questions and sharing their thoughts, that’s not really a successful broadcast.

“So much of talk radio is talking at fans, and so … we make it more that idea of, ‘lets have a conversation.’… When we have a reporter, for instance, at [sport] league meetings, we try to constantly ask people what they think and what they want to know.”

Cleveland.com also invites the audience to weigh in on topics they care about using Facebook Live polls. Using several different tools, including Facebook, a web-based design tool called Canva, and OBS, Open Broadcaster Software, the team creates and broadcasts social cards posing a simple yes/no question. Davis said the polls get more engagement than typical posts, in part because of the number of reactions. It also offers followers a variety of Facebook Live videos from the publisher.

This poll with audio is an example of how Cleveland.com has used Facebook Live to garner engagement from its audience.

“It’s a good tool because we can’t always be out on the scene somewhere. We can use this for hard news; we can use it for National Pizza Day; we can use it for sports-related content, etc.

“It definitely gets more engagement. Early on we were all kind of mesmerized by it. … [The poll] would be up for 20 minutes and have 8,000 reactions. … Now the next step is being more active in the comments. The political ones kind of take off on their own, but in others, we try to get more people to also be talking about it there [in the comments] in addition to voting.”

As far as advice on producing Facebook Lives, Davis said she recommends fine-tuning broadcast formats on personal accounts or smaller niche accounts with fewer followers to ensure a glitch-free broadcast. Here are six more tips from the Facebook Live gurus at Cleveland.com.

The Cleveland.com social team went Live during a birthday celebration for Hayden Grove. The post garnered nearly 1,000 comments.

Hannah Drown’s Facebook Live tips:

1. Repeat yourself. It may seem odd but, even if you don’t have new information, continually update where you are and why/what’s happening. People come in and out of broadcasts constantly. 

2. Make sure your body language matches the type of story you’re covering. When you’re writing you just have to worry about words, but when you’re on Facebook Live there’s the added visual element. People tend to smile or laugh when they’re nervous, so this is especially important when at a sensitive scene.

3. Talk slowly, but not too slowly. When at a breaking scene the instinct is to get information out as quickly as possible, but take a breath and keep a good pace. However, as you slow down your speech be mindful of using filler words. Um, uh and similar words should be avoided.  

Hayden Grove’s Facebook Live tips:

1. Engage, engage, engage. Look at the comments, read them aloud (including the person’s name), say hello to people, etc.

2. Be sure to have a good connection with Wi-Fi. Nothing is worse than a blurry and/or lagging stream. Check your connection speed at fast.com. Any connection of 3 and below is not recommended.

3. Type a good text description, which is also the text that goes out on the push alert, and start the text with the news. Write something punchy that will engage people and bring people into the broadcast.

As a testament to the loyalty built by the Cleveland.com social media team—and specifically Grove’s reporting, meaningful interactions and sports commentary—Davis offered a story about his recent birthday. As she puts it, Grove is quite the crooner and has been known to sing upon request during Facebook Lives. Cleveland.com staff celebrated Hayden’s birthday with an hour-long Facebook Live from a local venue, just telling stories and talking with viewers. Nearly 1,000 commenters left wishes or notes for the reporter, and the video was viewed 19,000 times.

“It was a really cool example of how much people feel like they are friends with him,” Davis said. “It was really special in that it showed what he’s accomplished in terms of audience, and people feeling loyal and wanting to come to him for information.”