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Social Spotlight: A lesson in social storytelling from The New York Times

Welcome to the Social Spotlight, where we dive deep into what we love about a brand’s approach to a specific social campaign. From strategy through execution and results, we’ll examine what makes the best brands on social tick — and leave you with some key takeaways to consider for your own brand’s social strategy.

The New York Times is considered by many to be the greatest general interest publication in the world, but until recently lagged behind its digital-first peers in terms of innovation and risk-taking in its storytelling. Not so today, as the Gray Lady has come into her own in part by redefining the role of social media in compelling and accessible journalism.

Overview

It’s no surprise that in the media world, good social content is dependent in large part on good journalism. While this has never been a problem for The New York Times, its methods of delivering that great journalism in the format and channel desired by its audience have struggled to evolve at the same rate as the rest of the market.

Flash back to 2014: The Times was struggling through another year of declining ad revenue and, surprisingly for the one of the most venerated newspapers on the planet, declining readership. The Times’ digital readership specifically had been in decline for more than two years, with readers looking first to direct competitors like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, or to digital-first media startups like Vox and First Look Media, for their superior web, mobile and social media experiences.

So in May 2014, the paper commissioned a group of employees from “both sides of the wall” – newsroom and business – to study if and how the Times should make structural changes to address the viability of its current model in the digital news age. One huge advantage the report found for the “disrupters” was the use of social media to bring digital storytelling to the audience, rather than expecting them to come to it. It shares a great analogy: At the dawn of print distribution, the paper was printed in bulk, loaded on trucks, delivered to cities and towns across America and given to paper boys and delivery people to place on readers’ doorsteps. That mentality doesn’t exist for the digital products the NYT offers because they’ve operated under the assumption that the journalism is so good that digital readers will come to them. It’s the equivalent of abandoning that print distribution model, plopping a pile of papers in front of the NYT offices on 8th Avenue and saying, “If you want to read it, you have to come and get it.” Most people would take the local paper on their doorstep over the NYT they had to travel to get, despite the higher quality. And that created a big problem.

How to solve it? Enter: a new approach to storytelling, learned from social.

Analysis

The interim years have seen a renewed focus on the foundational elements of good digital journalism at The New York Times, including improvements to its app, core site, auxiliary pages like nytimes.com/cooking and digital ad offerings. But while the core publication is still working to optimize for the way readers consumer content today, the success it sees in social through visual storytelling, engagement-driving content and digital-first experiences is second to none.

  • Goals: As with most media social teams, there is a heavy focus on driving awareness of the content produced by the publication. But where the Times has evolved into a leader is in its ability to create deeply engaging social experiences that expand the impact of the published stories. A great example is the use of Instagram Stories and Highlights to surface the most impactful visual stories for that channel’s audience.
  • Offline connection: Social is used to drive offline experiences in much the same way a B2C product would use it: to highlight what you can’t get on social. For the Times, this includes teasing print-only content and driving registrations for the numerous panel discussions, screenings and meet & greets with reporters (I especially love the “group calls,” which allow readers to dial in to what is essentially a conference call between Times staffers to discuss a timely news topic).
  • Key channels: As recent 2020 report indicates, visual storytelling is a huge area of growth for the publication itself. But it’s long been the cornerstone of the Times’ social strategy, with a resource- and frequency focus on Instagram. As that channel’s’ storytelling tools have evolved, so have the Times’ stories (and Stories), often turning dense and complicated subject matter into digestible, understandable, visual content. Another excellent focus for Instagram is bringing context and humanity to the world-class photography and illustration of the core publication.

I also love the Times’ use of Facebook Groups to encourage readers and reporters to engage in “civil discussions” on topics as broad as life in Australia and as niche as favorite podcasts. While one might follow the section pages to see content, the Groups enable organic, ongoing dialogue among people who feel emotionally or intellectually invested in a subject.

Takeaways

Much of The New York Times’ evolution of this decade has been driven by the focus on subscribers as the paper’s primary source of revenue. This shift away from ad-driven KPIs like page views has refocused the newsroom on delivering quality and driving retention. The role of social in this model has crystallized as 1) an awareness driver for the kind of unparalleled storytelling available to subscribers, and 2) an engagement platform for readers and others to deepen their understanding and interest in the world captured by the Times’ content.

TL;DR:

  1. PAUSE. Invest the time, people power and resources in understanding what is working for your business and your customers and what isn’t. Even the best social content and strategy is lipstick on a pig if the brand it supports isn’t resonating.
  2. Identify your most enticing resources and make them as available as possible to your customers. The Times creates myriad opportunities for readers and reporters to meet, dialogue, exchange ideas and offer feedback. This keeps reporters honest to the audience’s needs and gives readers the opportunity to feel like part of the stories they consume.
  3. Bring your stories to your audience. They’re not going to come to you when they can get a passable equivalent without lifting a finger, so you have to give them the motivation to visit your site, store or experience. If social isn’t your primary storytelling channel, use it to tease the full story and draw your audience to the deeper experience you want them to have.

 

This post Social Spotlight: A lesson in social storytelling from The New York Times originally appeared on Sprout Social.

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About Daniel Rodgers

A lot of news that you will not see in the paper. A lot of technology that is coming out that will not see in the paper.

Check Also

10 Crucial Steps for Launching Your B2B Podcast Into the Wild

Hey, friend, have you heard the good news about podcasts? 

Given the most recent stats, it’s highly likely you have. Over half of all Americans over 12 years of age have listened to at least one. Podcasts have well and truly hit the mainstream. In other words, the gold rush is on for brands looking to connect with a highly-engaged, long-attention-span audience.

However, getting a podcast up and running isn’t as simple as publishing a blog. We recently published an entire B2B podcasting webinar to walk you through the entire process, from conception to publication. This post will zero in on the choices you need to make and the steps you need to take to release your podcast into the wild.

B2B Podcasting Launch Checklist: 10 Steps

Sure, you could just upload your audio to your web server, add an RSS feed, and call it good. But if you want people to actually find and listen to your podcast, there are a few extra steps you should take. This checklist will help your podcast find an audience and start building a subscriber base.

via GIPHY

#1: Choose Your Hosting Platform

A podcast syndication platform makes it easy to publish your podcast and get listed in directories. Think of it like WordPress is for your blog — it hosts the files, makes them look pretty, and makes it so people can find them.

Most platforms will also give you embed codes for embedding episodes in blog posts or on a landing page. You’ll also get stats on how many people are downloading episodes, and on what program they’re listening.

We prefer Libsyn as our hosting platform. Podbean, buzzsprout, and Blubrry are also solid options. They all have a free tier of hosting, but you’ll want to pay a few bucks a month for bandwidth and analytics.

#2: Upload Your First Three Episodes

Podcasting is all about establishing a regular cadence (more on that later). But for launch, you’ll want to have at least three episodes ready to go. There are a few reasons for publishing multiple episodes for your debut:

  1. One episode may not be enough to convince people to subscribe. 
  2. Multiple episodes show you’re committed to keeping the content coming.
  3. Most importantly, Apple podcasts requires at least three episodes to qualify for their “New and Noteworthy” section. 

So before you publish, have at least three episodes completed, and be ready to follow up with more at your promised publishing cadence.

#3:  Register with Podcast Directories

Podcasts are peculiar in terms of content delivery. Your hosting platform makes the files available, but most people will listen to your podcast on their chosen podcast app. Each app maintains its own directory — think of it as a search engine for podcasts. 

Your podcast needs to be listed in their directory, or people won’t be able to find you. I recommend registering with at least these six:

  1. Apple Podcasts
  2. Google Podcasts
  3. Stitcher
  4. Podbean
  5. Spotify
  6. TuneIn

Each of these sites will ask for the RSS feed of your podcast, which your hosting platform will generate for you.

I created a podcast tracker to keep track of all these directories — sign up for the webinar and you can download it for free.

B2B Podcast Tracker

#4: Promote Internally

Gaining visibility on a podcast directory is tricky business. Apple and Google are where the majority of your listeners will be, and each employs an algorithm to promote podcasts in search results and feature pages.

How do you get an algorithm’s attention? Engagement! Start by promoting your podcast to all of your employees. Encourage them to subscribe on Apple or Google, give a rating, and write a brief (and honest) review. What’s more, draft some social messages and encourage everyone to promote the podcast to their networks, too.

That base level of initial engagement will help your podcast start finding its audience.

#5: Activate Your Influencers

Most podcasts are Q&A-style interviews with influential guests. If your podcast includes influencers in your industry, make sure they know as soon as their episode goes live. Give them the tools to promote the podcast easily:

  • Sample social messages
  • Social media images in the correct sizes
  • Embed codes

If your podcast doesn’t feature influencers, it’s worth re-evaluating your strategy for your next season. Influencer content not only is more valuable to your audience, it’s an indispensable channel for promotion.

#6: Publish Blog Posts

The one downside of audio content: It’s not super crawlable for SEO purposes. Granted, Google has started to auto-transcribe episodes and add them to search results, but the technology is still in the early stages.

To truly get some SEO juice from your podcast, we recommend embedding each podcast in a blog post. This example from the Tech Unknown Podcast by SAP* shows how simple it can be. All you need is an introduction, a few pull quotes, some key takeaways, and a transcript.

#7: Add Paid Promotion

As with any content, you want to use every tactic available to make sure it gets seen by your target audience. That’s especially true with podcasts, since podcast search engines are incredibly competitive.

Targeted, paid social promotion can help establish your subscriber base and get your new podcast some much-needed visibility.

It’s also worth considering cross-promotion on other podcasts. Consider both paid advertising and trading guest spots with a podcast that shares your target audience. 

#8: Solicit Listener Feedback

Ratings and reviews are essential to your podcast’s success. They’ll help provide social proof for new listeners and boost your search visibility in podcast directories. 

The best way to get ratings and reviews? Ask for them. Make it part of each episode’s sign-off. You can even encourage thoughtful reviews by reading the best ones on future episodes. You will engage your listeners and solicit more reviews at the same time.

#9: Keep Up Your Cadence

As with blog content, there’s no single “right” frequency to publish a podcast. Some of my favorite podcasts publish weekly, biweekly, or even monthly. The best cadence for your podcast is “However frequently you can reliably, regularly publish quality content.”

Choose your cadence with an eye to long-term sustainability, and tell your listeners explicitly how frequently you’ll publish. Whether it’s “See you next week,” or “PodcastTitle is a monthly podcast that…” listeners will find it easier to make your podcast a habit if you stick to a schedule.

#10: Repurpose, Repurpose, Repurpose

In my last post on the content marketing benefits of B2B podcasting, I mentioned that podcasts are a content machine, and I’ll say it again. It’s easy to finish an episode, publish it, then forget it and move on to the next thing. But don’t do that! 

Pull snippets of audio content for social media. Turn them into short videos, too: Add a still image or a simple looping GIF for visual interest.

Use your transcriptions as fodder for future blog posts, quotes for influencer marketing, or even a stand-alone asset. 

Any way you can reuse that content can help bring more listeners to your podcast. What’s more, putting the content in a different medium can reach an audience who might not be into podcasts (yet). 

Check, Check, One Two

Launching a podcast is a little trickier than launching a new blog, especially if you’re new to the format. But if you follow this checklist, you can make sure your podcast is available on all the right channels and is ready to start attracting an audience.

Need more podcasting help? Check out our B2B Podcasting Webinar. In addition to learning the Four P’s of podcasting success, you’ll see me make this face:

B2B Podcasting Face

*Disclosure: SAP is a TopRank Marketing client.

The post 10 Crucial Steps for Launching Your B2B Podcast Into the Wild appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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