'Understand the platforms through trial and error': Advice for media brands on social

Success with content creation and distribution on social platforms is all about relevance, speakers at the FIPP World Congress in London told delegates today (10 October).

But in the competitive digital age where everyone with a smartphone is able to produce hours of content for multiple platforms, how can news organisations compete and make sure they grip the attention of their audiences?

Kalli Purie, group editorial director, the India Today Group; Anne-Marie Tomchak, UK editor, Mashable; and Stefan Betzold, managing director, digital, Bild, explained how they ensure their content gets noticed in the flood of information online, while remaining relevant to their audiences.

Understand the platforms and prioritise your energy

“Publishers need to look at their content and ask themselves how it can be presented in a way it’s going to engage audiences,” explained Purie.

With Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and a variety of other social platforms, publishers have to try to ensure they have a strategy on each channel.

“You need to be their favourite mistress – if you want to [collaborate] with Google and Facebook, you have to produce what they like and follow their formats, with, for example, Instant Articles and Accelerated Mobile Pages,” she said.

“We produce both high-quality video and raw material to suit where we are publishing. You should be across all platforms and formats because you don’t know which one is going to be the most popular – Twitter was the talk of the town, then it was Facebook and now it is Snapchat.”

Indeed, news organisation Bild has 20 million unique users in Germany, and has made it part of its innovation process to be on every platform.

“We even produce content for Amazon Echo, even if there is not a business case for that yet, because we want to test and learn, and therefore understand the platforms through trial and error,” said Betzold.

But Tomchak explained Mashable takes a different approach, and warned that publishers should be selective about where they decide to focus their energies, rather than being everywhere.

“It’s about understanding your audience first, knowing their needs and interests,” she said.

“It’s only then that you can understand how to grow your brand. We are on lots of platforms, but we are selective and very strategic in the way we produce content – otherwise it is a waste of time and you’re just adding to more noise.”

Work on your brand recognition on third-party platforms

“We brand all our content in a special way, with our colour, logo and kind of journalism,” said Betzold of Bild.

“But, if you look at Snapchat, Facebook or Instagram, we have differences from channel to channel, never publishing the same version of a video on different channels.”

Purie agreed, explaining that rather than translating material for each platform, it’s more successful to produce native content from scratch for each site.

Mashable even has a different editorial selection of stories across platforms, depending on what users want, said Tomchak.

For example, their Snapchat Discover output is more tech-focused, whereas their YouTube viewers are more interested in entertainment.

“We still keep our progressive, millennial tone,” she said, noting that the audiences are very clear about what they want from you as a news organisation.

Remember that the audience, in part, controls the editorial agenda

“To get a really invested and a return audience, use data to figure out which stories are resonating with your audience, before you decide in that editorial meeting what story you’re going to select and how you are going to creatively tell it through the prism of your organisation’s voice,” said Tomchak.

“You can give them what they want and cover the issues you want to discuss, but contextualising the story in a way that is relevant to them – a fun way into a meaningful topic.”

Purie agreed and explained that it is important to cover the issues that people are talking about.

“One of the ways to engage with them is to ask ‘what are the topics talked about on social media today, and how do we get on this story’ – you put the audience at the top of the list,” she said.

“We don’t always get to choose what we want to run, it doesn’t work like that on the internet now, we need to pick up what they are talking about.”

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