Social Media in a Time of Crisis

In times of crisis, increasing amounts of people worldwide utilize social media as an outlet. Social media gives millions of users real-time access to information, helps them communicate with loved ones, and keeps them as informed as possible.  However, it can also evoke widespread fear.  With such quick access to information, media outlets have less time to confirm critical facts and consider the consequences of widespread distribution.  In this blog post, I highlight social media sentiment in response to the Boston Marathon massacre, in which it played a critical role.

News breaks. Authorities and first responders used Twitter to relay real-time updates. The Boston police department confirmed the explosion in a tweet at 3:39 p.m. ET and continued to send information via tweets throughout the day. People in the area reported losing mobile service after the explosions. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency sent a tweet telling people to try to use text messaging instead. Twitter users retweet AP, Boston Globe, CNN and other trusted sources. News quickly became viral.

Next, details start to leak. Runners post bloody, graphic images of Boston Marathon injuries. Similarly, runners also post video on Vine to show action shots of the blast. At this point, do a simple hash tag search of #Boston and you can find all of the information you need, in real time, on Twitter.

In response to the horrific images and video capturing the event, people around the world expressed their emotions. Most sentiment included shock and sorrow, sending prayers and love to everyone at the marathon. Others shared information on how to help and donate blood.

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On the flip side, people also used Facebook and Twitter as a way to vent feelings of anger. Runners expressed horror and fear. Others shamed news outlets for posting such gruesome photos of the event.

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After emotional reactions were expressed, people began to ask: “who is responsible?” We want justice. We want closure.

obama tweets

But it’s not enough. A Saudi national was brought in for questioning. The New York Post reported that the man’s apartment was searched. However, it’s unclear as to what, if anything was found. Was this to calm the public? Some called bullshit and accused authorities of racial profiling. Today, the Saudi national was cleared of suspicion, according to Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Furthermore, the demand for instant gratification and by-the-second updated news on Twitter is creating an unsettling margin of error in reporting. Since the time of the incident, many unconfirmed reports are being treated as gospel. What’s worse? Confusion abounds this afternoon around the Boston Marathon bombing case after multiple news outlets reported that a suspect was identified and either taken into custody or arrested.

According to New York Magazine: The Associated Press said a person was “in custody, expected in federal court,” while CNN and Fox News reported that an arrest was made, based on video images of the bombing site. NBC and CBS both reported that no arrest has been made, and CNN has since softened its once-definitive reporting. “Despite reports to the contrary there has not been an arrest in the Marathon attack,” the Boston Police Department said.

Reporting on breaking tragedies is about much more than simply informing the world what’s going on. It’s about helping people in dire need. That’s where Google’s Person Finder comes in, a project that lets people search for or provide information on those involved in a tragedy. Hence, it proved to be a remarkable tool in helping runners find loved ones.

Similarly, The Boston Globe created a Google form where Boston residents could offer their home to people from out of town who need a place to stay. Runkeeper and TIME helped Bostonians find places to donate blood.

Tell us: Do you think social media has been a savior in a time of crisis? Or are there too many inconsistencies in Tweets coming from the worlds most trusted news sources? Your opinions on this matter are highly valued. We highly encourage your comments below. 

3 Perspectives on Paywalls

English: A speech in The New York Times newsro...

Writers creating content worthy of a paywall.

The good news is that paywalls are actually working well for publications with considerable scale like the Wall Street Journal, The Economist and The New York Times (NYT).  At the NYT, digital subscriptions will generate $91 million for the paper in 2012 according to Douglas Arthur, an analyst with Evercore Partners. The paywall, by his estimate, will account for 12 percent of total subscription sales, which will top $768.3 million in 2013. Even more encouraging is that digital subscriptions generated $52.8 million more than advertising.

The growth in digital subscriptions represents a new version of the NYT’s business model that evolved from the traditional 80-20 ratio between ads and circulation.  Further, the business model is still growing; subscription sales are increasing faster than ad dollars are declining. During the 12 months after the paywall was implemented, the Times and the International Herald Tribune increased circulation dollars 7.1 percent compared with the previous 12-month period, while advertising fell 3.7 percent. Subscription sales more than compensated for the ad losses, surpassing them by $19.2 million in the first year they started charging readers online.

The Guardian is taking a more nuanced approach, according to Andrew Miller, CEO of the Guardian Media Group:

In some news organisations where growth in readership may not be so important and in particular where there is a strong existing print subscriber base to build on, a pure paywall may make excellent business sense. The Economist and perhaps the Times spring to mind here. It also makes sense in other publications which feature business-critical information – for example, the Financial Times and, in the Australian context, the AFR.

At the Guardian we will continue to look at, monitor and offer a blend of options, including paywalls, depending on the product we are offering. But at the same time we have to recognise that digital advertising is not yet able to fill the substantial gap between any paywall revenues and the cost of the operation — not least because advertising agencies have not yet fully aligned their spend with changing patterns in media consumption.

But how to get from where we are today to where we need to be?  The main thrust of our strategy is to invest in our digital audience and revenue growth, while optimising the newspaper’s contribution in terms of both format and pricing and, crucially, managing our cost base to a level that is sustainable in the long term

My guess is that the Guardian’s audience will pay a premium for clips from The Premier League, which could put the whole publication in the black.

While this is great for large, global publications with scale, the question remains how to apply paywalls to smaller niche publications like The New Republic.    The New Republic’s marketing combines an eager softsell with some sticky features: the website has a strong call to actions, with reminders in bright red and the option to signup versus subscribe.

After signing up, you get a charming note from EIC and Publisher Chris Hughes:

Dear friend of The New Republic,

At The New Republic we believe that our democracy needs thriving and serious journalism about politics, culture, and ideas to function well. Tailored for curious, socially aware people like you, The New Republic embodies these journalistic ideals by going deeper than the headlines in a timely, unbiased fashion.

The way we all read and consume content changes every day. In an age of unprecedented technological change, we look to find new ways to help our readers engage with our content in print, on the web, and on mobile. We place less emphasis on generating clicks or superficial page views and more on making it as easy and pleasurable to read, engage, and interact with our content and ideas, wherever you may be.

To get the most out of your New Republic experience please:
Sign up for The New Republic Daily
Follow us on Twitter
Become a fan on Facebook

Thank you again for being a part of this.

Sincerely,

Chris Hughes
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

P.S. Subscribers get access to 20 print issues, unlimited digital access, and tablet versions of our magazine for only $34.97/year. Become a subscriber today.

Today, The New Republic boasts less than 75,000 subscribers, down from it’s peak of 102,392 in 1993 according to the Alliance for Audited Media.  The magazine stopped auditing circulation in 2005.  Unsurprisingly, the magazine’s social media presence is very compelling and should drive a fair amount of referral traffic to the site.  However, it’s unclear what type of conversion rates they’re seeing and if digital subscriptions will increase substantially.

How to Develop a Killer Social Media Content Calendar

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Drafting a killer social media content calendar is definitely time consuming. (If you want successful results) The important part is spending time more time focusing on big picture ideas and less time on formatting. Many social media managers struggle to get started on a content calendar because they worry about how it should look off the bat.

Step 1: Brainstorming ideas

Step away from your computer and find somewhere quiet with no distractions. All you need is a pen and paper. Begin by writing down every single idea that comes to your mind so that you don’t forget anything. These ideas do not have to be in ANY order; just keep writing until your brain hits a brick wall.

Does your notepad look like a schizophrenic mess? Excellent. You’re on the right track. Now it’s time to go back to your computer. Print out a blank calendar template that you can jot down ideas into specific dates. Begin to organize your ideas. Start researching upcoming holidays (official and unofficial) and events relevant to the brand’s industry. How will you engage your community around these events? What type of content should be created to activate your audience? How will you develop viral content around an event to position brand from competition? Which social channels will you utilize?

Different brands will obviously cater to different audiences. As a result, the content calendar should be highly targeted.  See below for an example of a social media content calendar for a celebrity gossip website.

September 2012 Social Media Calendar

Step 2: Developing Themes

When I was a social media for a celebrity gossip website, I researched anything and everything that is relevant to pop culture. For example, upcoming holidays, TV and movie premieres, celebrity birthdays, fashion and beauty trends, music, etc. From there, I developed social media franchises around each campaign. Let’s use the month of March for example.  Beginning my brainstorming list of March themes, I’ve included: Spring, rainbow, colors, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, March Madness, Spring fashion, TV premieres, etc.  From there, I developed a list of topics and questions to ask around each theme.  So far, I know I will be developing Pinterest boards around Spring fashion, emerald green accessories and Easter and Passover recipes. Furthermore, for Twitter, I’ve drafted a list of questions with dedicated hash tags that will drive conversation around all of my themes. On a daily basis, I am aware of the trending topics on Twitter and make sure to utilize dedicated hash tags to categorize and extend my reach. Similarly, I am retweeting and re-pinning influencer content to develop credibility.

Step 3: Ideating Campaigns, Promotions & Giveaways

Giveaways and promotions are an excellent way to encourage user generated content, brand advocacy and expanding social communities. As such, reach out to third party agency contacts to pitch ideas for a giveaway. Why partner? Most likely, you will have little to no money for a social media budget.  After all, if you can execute a successful campaign strategy that is 100% organic, think of the results you could produce if you had a budget!  Once you’ve secured a win-win agreement and swag for my giveaway, you can start planning the promotional strategy. When the vision, copy, timing, rules and messaging are established, run the idea past legal for approval. Once approved, collaborate with the production team to develop powerful promotional images for collateral.

Live Q&As and Google + Hangouts

Two more pieces of content to consider:  A live Q&A session with an industry leader hosted on a brand’s Facebook or Twitter page is a great way to increase engagement and followers.  Furthermore, Google + Hangouts can help your brand grow by:

  • Increasing SEO
  • Driving engagement
  • Launching a new product or service
  • “How to” videos
  • Interviews
  • Internal meetings and training

Step 4: Timing and Frequency

Depending on holidays and events, some weeks will have more content than others. Likewise, it makes sense to plug a promotion or giveaway into a week that’s less busy. Similarly, if you plan to roll out a Pinterest or Instagram campaign, be mindful of how much is on your plate that week.  To avoid working around the clock, there are helpful scheduling tools. HootSuite, Bit.ly and SocialFlow are three social media analytics platforms that enable a user to schedule posts in advance on social media platforms.

Step 5: Measuring Success: Analytics Reporting

Watching the results in growth and also what is popular in content via tools such as Google Analytics will give you valuable information for future editorial ideas. In contrast, you can also measure content that was unpopular and develop a better understanding of your audience.

How to Conduct a Social Media Audit

image for blog post

Have you ever been asked to conduct a social media audit for a client or brand? It can be tough getting started. It’s important to focus on the big picture. First, take a look at the brand’s overall web presence. Take notes on the website, campaign microsites and blogs. Also, to find the number of monthly unique visitors to the site, Compete and Quantcast are helpful measuring tools.

From there, take a look at the brand’s social presence. Which platforms is the brand utilizing or under utilizing? Does it make sense to be on all platforms? For example, while a fashion brand typically receives the majority of site referral traffic from Pinterest – that might not be the same for a pharmaceutical company.  Always put yourself in the mindset of the social platform user. For example, if I logged onto Facebook and noticed a request to “like” a tile company, I would kindly decline. Also, people log on to Twitter to be informed or entertained. As a result, blogs, news and humor handles have the largest following. Moreover, always be mindful of who the brand audience is. Similarly, take the time to understand which content is appropriate per social channel.

Content is King  & Context is Queen

Next, take a look at how many followers, likes or subscribers each social channel has. If the content is high quality, people will share it. Evaluate the brand voice. Is the brand successful in engaging each community? Furthermore, is the brand nurturing its community by addressing fan’s questions and concerns?

Key Performance Indicators

Depending on the industry of the company, there should be specific key performance indicators. Key performance indicators are vital to both reporting on investments and strategic planning in social media. Key performance can be measured in a variety of ways: referral traffic, time spent on the site, fan acquisition, engagement, content sharing, purchases, email opt-ins, downloads, etc. Once KPI’s are defined, you can then define the impact on each social goal. For example, if the goal is referral traffic, evaluate the language used in Tweets and Facebook posts. Did the brand create a call to action that would make the fan click on the link?

Additionally, if the goal of the brand is to maximize engagement on Facebook, take a look at the type of content the brand is posting. Is the brand simply sharing links – or is there a variety of content? To increase “Virality” and “People Talking About This” stats within Facebook Insights, take a look at which posts are getting the most action. You will most likely find that pictures, more than links, receive more shares and likes. Why? Because pictures play on emotions. According to Facebook, posts that include a picture generate about 120% more engagement. Other posts that drive engagement include appeals to nostalgia, humor, sex, quotes and major events. The key is to mix it up. Variety is the spice of life!

Timing, Quality and Quantity of Posts

No one ever wants to be the Facebook user who posts a million times per day. You know, the girl who thinks we all care about her dead hamster, The Bachelor finale, her bad breakup and third paper cut this week? According to EdgeRank, a post is considered dead when the growth in engagement is less than 10% of the largest growth of engagement between hourly snapshots. Furthermore, posting too frequently can be off putting. Don’t be that girl. Moral of the story: Quality > quantity. Pay attention to which times throughout the day your audience is most engaged. Every brand is different. Once you have it figured out, capitalize on it. You’ll come to notice that it’s more about “what time” than “how often.”

Conclusion

The purpose of a social media audit is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a brand’s digital presence. From there, you can address the needs and provide solutions for each social channel. With over 300 networks, it is worth focusing efforts on only the major players relevant to the brand. Finally, through analytics tools such as Google Analytics, HootSuite, Bit.ly, SocialFlow and Facebook Insights, you can measure the performance of each social campaign.

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