Mark Johnson: «Make Mistakes and Experiment in Social Media»
According to data of Socialbakers.com BBC, The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian pages are the most popular on Facebook and Twitter. But these media are popular without social media as well. It means that social media are effective only for big companies. However there are many local media. What should they do and how do not to lose them on the list of the pages on Facebook or Twitter? IJF’s correspondent Eleonora Kirkizh asked Community Editor of British magazine The Economist Mark Johnson about big and small media in social networks and about how to make successful media page on Facebook or Twitter.
IJF2012: Big companies’ social media pages are often far more popular than those of smaller ones. Is social media really only effective for big companies?
MJ: It’s certainly a huge advantage in social media to have a recognizable name offline that people trust and recognize. That kind of recognition can give you a big headstart. We’re lucky that readers will come looking for us on social media, rather than the other way round.
Yet social media offers an enormous opportunity for small newspapers too, because it allows them to distribute what they do far more widely – and to use precisely the same tools that are available to firms with far more resources. In that respect, I think it levels the playing field. These days if you have a truly great story you can potentially reach a massive audience, regardless of how big your daily circulation might be.
IJF2012: Nevertheless many newspapers are not active in social networks.
MJ: I think increasingly they are. The papers that can are hiring people to lead their efforts; others are finding and promoting talent that already exists in their teams. And obviously a lot of journalists are taking to social media independently as they realize its uses for sourcing news (and promoting themselves!)
One obstacle, perhaps, is that some firms expect too much from social media too quickly. You don’t need a lot of resources to build successful social media communities, and you can share responsibility for it out among members of your existing teams. But you do need time to nurture an audience: our following on The Economist’s social media profiles has been built over two or three years of hard work from our social media team.
IJF2012: Some would say The Economist caters to a niche audience. So why so much success on social media?
MJ: One of the most rewarding aspects of our social media work has been the chance to take our work out to audiences that may have heard of our brand, but who may never actually have read us. There’s a truly enormous (and growing) group of intelligent and curious people who aren’t yet readers, but we know would enjoy the magazine. For one thing, more and more people, in the last few years especially, are realizing how important a role finance and economics plays in their daily lives. For another, we’ve been able to demonstrate to them the full range of topics covered in the magazine: international politics, science and technology, culture and more. I hope our success in social media has in part been because of our success in telling that story.
I think we’re also fairly fortunate that, perhaps because we have traditionally had a smaller audience than some of the biggest weekly news magazines, many Economist readers already feel themselves to be part of a community of people who think a little differently about the world. And they’re often keen to identify themselves with that community online (whether on Facebook, or Twitter, or elsewhere), and also eager to promote the magazine to their friends and contacts.
IJF2012: What mistakes do newspapers make in social media?
MJ: The biggest mistake, especially when you’re just starting out, is to be too afraid of making mistakes! Social media rewards innovation and experimentation – and the biggest platforms will also allow you to withdraw a lot of data so that you know whether what you’re doing is working. So I recommend trial and error.
IJF2012: I hear that you post about 15 times a day in notes in social media, every day?
MJ: It changes, but on Facebook and on Twitter we post around 15-20 posts per day. On our other social sites we post rather less.
IJF2012: It that normal for a newspaper?
MJ: We take considerable care in deciding how much is the right amount of activity on these sites. On the one hand we don’t want to publish too much and bore or irritate people; on the other hand if you publish too little your followers may never see you. We’ve experimented a little, and watched the response, to see how much is right for us – I don’t think there’s a one size fits all solution, and different newspapers will probably have different experiences.
IJF2012: Is Facebook or Twitter more popular among news readers?
MJ: We have about twice as many followers on Twitter as we do on Facebook. Facebook is incredibly effective at generating conversations about the topics we cover, and at referring new readers back to our own site. And Twitter is an especially excellent platform for reaching really influential advocates for our work, who can share our efforts widely, and with groups of people we would never have been able to reach of our own accord. Both sites are very important to us.
IJF2012: Not many journalists connect with their readers on social networks or on the website of their own newspaper. Why do you think this is?
MJ: Perhaps it’s because traditionally a lot of newspapers had policies warning journalists not to take part. We, along with many organizations, now encourage them to participate. The conversations are more interesting when a journalist is involved – and comment contributors themselves find it more engaging too. And many of our journalists enjoy the opportunity to acknowledge and thank readers for corrections or additions – and indeed to stand up for their work if contributors are unfairly criticizing it.