If you’re starting to pay attention to your metrics more, you’ve likely noticed certain stories do well on social media, while others don’t.

With Facebook’s algorithm it can often be a guessing game when you post, but taking a closer look at your social referrals can give you more insight than you think.

Take for example the top posts by social referrers across GateHouse sites in Parse.ly analytics, which many of our larger newsrooms have. When you review the list for October, you see a pattern of content emerging:

Stories about local businesses:

Flower factory going out of business

Fast food eatery shut down over cockroaches, dirty men’s room

Stories that are unique to the community and give readers a sense of pride or connection:

Orphaned sister reunite while working on same floor at Sarasota Hospital

Bill Clinton stops for donuts in Newburgh

University of Alabama student becomes Jumbotron sensation

Crime stories that you just have to read:

Neighbors clap, cheer as couple is arrested on meth charges

75-year-old man thwarts possible knife attack at Morton Public Library

Lists about the community:

10 things that happen when you move to Las Vegas

Every newspaper has stories happening in the community similar to what’s on this list. And sometimes things like headlines (neighbors clapping and cheering makes a routine crime story more interesting) or presentation (a list format for a story about Las Vegas) can make a story do better on social.

If you dig a little deeper into metrics and look at stories with more social shares, you’ll notice a few differences in the stories, which give you an idea of what readers are more likely to engage with, as well as read:

Famous Dave’s will give anyone named Dave free food today

Update: Mountain Lion perched up pole on Cougar Buttes

You just have to do it: Shocking texts released in teen suicide case

Turtle hatchlings survived storm, tides to make trek to sea

With these stories we can also see local, unique stories, but also stories that will inform others. Can you imagine how many folks shared the Famous Dave story simply because they knew someone named Dave? The mountain lion story also had an element of public interest to it, as readers likely wanted to alert people who live nearby. And who doesn’t want to hear about the journey of these little turtles?

So now that we have seen what has worked  across our network, how does this match up with other industry trends? The answer is that you can notice patterns on what and why people share.

A 2014 study from the New York Times Customer Insight Group found several common themes: Entertainment, to define ourselves, relationships, self-fulfillment and to support a cause.

Many of the stories on this list fall into the relationships (sharing about people they know or to inform people they know) or to support a cause theme. Those are categories that newsrooms can easily cover.

To answer the question of what people share, a study on Hubspot that analyzed 220,000 articles on social found what type of content was shared more than others: How-to posts, lists, videos, what-posts and why-posts. All of these types of content are also created pretty regularly by newsrooms.

As an editor, how can you adjust your newsroom’s workflow to better match up with this content? A couple of things come to mind:

  1. Regularly review your metrics, whether in Parse.ly, Google Analytics or Facebook Insights to see what does well.
  2. For the stories that receive a lot of social referrals or shares, ask yourself a few things. Is there a follow up to this story? Is this a story format that we could do more of? How did our newsroom come across this story and can we change our workflow to discover more stories like this?
  3. Are we doing enough stories with photos, videos and unique content that connect readers to the community more?
  4. How can we adjust our coverage to cover more interesting slices of life in our communities and things to do instead of meetings and events?

Social media is a place where many readers discover our content these days, and our audience there may want slightly different things than those who visit our homepage or those who subscribe to us in print.

By paying more attention to our metrics, we can potentially reach a wider audience than ever before through social.

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