How a seven-person community newspaper reached 20,000 Facebook followers
Guest post by Sheri McWhirter, digital editor at The Daily Telegram
The Daily Telegram in Adrian, Michigan, experienced an organic surge in popularity on social media site Facebook during recent months.
Much of the growth can be connected to a single, breaking news event in our coverage area, though the use of Facebook Insights helps with the slower, yet steady audience growth and interaction on the social media site.
The newspaper maintained about 19,000 followers on Facebook in October 2015, plus gained more than 201,000 website referrals from the social media site, according to our GateHouse social media scorecard. By the end of December, The Daily Telegram’s reach grew to nearly 20,000 followers and increased monthly website referrals by about 60,000 clicks.
Then our local school violence threat took place.
Breaking news through Facebook
An unknown number of teenage high school students within our coverage area worked together to post a school shooting threat to Facebook on Jan. 4 using a fake account. That prompted police and school authorities to respond with an immediate criminal investigation and the closure of the campus the next day. However, the decision to close the school didn’t come until just a few hours before students would be at their bus stops. Police still haven’t revealed all the details of the crime.
The situation set off a flurry of activity on The Daily Telegram’s Facebook site. We received many private messages and public posts asking for information, as parents felt scared about the threat and remained unsure whether to send their children to school. As a result, I, as the digital editor, spent the entire night in the newsroom to monitor our Facebook site not only to update the public with information as soon as possible, but also to delete any references to the initial suspected minor. Some of our readers posted photos of the minor suspect or derogatory comments throughout the night, and our newsroom editors agreed we needed to remove such posts. We gained hundreds of new followers during that one night.
The Daily Telegram’s reach on Facebook continued to grow since then and Insights helped to determine who our online readers are and what types of posts they prefer the most. We recently passed 21,000 followers in February, and in the last GateHouse social media scorecard ranked No. 17 for Facebook fan page size. This enhanced social media presence, despite The Daily Telegram accounting for about 2.5 percent of total GateHouse daily paid print circulation among the 78 daily newspapers in the company family.
Facebook strategy and using Insights to target audiences
Our largest social media audience is comprised of women between 25 and 44 years old (a collective 33 percent) and the majority of our total audience — a whopping 80 percent — views our Facebook content on a mobile device. Posts regarding community and local school events are often the most popular, such as a teaser sentence with a link to feature stories or photo galleries. Posts regarding controversies and even local celebrities also perform especially well with The Daily Telegram’s audience. Also, because most of our readers access our Facebook site via mobile devices, we attempt to keep the teaser sentence short, whether a factual statement or a question. We try not to repeat information that can be read in the headline shown with the link. Finally, the time frame with the optimum likelihood for our followers to share our content is in the evenings, according to Insights, so we try to save the best possible posts for that time of the day.
One thing which may be unique is that The Daily Telegram maintains a policy against posting the day’s newly published stories to Facebook and instead circulate links to content first published the day prior. This is to continue to offer our online subscribers premier access to the day’s latest local news. The only instances in which this doesn’t apply is in the event of breaking news which has the potential to impact public safety or is of incredible local, state or national importance. When that happens, our policy is to delete any post made to our page within the last two hours of the breaking news, then post that breaking news to Facebook. This is so our own posts aren’t competitors against each other within the Facebook algorithm.
The editorial team at The Daily Telegram remain confident our consistent audience growth on Facebook is a reflection of our consistent engagement activity. Inner Circle guidelines and Facebook Insights are tools we’ve used and are pleased with the results.