Going viral: How to use social media to grow your audience

10 tips to keep in mind when crafting a smart social media strategy for small and independent newsrooms.
Person holding phone and scrolling on Instagram. Social media for audience development.
Photo by Cottonbro Studio on Pexels.

Your social media following is more than just a statistic—those numbers represent members of the community. These are people who want to hear from you, and who you want to hear from. 

You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating—social media is social. It’s all about conversations. What is your audience talking about? What do they care about? More importantly, how can you add value to the conversation? Here are 10 things to think about before you start posting.

#1: Decide on the goal 

It’s not enough to be on social media just because “everyone else is doing it” or because it may result in clicks or views. 

Publishers on social media often run into the dilemma of what to focus on: creating content to drive traffic to the website or creating content to build up the audience on the platform itself. Not to mention, the dual goal of attraction versus conversion—how do you reach more people while also getting them to stay? 

Figuring out this essential “why” will drive efforts in the right direction. 

#2: Choose your player

Indiegraf audience strategist Emily Fearon’s biggest piece of advice for publishers is to be realistic about your return on investment (ROI) on social. “Don’t try to get a big audience on every platform. Look into the data and listen to your readers about which channel is actually working for them,” she says.

Choose one, at most two, platforms to focus on. Ideally, they should be the ones your audience is already on. Instagram and Twitter are good for wider reach, while smaller, more locally focused outlets may find more success on Facebook. Conducting an audience survey is a great way to confirm where your audience spends the most time.

#3: Think like a journalist 

“For news entrepreneurs coming from traditional reporting backgrounds, tackling social media can be really daunting,” says Indiegraf audience strategist Claire Tran, who’s previously worked in social media at AJ+ and The Washington Post

“Try not to think of the social post as clickbait; rather, you should still view it through the lens of a journalist. What’s the nut graf of the story? What’s the new information or most important takeaway?”

At the end of the day, all content posted on social media should hit at least one of three purposes: to inform, to entertain, or to inspire. If you don’t have a clear call to action or message, ask yourself: why are you sharing this?

#4: Don’t forget to listen

Any social media strategy is incomplete without some component of social listening—the practice of analyzing conversations and trends related to your company. This can be as simple as scrolling through comments, related hashtags, and the comments sections of competitors. These will provide valuable insights to help decide what content to share, or even what stories to focus on. 

What’s important to remember is that news isn’t just top-down anymore. On social, it’s just as likely to be bottom-up. For Evan Dammarell, sports journalist and publisher of Right Down Euclid, his social media growth took a little while. “But, when I could provide reporting and coverage that people enjoyed and trusted, they started to stick around and, in turn, sometimes fuel what precisely I’m covering!”

#5: It’s about the journey, not the destination

Use the numbers to measure trust and community, not the bottom line. Approach social media like an experiment, and expect to always be fine-tuning the strategy month-to-month. 

“Investing lots of time into socials isn’t going to make a difference if you haven’t created a community on those platforms,” says Emily. “Social media is an ongoing and constant demand on a publisher’s workload. The news never sleeps, so don’t start a whole new social strategy if it isn’t scalable, and if there isn’t an audience on the platform to benefit from that labour!” 

Evan echoes this sentiment: “Sometimes it can be hit or miss—that’s the nature of social media and the pure vastness of it. I always tell people I’m just one person, and there are only so many things I can pay attention to in a day. But because of the community I’ve helped build with my audience on social media, I can have eyes and ears everywhere for topics I never thought of.”

#6: Online community building made easy

Twitter Spaces, Facebook groups, Instagram broadcast channels or hashtags are all good ways to open up conversations and consolidate your community in one virtual space. Jumping on new features can be a good way to get a boost on the algorithm, as long as there’s a strategy behind it.

#7: Ask questions 

For Evan, his platforms are “as close as possible to a one-to-one interaction with my audience.” He suggests running polls on Twitter or asking simple questions or prompts on Instagram to engage with audiences and see how people feel about specific topics. 

“From there, I can reach out to folks who responded directly or send out follow-up questions to everyone to fine-tune what I want to cover.”

#8: Make it personal

There are a few easy ways to add a personal touch to social media profiles. Create a specific hashtag for followers to use. Make sure profile pictures and graphics are consistent with the branding on the website and other accounts so that people can tell at first glance who they’re interacting with.  

#9: Create and schedule ahead of time 

Use social media management platforms like Later or Hootsuite to avoid being online all the time. Meta Business Suite is free to use for creating and scheduling posts on Facebook and Instagram. Just don’t forget to set aside 30 minutes once or twice a week to scroll through comments and stay up to date with new interactions. 

#10: Use what you’ve got

Most of the time, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Get creative with reusing content and copy from other sources. Claire suggests using Twitter threads or Instagram carousels to highlight interviewees’ voices or wrap up the news of the week.

If you’re looking for more support in audience development, from social media strategy to lead generation, the Indiegraf team can help you spread the word. Get in touch!

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