12 easy tricks to help find your voice on social media

No one – not even Instagram queens, national newspaper editors or that weird guy from school who inexplicably has thousands of Twitter followers – fully understands social media. And isn’t that exciting?

Journalists increasingly value the analytics and audience connection offered by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and who-knows-what-next. Together, we’re learning how best to use each platform to build our brand, reach new audiences and make our content the best it can be. 

So how are journalists tackling the modern mystery of social media? To find out, we’ve rounded up the most helpful social media must-dos and must-don’ts we could find, each from a different website. Spoiler: social media is a mixed bag.

  1. Vox: Make ‘em want more

Luke Barratt: “The tone of their tweets is similar to the headline voice on the website, focusing on explanation. However, there is also an elliptical quality to it: a question is usually implied but left unanswered. For example, ‘The timing of our current Election Day shows how antiquated our voting system is.’ How?”

It seems obvious, but it is easy to forget: if you give your audience too much information, they have no reason to click and add to your sweet, sweet page views. But nor do you want to incense your audience with a tantalising tweet leading to a mind-draining article. Only if your content is quality is teasingly holding back information deserved. Thankfully, Vox has quality on its side.

  1. The Telegraph: Know your audience

Harriet Pavey: “Their Twitter feed doesn’t get much engagement at all, despite having 700k followers. It seems to be still figuring out who it is…. Their Instagram uses lot of hashtags on every picture, suggesting that the likers are probably not avid Telegraph readers, and are likely just to be browsing Instagram. Despite the high engagement rate, the account has about 51K followers.”

‘Audience’ may be a generic, beige term but they are a varied, colourful spectrum. While millennials tend to lap up #hashtags, GIFs and a chummy writing style, the middle class, middle-aged audience of The Telegraph might be more inclined to think ‘GIF’ is a made-up word.

Even The Telegraph’s comparably brilliant audience engagement on Instagram might be problematic. It seems likely that most of the love is from people who just enjoy photos of dormice, instead of the more helpful and likely intended audience of potential and existing subscribers.

  1. The Financial Times: Forget the rules of print

Luke Mintz: “The FT uses the common Facebook tactic of making each post’s caption different from the headline. Often the captions will display an interesting, quirky quote from the article, or a nugget of insight which might not be conveyed by the headline.”

How would you sum up the story if you were talking to a, you know, normal person rather than a newspeak-infested, formal editor? The Financial Times are not going all Buzzfeed on their readers. They keep their serious style, but draw your eye just as you would in normal conversation – starting with the most interesting bit of the story. In the example above, the caption is a direct, personal quote with attention-grabbing emotion.

  1. The Daily Mail: A picture is worth a thousand words

Francisco de Souza: “Very bad use of images, mostly montages that are very hard to see in smaller screens, not attractive at all…. Daily Mail stories with good images tended to fare better than those with bad images.”

We’re journalists – and therefore all freakishly obsessed with words. But an image does the same job in a fraction of the time, which is key in the fast-paced world of social media. What makes the choosing the best picture even trickier is that our social media scrolling takes place on screens of hugely varying sizes, from the heftiest desktop to the most minuscule phone.

  1. Breitbart: Stick to your beat

Ryan Watts: “They’ve built a specific audience. They’re active and they don’t want to be distracted. This Facebook post demonstrates that, of the 1,200 people who liked this fairly innocuous article, 1/4 as many as people liked the top comment. A more ‘on-brand’ comment too.”

Viral content – check. Fun – check. Image-based – check. Relevant? Oh.

If you spam your readers with irrelevant content they did not sign up for, they may not stay signed up.

  1. VICE: Take advantage of loopholes

Niamh McIntyre: “VICE take a strategy I’ve seen used by lots of other places to get round the difficulty of hyperlinking in Instagram. They choose one piece to push, and link to it in their bio, which is updated on a daily basis. This seems to work reasonably well for them, as their like:follower ratio is much better than on other platforms.”

Instagram’s quirk of not letting you hyperlink in the caption forces publications to find other ways to promote an article.

This way, though, your audience must go all the way to your bio to find the link. That’s a lot of exercise for the internet. Concentrating on one image-rich article and pushing it intensely must be a great traffic-booster for VICE – and using different social platforms is innovative,  reminding its readers that its journalism is up-to-the-minute.

  1. Bloomberg @Brexit: Embrace niche topics (carefully)

Matteo Moschella: “Hourly tweets, live retweeting…No Clickbaiting… Few hashtags but effective.”

Bloomberg acquiring the @Brexit Twitter handle is key to their Brexit-only Twitter feed: it is clear, will do well on search and, of course, is right on-topic. The account was only launched on 22 October, yet 6 November sees it at 12k followers. Separating its Brexit analysis from its main account means an influx of new readers, who are particularly interested in Brexit, without alienating its usual audience.

  1. The Hindu: Followers are not everything

Ayushman Basu: “Has 4 million page likes. But, contrastingly not many likes and shares on individual articles. Quite odd as Indians are more active on Facebook than Twitter… With that big a population, they should definitely be getting more people engaged with their content.”

A serious look at analytics can reveal the – probably multiple – reasons why The Hindu is struggling on social media. Analytics, though, can be overwhelming. To simplify seemingly endless figures, pick a few key metrics to look at week-in-week-out and determine what you want to discover.

  1. The Independent: Bad journalism gets clicks too

Alexandra Ma: “On Facebook, The Independent posts old articles as if they were new, even though they’re not stock articles. MYSTERY: still gets a ton of shares, comments and reactions.”

The story shown above is from June 2016. Posting stock articles that remain relevant helps the reader; posting old news as if it is happening now does not, even if it rakes in the likes. Digital journalism has not veered away from print so much that good journalism does not matter – and, at its most basic, good journalism means not misleading your audience.

  1. Quartz: Everyone likes to laugh

Ella Wilks-Harper: “Quartz’s Twitter is very picture-heavy and tends to use funny photos that draw quite a few likes.”

Almost everyone is interested in humour, which cannot be said for many beats. And, given the positive outlook, light-hearted laughs are also highly shareable in comparison to hard, often downbeat and depressing news.

  1. The Sunday Times: Readers want attention

Helen Chandler-Wilde: “The Sunday Times doesn’t engage on Twitter with readers. Their engagement is low for 370,000 followers.”

Ask questions, engage in intelligent debate and don’t be scared to have a chat. Social media offers an admittedly terrifying – but simultaneously wonderful – new world of discussion that print could not. If you are not trying to promote buzz in the comments and shares surrounding your content, you are missing a trick to better your brand and audience understanding.

  1. Buzzfeed: Build your brand

Bridie Pearson-Jones: “Buzzfeed is really interesting because it has so many sections and accounts. Its language on social media reflects its editorial content: conversational and easy to read. Interestingly, their writers have much higher engagement than their official accounts.”

Multiple accounts mean social feeds can be curated with more care. And – from Buzzfeed News to Buzzfeed Food Buzzfeed has every topic covered. Even if posts do not directly lead to page views, the Buzzfeed name is always very visible. Likewise, Buzzfeed journalists are often big names with a following of their own. Just by tweeting about the brand, they promote it (shown above).

Now speak!

With these 12 easy tricks, you can now go out into the virtual world, and speak with confidence and (if you’re lucky) insight.

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