If you would have told a 2010 Randi that, in five years, she would be making a living by sitting on social media, she would have laughed in your face(book).
But, lo and behold, here we are!
Earlier this year I started my job as a social media assistant for the Chicago Tribune. I’m no stranger to the news industry. Before I ended up in this Midwestern gem of a city, I had experience working for four different newspapers. And, as a millennial, I’m not unfamiliar with social media. Starting with Xanga and Friendster and working my way to Snapchat and Instagram, I’ve had tons of exposure to social networks and digital relationships. I’ve also had experience with social media professionally — managing Facebook pages for three of the four aforementioned newspapers and putting together an entire social media presence for a university department from scratch during a graduate assistantship.
So, a job doing social media exclusively for a news organization seemed like a perfect fit for me!
At the Tribune, we have hundreds of accounts on dozens of platforms, ranging from the obvious Facebook and Twitter to the newer Ello and Snapchat to the necessary Chartbeat and Google+.
And, many people are shocked to find, there’s way more to social media than just posting updates and surfing the Internet for cat gifs.
Though I have had to surf the Internet for cat gifs on more than one occasion.
So, what exactly does a newspaper’s social media department do?
Unsurprisingly, I get asked that question a lot.
A lot of what I do is routine. I check in with my boss and see what he’s done, and what he needs me to do.
During a day, I’ll do the obvious: Post news stories to social sites.
But what goes into posting a news story on a social media site? Surprisingly, a lot.
Judgment is crucial. You have to determine what content fits best where. This means you have to constantly monitor the audience of each platform: its key demographics and sociographics. A lot of Facebook users are older and more traditional. Stories about politics and current events fare well on Facebook. On Tumblr, any story that can be accompanied by a cat gif? Perfect. Tumblr has a young and creative audience. We’re constantly monitoring user bases for various social media platforms, making sure that we’re matching the correct content with the correct social network and it’s demographic base.
You also have to maintain a consistent branded voice. You have to make sure you’re communicating constantly with your teammates to ensure you’re keeping the same tone in each post. This also comes with quite a bit of news judgment. Making posts that joke about the weather? Sure, everybody loves some fun. But humorous posts about homicides and fatal accidents are not a good idea. A lot of social media management comes down to using common sense and judging a situation properly before jumping into it.
We also have to be quick (but correct). When news breaks, we have to get it across every social media platform as fast as possible, in order to give ourselves an edge over our competitors.
Another key word in the social media world? Engagement. Often times, readers are lost, frustrated and in need of assistance, so they turn to a brand’s social media presence to seek answers. The social media department is the digital face of the Chicago Tribune. We answer messages and reply to posts using either our personal accounts or our names at the end of our branded account. We want our readers to hold us accountable for making sure they are connecting with the brand they are reaching out to.
We’re also responsible for training and education. I like to think I have it easy. As a millennial, I was raised with a keen ability to adapt to technology. Other older generations? Not so much. Our social media department is always available for other employees to come to with questions; whether it’s about a personal Snapchat account, trending hashtags, a Facebook glitch or best practices. We’re in charge of keeping the rest of the newsroom on top of what’s trending in the social world, so others can match content accordingly.
Of course, in order to keep the newsroom informed of what’s trending online, we also have to stay on top of what’s happening in the digital social sphere. What hashtags are seeing high use? If there’s an important topic abuzz on the Internet, we need to immediately find our content as it relates, and push it out there. This means we’re constantly checking trending topics and reading other news sites to see what current events are being reported elsewhere.
Metrics are a crucial part as well. Every social media manager is familiar with “the algorithm.” Facebook likes to change up how it presents content to its users. As social media managers, we have to change up how we’re loading content into Facebook in order to keep up with that changing algorithm. We experiment with posting consistency (every hour? Every half hour?) and times (would this story work well at 2 a.m.? What about a lunch break piece?) and then go back, analyze our results, and figure out what strategies work and what strategies don’t.
Social media is such a new career field — and evolves so quickly — there isn’t much prior research to use! Social media requires a lot of experimentation and analysis, which means we’re often crunching numbers and looking at insights to blaze our own trail.
We’re also responsible for staying up-to-date with social media news in general. Which celebrity has a new Twitter account? Did you read about the latest social media fail? Have you heard about the Snapchat update? How can we use this to our advantage to better serve our audience?
In any given day, I’ll schedule between 70 and 100 posts between a slew of social media sites. And — for each post I schedule — all of that thought has to go into it. Along with spell checking, of course.
And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug some of the accounts I have a hand in managing. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram, add us on Ello, connect with us on LinkedIn and add us to your circles on Google+.
So, did any of this surprise you? What’s your experience with social media been like? Let me know in the comments!