How can a local newspaper compete on social media against much larger and more established brands?
That’s the big question for Aolani Donegan, social media specialist at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. Like many local newspapers in the last few years, The News & Observer has taken a plunge into the digital world after 152 years in print. Aolani is leading the charge to rapidly modernize the way their newsroom thinks in this new digital space — and she’s seeing tremendous results. There has been an increased push to highlight visual storytelling, which has helped The News & Observer compete with the biggest print outlets and TV stations in North Carolina. Their prize-winning journalists and photojournalists are now breaking news online ahead of rivals and presenting video stories natively on Facebook — and have seen social engagement skyrocket.
One of the game-changers for The News & Observer, one of 28 newspapers owned by The McClatchy Company, has been it’s rollout of CrowdTangle over the last year. “CrowdTangle has definitely helped us have more conversations with reporters and editors about our social strategy. It was just a really easy way to communicate successes in our newsroom. It provides an opportunity to monitor how how others are doing on social and gives our newsroom a chance to analyze overperforming and underperforming posts,” says Aolani.
Uncovering Competitor Strategies
The News & Observer competes on social media against two major local-area TV
stations. Aolani and her team have had to think strategically in order to grab the attention of the local social audience in the booming Raleigh-Durham area. “Right from the start, CrowdTangle was a good tool to gather more insight on our competitors and what they were doing in the social space. We use viral alerts as a way to keep our ear to the ground. Having the ability to view competitor data has helped to explain why we may need to adjust our strategy. It gives us the agility to react in real-time,” Aolani says. A core feature of CrowdTangle is customizable leaderboards which allow users to track competitors, see what type of content they’re posting and measure which content is performing best for them. By pulling this data, Aolani was able to track what types of posts competitors were winning on. She was then
able to produce content that could compete in the crowded News Feed.
“I was able to look at the good things they were doing and the bad things and incorporate that into our strategy,” she says.
Discovering Viral Content in Unlikely Places
CrowdTangle allows users to bundle multiple pages together into single lists. This helps reporters, editors and social media managers track content among multiple pages at once, and discover overperforming content they may not have seen just by scrolling through a News Feed.
One of the lists The News & Observer team created tracked all of the college newspaper Facebook pages in North Carolina. From this list, they saw a story trending via The Daily Tar Heel in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had been denied access to a civil rights museum in Greensboro. The News & Observer team quickly created their own version of the story.
“We saw that story in CrowdTangle, our reporters wrote it up, and it blew up —hitting over 50,000 page views. That one story was a huge traffic boost for us.”
Covering Emergencies, Disasters, and Breaking News
When Hurricane Matthew struck North Carolina in October, Aolani used CrowdTangle to track emergency updates from across the state. Using a list that followed state officials and emergency management accounts, Aolani and The News & Observer’s digital team were able to see updates on Facebook from people who were on the front lines of the emergency. She then plugged the top posts into a Storify (a live blogging tool) post. The team updated this real-time tool throughout the storm and it was one of the most viewed URLs during their coverage.
“CrowdTangle was really helpful during the hurricane and subsequent flooding because I could see what different agencies were posting across the state,” Aolani says. “We grabbed their posts. The Storify post was ranked as high as our No. 2 most-trafficked piece of content as the storm passed through.”
Creating Daily Reports, Tracking Viral News
CrowdTangle can send daily and weekly email recaps of post and page performance across social media. These email notifications have become invaluable for The News & Observer. “I love viral alert emails. The alerts make sure that we’re on the social media pulse in our market ... that we’re a part of the conversation,” Aolani says.
CrowdTangle can also alert you the second a post begins to trend on social media. “It tells us whenever a competitor goes viral with something and I can say ‘Hey guys did you know that this is happening?’ I can tap an editor or reporter’s shoulder and get started on the story just based on the viral alerts,” she says. “I also use the information in the alerts as a morale booster for our team.”
Since using CrowdTangle along with other newsroom tools, The News & Observer
has been able to build a social media strategy that has allowed them to compete in
the crowded social media space.
Aolani says the CrowdTangle tool is helping to revolutionize her paper’s newsroom.
“CrowdTangle has been an easy way to look at our coverage vs. competitor
coverage,” Aolani says. “It’s one of the best tools I’ve ever used.”