CrowdTangle recently provided a grant for newsrooms across Southeast Asia to develop their journalists' data skills through funded projects. We’ll take you through learnings from each newsroom that you can also apply to improve audience engagement through data driven initiatives.

Developing a consistent and tactical Facebook strategy

VERA Files, a media nonprofit in the Philippines, ran data training sessions to develop a social media communication plan. The new strategy is now woven into VERA Files’ content production where “every blurb, and every visual asset posted to promote content, has been tactical based on their social media analysis.”

Two months into the project, VERA Files was able to double the average of new followers on their Facebook page, by customizing more of their content for social audiences.

Here are the key steps they took to achieve success:

  1. VERA Files worked with an external data analyst to learn more about SEO and to do a quick check-up on their website. One of their main takeaways: limit image size to prevent long load times.

  2. They tapped one of their part-time editors who has a background in digital marketing and social media management to analyze their accounts.

  3. They identified and prioritized clear goals for the project. As a result, the team focused on growing engagement on their social pages by producing more infographics to better serve that audience.

  4. When VERA Files started the infographics project, they only had a template for their fact-checks, so they built new templates for features and commentary pieces. They also added new column writers, so overall it’s clearer to their audience what the posts are about.

  5. Now, when reporters write stories, they also think about turning the articles into infographics,brainstorming blurbs and captions for social platforms. To help the team track what’s being published and what needs to be scheduled, they built a database where blurbs are edited and all links to assets are provided.

Growing on Instagram with style and voice

Coconuts, an alternative online publisher with a mission to inform and entertain their forward- thinking audience, worked on creating a strategy specific to their Instagram account. One of their learnings so far -- “it is a long game” and rapid growth won’t always be immediate.

Julianne Greco, Coconuts’ audience development manager, used the funds to work with an external consultant to review their Instagram account and identify strengths and gaps in their posting strategy.

After this review, they focused on the following:

  1. Style and Voice: In writing text for Instagram, they switched from “headlines” to a more conversational tone written in complete sentences. They also ensured their Instagram copies reflected Coconuts’ witty and irreverent voice.

  2. Consistency: Before the project, Coconuts didn’t have a publishing schedule so there’ll be days or weeks without a new post. To track this, the team created a Trello board with a list of posts and publishing schedule.

  3. Collaboration: To get everyone involved in the effort, the team created a group chat where reporters and editors share draft copies for Instagram. Julianne and their external consultant then gives feedback or edits to these copies so the rest of the team can see the tweaks and learn the new style. This way knowledge sharing can happen quicker than if the feedback is only shared with the person who wrote the copy.

In Q4 of 2020, Coconuts increased their posts by 71% (quarter-over-quarter) resulting in a 110% increase in interactions. (Source: CrowdTangle data)

Interactions on Coconuts Instagram account from October to December 2020 compared with previous quarter. Source: CrowdTangle

Advancing data analytics skills in the newsroom

In the Philippines, ABS-CBN News worked on a roadmap for social media pages of programs that were cancelled after the network’s broadcast license wasn’t renewed. Their goal was to identify which pages they can keep or combine given the limited manpower and resources.

Arlene Burgos, ABS-CBN News’ Head of Audience Development, and her team faced two challenges. First, finding talent to do a comprehensive review of their social pages, which was not easy and, second, taking time to invest in the advanced analytics offered by Facebook and CrowdTangle for a deeper understanding of each page’s audience.

While ABS-CBN’s project is still ongoing, Arlene shares some of their early learnings:

  1. For any project or experiment, set your goals, timelines and milestones early and make sure everyone is aware of their deliverables.

  2. The numbers can be overwhelming, so clearly define what you want to measure to find the right metrics to track.

So far, they’ve been able to produce 2020 reports for all their tentpole accounts to establish engagement benchmarks and to profile the target audience of specific pages.

Building a data-informed newsdesk

Malaysiakini, a leading Malaysian daily political news website, worked with an external coach for an in-depth Google Analytics training for its editorial team. This resulted in three key cultural shifts:

  1. There are now more robust debates on what makes readers tick because editors are required to look at Google dashboards before meetings

  2. Editors apply audience segmentation to understand how different groups engage with stories. For example, they now have a better idea of "last touch points" for casual readers before becoming subscribers.

  3. Editors have asked for an overhaul of how they track reader behaviour for conversions and goals

To get to this point, one of Malaysiakini’s news editors, Andrew Ong, started with getting management’s support as well as articulating clear goals and deliverables. Today Andrew is able to make the sessions more effective for the editorial team. Andrew now presents metrics with examples of how editors can incorporate them into their stories, and sets practical 'homework' so that the news team’s comfort with data increases and they can include more data into their stories.

Editors apply audience segmentation to understand how different groups engage with stories. For example, they now have a better idea of "last touch points" for casual readers before becoming subscribers.

The audience as a community and asset

After a session on audience engagement, Malaysia’s R.AGE, a 16-person team primarily focused on producing hard-hitting investigative and impact journalism, tweaked a step in their process.

To maximize the impact of their investigations, like this story about the underground economy that smuggles pangolins, the team at R.AGE started engaging with communities who are impacted by a story before they even write it.

“We worked closely with our experts and had them introduce us to communities and activist groups to alert them on what we are working on. They provided us with a lot of data and support and helped to push our final content when it was released,” says Satpal Kaler, a producer at R.AGE.

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