Think like a newspaper editor. Eventually, your career will depend on it.

Here’s a prediction: go forward 2-3 years. More and more journalists will be managing social media sites; experienced people, or younger people with a journalist’s passion who will fight to attract an audience. The best sites win. It’ll be newspaper wars on channels like Facebook and LinkedIn.

So start now. Don’t be shy. Be controversial.

Facebook is currently the home of companies’ tame and benign pages. Generally, community managers are afraid of what’s on the front page of our papers. And yet to build a following, this timidity is counter-intuitive.

CNN grew its fame and following by covering war. The front pages of newspapers are mainly filled with hard, not soft news (there are quirky those exceptions, such as Johnny Depp’s pooches, Pistol and Boo, being deported from Australia, a meaty colour story). TV stations rate the most when there is breaking news like disasters and political crises. What is this telling us?  

We should deal with the story-of-the-day on Facebook. Why? Because your audience will gravitate to sites that provide them with the
information they want, in the most entertaining way.

When the competition for followers starts in earnest, and it will, fluffy fails. How would you feel if there was a major news event in your city and the local news led with a flower show?

Exciting times coming for journalists – not so for content managers.

This mindset will breathe new life into what has seemed like a dying craft.

It will shame so-called content marketing, which mostly seems like re-badged advertorials to make them sound respectable. I don’t think they will ever replace a strong piece of journalism.

When will this happen? Audiences are still learning how to use social media channels. Many in our younger audiences already use Twitter and Facebook as their main source for news. It’s an evolving media for both user and publisher. In 2-3 years, I am certain, social sites will replace online newspapers on specialist topics for many people. It’s already happening with medical and diet sites, to name just two sectors, currently moreso on websites than social sites. So it’s only a matter of time before it happens in, say, the disability or aged care sectors.

Public Relations Case Study 1:

In the last Australian federal election we suggested to a disability not-for-profit that they post stories on each political party’s policy relevant to people with a disability. Keep the stories non-partisan, we advised, and give each party its share of our balanced coverage. They balked at the idea and it was, I think, an opportunity missed. My bet? Next election some organisations in that sector will do it, and reap the benefits with greater numbers and engagement.

Public Relations Case Study 2:

Another NFP has been dealt a raw deal with a couple of negative and inaccurate stories in the media. Do we use social media to correct the story?

Against: 1) most of our community didn’t see the story; 2) it will further upset those that saw it; 3) we don’t ‘do’ controversy.

For:  1) it will attract a large readership because it’s acutely relevant to our audience and some will want our side of the story; 2) the interest generated by the negative story gives us a chance to talk up the positives.

Public Relations Case Study 3:

A terrific organisation with a small following wants to grow its community. Do we publish ‘soft stuff’ or a mix including the hard news of the day relevant to this audience? Or do we engage or shy away from controversy?

Answer: Engage. Because the last 130 years of journalism have taught us that people are interested in controversial topics (William Randolf Hearst started a revolution in journalism in the late 1800s when he focused on issues to excite a mass audience. It was shocking for its time, but prior to that newspapers were, well, like social media today, bland).

This doesn’t mean we all go tabloid and tacky. There is a reason the New York Times is different from the Sydney Morning Herald and more so from the Daily Telegraph. They each reach a different audience. But each, in its own way, tackles meaty issues.

Rarely do they say, ‘Should we publish this story?’; but often they say ‘How should we publish this story in a way that’s keeping with our style and entertaining for our audience (because if we don’t it, a competitor will knock us off)?’

Note to community managers: the first step is the hardest, you may be surprised by the lack of push-back from the audience. And what damage can you do?  Take some risks. Study how newspapers you respect handle sensitive or controversial issues. Be game to make small mistakes; good editors are always pushing boundaries. Don’t be held hostage by a small ratbag cohort in your community; create community rules that allow you to discipline people who harangue or use bullying tactics to try and control your space.

Peter Wilkinson

Author Peter Wilkinson

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