How to build community around online news and scale it?

After being a publisher for all these years, one of the industry trends that I’ve seen to revolutionize the way people communicate and share online is the onset of social era. Today, social networking sites constitute a good percentage of web traffic and have become an increasingly important source of distribution for modern publishers. Your audience is scattered on the different social networks and you need to connect with them and build a community of your own.

But the biggest myth about this powerful medium is that most publishers think social media is a tool best suited for the brands and PR companies. What they fail to realize is that it is a democratic medium of distribution, which is not controlled by anyone, but by the passionate community behind it. The biggest advantage enjoyed by the print media before the Internet age was its controlled distribution. But with the advent of social media, every publisher, irrespective of its size, can successfully build its own distribution medium by building a passionate community of readers around its content. Content is still the King and also the currency of the social web.

Mashable, the largest independent news site is the poster child for publishers looking to focus on their social channels. In December of 2012, Mashable underwent a major redesign to accommodate its focus on the various social media channels it has build its presence on. The social media ranking system that pushes Mashable’s stories from one column to the next has fundamentally changed the way the site operates. The site remains on top of social media however you prefer to connect: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and it ranked as the second most successful publisher for Google+ page engagement.

Huffington Post  too pays top priority to conversation and community led by its social media channels. The site has over 1.1m Facebook fans, and over 3 million Twitter followers.

Another traditional mainstream publisher, The Atlantic  has claimed that it receives over 40% of their entire traffic from social media -now that tells you something about the power of social media (Via: Poynter ).

Wearing the hat of a modern publisher means you have to constantly evolve with the changing online news landscape. Modern publishers are gearing their efforts towards people rather than search engines. In this age of ‘Social Vs. SEO’ – social is playing an increasingly significant role in search engines ranking, as well. As Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing put it in a recent podcast with Social Media Examiner  s Michael Stelzner, “It’s virtually impossible to employ a successful organic search optimization effort without robust social content or social presence. These social signals have eclipsed signals like links.” Google too has launched its own social networking site “Google+” to stay on the top of the social revolution.

And in order to guarantee optimum visibility with your target audience, you as a publisher need to gain greater distribution by engaging your audience online.

7 Steps to a Successful Social Media Plan:

1. Know your Purpose

Sharing a link here, a mention there isn’t the recipe to success. The real value is in how you can use it to connect with your fans/followers to build a passionate community.

Decide what you want to achieve with your social media strategy and how it connects back with your big-picture content strategy. Merely setting up a Facebook page to gain more “Likes” or Twitter page to gain more number of followers won’t help you to create a “ripple” effect with your content. While gaining a following is important, having conversations with those followers is just as critical.

You need to create quality content that your audience would like to share within their network in order to establish your site as an authority in your niche.

2. Frame a social media strategy

A content strategy isn’t all you will need to be successful in this age of social media. You need to include social media strategy as a piece of your overall strategy. Without a social media strategy, you’re shooting blanks.

Develop strategies and plans for shorter durations (1-3 months) and direct your efforts to where you want to be. You can always improve your plan based on what’s working and what’s not.

A typical social media strategy includes:-

  • Content Type – You need to decide what content you will share on your social media. Will it be news/evergreen content, surveys/polls, visual or video content? List the content you will be sharing via social media.
  • Posting Schedule – As a small publisher you might not have sufficient time in your hands to stay active across multiple social media channels. Rather than automatically publishing your RSS feeds on your Facebook/Twitter pages, set a posting schedule as per your convenience, which may vary from posting fresh updates throughout the day to a few times in a week.
  • Choosing Social Networks – Rather than becoming a Jack of all and master of none, you need to decide on which network you will spend your time mastering on.
  • Learning from others – Take time to observe how your competitors are doing it. There are some good tools to help you monitor your competitors. 

3. Relevancy

Best way to engage is to be useful. It’s not all about sharing content; it’s about sharing relevant content tailored to your audience needs on a regular basis. So merge your storytelling approach with a lot of How-To content, Tips & tricks to educate & entertain your audience and transform them into your loyal followers.

Also, share relevant content tailored to each channel rather than sticking the same approach everywhere. Different content performs well on different social networks. For example, storytelling approach performs well on Facebook as there is no word-limit in Status updates. You can merge your text-based updates with images or video to perform best.

Wishpond’s data says that overall, photo posts get 120% more engagement than the average post, and photo albums actually get 180% more engagement.

Breaking news and posts with short and succinct titles perform better on Twitter as it has a 140-character limit. And if you have a visual product, such as food, clothing, home goods, design or photography, you might consider Instagram or Pinterest.

4. Identify Influencers

You as a publisher need to keep an eye on your best performing content on social networks but also the influencers who have been helping you to extend the reach of your content by sharing it within their vast network of friends/followers. There are few good social media tools available to help you identify the “Piper” in your story.

Spend time researching who your influencers are, and whether they’re industry experts, a fan, or active community members.

5. It’s not all about you

Sometimes you have to remember that it isn’t always about you. You need to focus on the interests of your community members and hear their experiences and stories as well. Make them feel special. Your readers are your driving force and your success depends on them. Managing a passionate community is as important as building it.

6. Giveaways & Contests

Build initial social traction by doing giveaways and contests. But before you spend your hard-earned dollars on sweepstakes-

  • Set goals for your campaign – What do you want in return? More Facebook fans/comments, Twitter followers, mentions or increased traffic?
  • You can then design your contest around your audience by giving them something they excites them. You can also team up with your advertisers to sponsor a giveaway.
  • Also make your contests simple yet interesting to attract high user activity. Add a shortened link so that others can promote it amongst their network. If one of your readers has promoted the contest in his/her network, there are high chances his friends/followers will follow suit.

7. Measure Success

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Measuring your social media efforts from time-to-time will give you insights on the effectiveness of your social media strategy. You can use a combination of paid & free tools to measure the effectiveness of a particular campaign or analyzing your performance for a given time frame.

Google Analytics is the most effective and popular tool to measure how much traffic/conversions your website is getting from the various social channels.

You can track other useful metrics including the number of likes/views on a post, number of retweets/mentions or pins depending on the social network you are measuring for.

You can analyze the effectiveness of a specific campaign by checking website analytics. The metrics you can consider include Pay per click, or PPC campaigns.

What you should not do:-

  • Never buy Likes/Followers. Earn them. In the long run, it can do more harm than good. You account might face a lifetime ban thus harming your reputation.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin. Start with one social network and learn from your experiences. And gradually start building your presence on other networks.
  • Do not outsource your social media campaigns till you don’t have a basic idea of how it runs. Social media is all about connecting with your readers; getting to know about who they are, what do they like. No one can handle your goals better than you can. It’s not a risk worth taking unless you are really good at measuring every bit of it.
  • Last but not the least, have patience.

Building community and connecting readers with each other to facilitate conversation takes some time. So be patient and keep experimenting with what’s working for you and what’s not?

Social media can be very effective if done properly. But without a strategic approach, it’s difficult to succeed. Hope this will help you to get started with your social media plan.

Image Credit: Sophie Mahir 


  1. Bulls Eye! Nicely crafted most valuable inputs every Publisher should take care. Keep up the good work Nandini.

    Comment by Syed — August 7, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

  2. Thanks Syed. Hope to see you around. Loved your blog too.

    Comment by Nandini Rathi — August 7, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

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