The future of Local News - A digital-only perspective (Part 3).

Competitions

Contests are a great tool for building website traffic and visitor frequency. In addition to increasing the sheer number of people who interact with your brand, a contest provides a means to deepen the connection as well.


Digital News

A user-generated content (UGC) promotion such as a photo or video contest is a great way to do just that. With the lure of a prize, many people are prepared to share information with you as part of the entry process; therefore competitions are a rich source of data. On social media sites, running competitions has many benefits such as: Community building, increased followers, awareness building, increased subscribers & increased engagement.

Offline Ideas

For a local news portal, the most effective method of marketing offline is to seek out community exposure. This could be via sponsorship of a local sports team or event, by holding a writing or design challenge for a local school or community group, by networking, via newsletters, via advice bulletins and via advisory panels (e.g. local solicitors) etc…

Other miscellaneous ideas

The list of ways to promote a digital-only news portal is long and includes:

• Review products and share your content with brands. They may link to your site from their social media accounts.

• Submit photographs to free stock photography sites and Flickr and ask for a credit link back to your site.

• Focus on long-tail keywords – The days of focusing on a single keyword for each page are long gone. Make sure your posts include all the relevant terms and phrases related to your topic.

• Optimise your existing posts – Comb through your old posts to make sure they have unique and relevant title tags, URLS and Meta descriptions.

• Focus your energy on strategies that are working – You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Study your analytics to see your main traffic drivers, and focus on your energy on these areas.

• Interview influencers in your niche – They will be very likely to promote the interview to their audience.

• Use Polls - Polls are really underrated. They can give you an inside look at what your audience really cares about and help guide the focus of your content.

• Embrace Google products - Google's range of products is staggering. For publishers this can lead to confusion about how to use the products available. To address this, Google has created Google Media Tools, a valuable hub designed to demystify many of the products in the roster.

• Go after referral traffic - Rather than trying to persuade other sites to link back to you (a tedious and time-intensive process), create content that just begs to be linked to.

• Don’t neglect email marketing - So many businesses are focused on attracting new customers through content marketing that they forget about more traditional methods. Email marketing can be a powerful tool, and even a moderately successful email blast can result in a significant uptick in traffic.

• Social annotations with Google+ - When you share content on Facebook and Twitter, your network basically sees it only when they are looking at Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand, when you share content on Google+, your network can see it every time they search Google.

Social Media

Many observers now believe that social media rules publishing! Homepages are declining in importance as a source of publishers’ traffic and the pressure to use social media to find readers has never been greater. The rise of social media is changing the way reporters approach their stories, too, with images being the most-used tactic to make stories more sharable.

In 2014, the eight biggest social referrers drove 29.5 percent of traffic to publishers’ sites. Facebook is in a class all its own: It drove more than 22 percent of referrals to publishers, with Pinterest a distant second.

If anyone requires proof that social media works, they should just look at the success story that is the Huffington Post who set new records for impact on Facebook in 2014 with some of their biggest stories achieving mind-boggling reach. For instance, one of their most-shared stories of the year was titled ‘10 Things Your Mom Never Told You‘, had over 300,000 shares, and was written by a guest blogger, rather than a staff writer.

Facebook is changing the way its users consume journalism via the use of its News Feed feature (the stream of updates, photographs, videos and stories that users see).

Facebook now has a fifth of the world, about 1.3 billion people, logging on at least monthly. It drives up to 20% of traffic to news sites, according to figures from the analytics company SimpleReach. This figure is even higher on mobile devices. About 30% of adults in the US get their news on Facebook, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. The fortunes of a news site, in short, can rise or fall depending on how it performs in Facebook’s News Feed.

Other services such as Twitter, Google News & YouTube also influence journalism consumption; however Facebook leads the way and the result of this social media/search engine driven marketing is that publishers are increasingly reaching readers through individual pieces / articles rather than complete editions of newspapers or magazines. The downside of this is that generally, Facebook users may just read a single story and then leave, but people who arrive at a news site from outside of Facebook might linger and browse for additional stories.

The news people see and the frequency they see it is determined by algorithms today and not by editors. When publishers promote their content on Facebook, its users have more engaging material to read, and the publishers get increased traffic driven to their sites.

The nature of social media allows people who get their news there to have a hand in spreading it around the world. That reality is likely a major reason why stories that ultimately become viral sometimes do so very quickly. However, people are also beginning to realise social media can empower them to become amateur reporters. We are now seeing stories break first on Twitter or Facebook due mainly to the fact that everyone seems to have a digital camera / video recorder on their mobile phone.

All of the observations above reinforce one single fact – Publishing news on social media platforms and doing so regularly is mandatory and probably the most important element of your marketing strategy.


Digital Marketing

Facebook

The sites that are winning on Facebook are digital-native, viral sites, led by The Huffington Post, which had more than 42 million total likes, shares and comments in December.

The HuffPost got the most engagements for the month of December (the top 5 most-shared sites were consistent with the prior two months), but when it came to efficiency, PlayBuzz was by far the most productive. Not only does most of its content come from its users, but the viral site has mastered the art of lists and quizzes such that each of its 1,145 posts in December averaged more than 21,000 likes, shares or comments.

There are many ways to increase the number of likes (and therefore engagement) of your local newsFacebook page:

1. Include more (keyword rich) text on each Facebook post prior to linking to the article on your website. The objective of the exercise is to make your Facebook page content rich and not rely on the website you link to being content rich; therefore it is good practice to write at least a paragraph of information on each post and to try whenever possible, not to simply copy and paste textual content from the actual article you are linking to. Try and write unique content! Many high-profile newspaper publishers invest time into doing this. They understand that a different style of text is required for social media.

2. Engage with your Facebook fans by publishing quizzes, competitions and other viral media.

3. Post more photos, videos and quotes - High definition photos and videos in graphic detail and vivid color provide engagement levels that far exceed plain and simple text. Research shows that “Posts including a photo album, a picture or a video generate about 180%, 120%, and 100% more engagement than the average post, respectively“. What should also be kept in mind is that simple text that is in the form of a quote can drive high interaction!

Twitter

The number of followers you have on Twitter is actually not that important. Engagement is a better metric of success. How much of your content is being shared and read? The level of engagement that happens organically and that you cultivate is a good indicator as to whether or not your Twitter strategy is effective.

A recent arrangement between Twitter and search engine giant, Google will see tweets go straight into search results. Until now, tweets have found themselves in Google search results but only after Google has sent robots to index Twitter pages. Now, there will be a straight plug-in referred to as the firehose.

This news in addition to the news that Twitter will soon be launching a native video service which will host videos of up to 10 minutes with no limit on file size, make engagement with Twitter a top priority for news publishers

People have to trust you if you want them to tell you their stories. Engaging on Twitter can be a great way of doing that. Newspapers and print journalists that really do well are those that engage genuinely and authentically on Twitter.

The biggest mistake that some newspaper publishers make is that they share ALL of their key articles on Twitter and this often comes across as a one-way shouting dynamic (no customer engagement).

Twitter should not be seen simply as a platform to promote content, instead you should be asking how your content marketing strategy supports your Twitter success!

Twitter is ultra-short-form content, do you have a content marketing strategy for this type of content? Most publishers do not and instead use the little space they have on tweets to simply headline and link.

Do you understand the audience segmentation of your followers on Twitter?

What content do they like the most, photos, video, jokes, quotes? You need to know this because that then leads to a drive forward in content sharing and content creation ideas / decisions.

To be successful with Twitter in 2015, newspaper publishers need to take their thinking through an evolutionary process that focuses on strategy, leverages visual media, builds their brands, and cultivates opportunities to make personal connections.


Social Media

Google+

For publishers who take digital marketing strategies seriously, Google+ is something they should strive to understand and use to their advantage.

Many people think Google+ is just another social network (and one that no one is using). The truth is, whether the network is popular or not, Google loves it when you play in their sandbox. Investing even a little bit of time and energy into your business page on Google+ can mean improved local search visibility, especially for a small to medium-sized business.

Google Plus is important to Google, and what is important to Google must be important to you (unless organic search rankings are not important for you).

Google is trying to rank the best, most relevant content higher, therefore as publishers, it is your responsibility to not only create high quality content, but (for your own sake) to help Google identify your content as high quality. Presence, and quality participation on Google Plus would help you to achieve this.

As a news publisher, Google+ offers one massive benefit, which is Google Authorship. Authorship is how you claim ownership over your content. It helps authenticate the author and thus the credibility of the content, it would prevent content plagiarism plus posts with authorship established reportedly get higher Click-through Rates in addition to higher search ranks.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google+ has dofollow links. This is a big deal because it means that everything you post on Google+ that contains a link to your website will help your website to rank higher in search engines.

There are many other benefits of using Google+ and these should be examined by your marketing team.

These include: Author rank & Publisher Markup.