At Share Rocket, we’re often asked how users can improve their scores and what our best practices are on social media. While we do have some suggestions, the truth is, there is no single, universal approach. Finding your voice on social takes time and trial and error and each person’s tone should be different. However, we wanted the experts to weigh in – anchors and reporters who were highly successful themselves on social media last year.
Recently, we crunched numbers on 8,272 individual journalists’ social media pages to determine our 2016 Social Standouts list for local TV news. From those 8,272 talents, we named the top 10 anchors and reporters on social media as well as the top 10 meteorologists and top 10 main station pages.
This week, we spoke to four of our honorees among the 2016 Social Standouts for anchors and reporters to ask them some questions about what they think about when it comes to social media and how they have found success. The interviewees included Curt Autry with WWBT in Richmond, VA; Nick Beres with WTVF in Nashville; John Gray with WTEN in Albany, NY; and Frank Somerville with KTVU in San Francisco.
Below are some of their responses to our questions and occasionally follow-ups, edited down for clarity and brevity:
#1. What is your general approach to social media and what is your goal when you post?
Frank Somerville: “My thought is that if you tell a good story, people will listen and people will read it. That’s what I’d always believed, and Facebook has kind of proven that out to me. It’s a lot like 60 Minutes. 60 Minutes, they just tell a great story. They don’t have any effects. There’s no hyperbole. There’s no nothing. They just tell a good story and guess what? People are interested and that’s the same type of thing that I find.”
Curt Autry: “The main thing I would say is that I try to use my social media platforms as a way to move meters. I mean, a lot of people will say, ‘Oh, this is clickbait,’ but clicks don’t really come into my mind when I’m at my keyboard trying to post something. It’s how can what I post here generate interest in watching one of the newscasts that I anchor at 5, 6, and 11. To me, that’s the biggest thing.”
John Gray: “My general approach is to be positive. There’s so much negative stuff on the Internet right now. People are so polarized that I think there’s a thirst out there for just something that’s not controversial, that’s not in your face, that’s just easy to digest and kind of makes you feel better after you read it. I look for those kinds of things.”
#2. Does staying positive on social mean ignoring the negative? Do you have to search harder for positive stories?
John Gray: “Yeah, you definitely have to search for them. Usually, when there’s negative things, there’s positive within that. Like the old Mr. Rogers thing, you know, where his mother told him to look for the helpers when bad things are happening. I don’t steal from Mr. Rogers, but I do look for positive things that could be going on. A good example is… [John describes an example of one of his posts after an attack on the Ohio State campus in 2016, which was about a woman who called into CNN and reported that military or ROTC members in her classroom stood guard by the door to protect their classmates. …] I was surprised nobody else picked up on that. I put up a post about it, and said, ‘God bless the military, that they’re not on the clock, but they certainly were willing to step forward.’ That really took off and ended up getting a ton of shares.”
#3. How do you fit social media into your daily schedule or workflow?
Nick Beres: “It’s as [news] comes about. I don’t have like − ‘Oh, it’s 10:10, I need to post something now.’ It’s just as something comes along. I might be sitting here, see a news alert, do some research on it, and post it right then and there. I also may go four or five hours without putting anything on, and then have a flurry of six posts in 45 minutes. To me, it’s driven by whatever comes before me at that moment.”
John Gray: “In terms of workflow, I’m on there at least once an hour during the day. I only sleep about six hours, so probably checking on things at least every hour over eighteen hours before I go to bed. It doesn’t mean I’m writing stuff every time or posting things, but I’m just seeing what’s going on out there. […] Often I just pay attention to what’s going on in the world around me, and if I see something that I think is relatable to people, I’ll just write about it, slap a photo on it, post about it. Those are the ones that really do seem to take off, where you connect with people.”
Curt Autry: “I’ll pace it. If something comes to me, I’ll write a post and I’ll time it out. It might be right before I’m going to go on at 5 o’clock and I’m thinking about something that’s coming up later or an observation or even something funny I saw earlier that day, I’ll post it, but I time them out.”
#4. Did your employers mandate having a presence on Facebook?
Frank Somerville: “Honestly, when I first started, I knew nothing about Facebook. […] The station asked all of us to do Facebook and so I just started doing it. […] And the good thing here is that, fortunately, I enjoy telling stories. So, it’s not like it’s necessarily work for me. I enjoy finding stories. I enjoy telling stories because I’m talking about things that I care about, and so that’s fun for me. But you know what, it does take some time and for the most part that’s done on my own time.”
John Gray: “You know it’s funny, I didn’t want a Facebook page. They kind of forced me to a few years ago. […] Once I embraced it, I saw it as an opportunity to connect with viewers in a way that we can’t just doing the news on TV. You can get much more personal with them, you can chat back and forth about things with them. It generates tons of story ideas, as well. We must have done − I’m not exaggerating − 50 stories last year from my Facebook page.”
#5. Where do you, and where should journalists, draw the line as far as showing your audience your life outside the office goes?
Nick Beres: “I think some people go too far. Who knows, I may have once or twice. But in this day and age, I don’t have any big secrets. I think the more people know about me, they’re more likely to trust me. […] I don’t want to overdo it, because my page is not really about me, it’s about the stories I cover. But I like to throw in little tidbits here and there where all of the sudden, they’ll find out, ‘Hey, Nick Beres is a beekeeper,’ or ‘He takes in rescue dogs,’ or ‘He’s got a wife and a son.’ And I don’t mind sharing those things. I think that helps build trust and familiarity.”
Frank Somerville: “There’s that fine line. I mean, I’m not someone who puts up tons of selfies of me on the set. ‘Hey, this is me on the set.’ ‘Hey, this is what I had for dinner tonight.’ I don’t do that. I don’t do that. There has to be a story involved. So, I’m not going to necessarily post a picture of me and my daughter unless there’s a story that goes along with it. […] But, I think that what you have to do is give something personal. I remember when I was first starting out, […] I was just looking for different ideas and I went on Brian Williams’ Facebook page. And Brian Williams’ Facebook page, he had 100,000 likes at that point. I thought, ‘Whoa, he’s got a 100,000 likes. This is incredible.’ And I started reading his page. And his page was basically a tease for NBC News. And I thought, ‘That’s really disappointing.’ […] When I went to his page, I wanted to know something about Brian Williams, and I didn’t get anything.”
John Gray: “Well, I certainly don’t want the audience to know where I live, and I keep my children off the page. I’ve got a couple pets on there that are very popular, but I pretty much keep my children out of it, just because I don’t know all these people, and I don’t want to expose them to any issues like that. Even my wife, I’ll refer to here as sweetie, not by her name.”
#6. How have your habits or behaviors changed since you’ve had professional social media pages? Are you thinking about social opportunities in your day-to-day life?
John Gray: “Oh, absolutely, all the time. If something strikes me as odd or funny, I’ll post it. […] I had one that was interesting over the summer. I was stuck in traffic, frustrated because I had to be somewhere. I saw the woman [in front of me] putzing around and reaching behind her in the car, and I’m like ‘What is she doing?’ and I was getting pissed off. We were stopped and I was just about to hit the horn when she threw the car in park, jumped out, ran around the back of her vehicle, opened the back hatch, grabbed a stuffed animal, and then came back around and opened the side door and gave it to her child. Then I realized, her kid was crying, and that’s why she kept looking around. She’s trying to soothe her baby. And then, I’m here being Mr. Judgmental getting ready to yell at her when she’s got a kid screaming, and the kid probably wanted his toy. It’s one of those opportunities where it’s a simple, everyday thing. But I wrote about it, and it really resonated with a lot of parents out there, like, ‘Oh boy, I’ve been there — where the specific toy or blanket is in the wrong part of the car, and you’re like, ‘What do we do?’ It also spoke to having patience, and you don’t always know what’s going on with people.”
#7. Do you still use the same social media sites and in the same amounts as when you launched your professional pages?
Nick Beres: “It continues to evolve, big time. The truth is, I’m really a dummy when it comes to Snapchat, Twitter − social media [in general]. People in this newsroom marvel about how little I know about some of the new things that are out there. I just view myself a content guy, and if you can give me a forum and I’ve got it down − like now, with Facebook – where I can share my ideas and thoughts, I can make it happen.”
Frank Somerville: “I never liked Twitter. I can’t say anything in 140 characters, nor am I interested in saying anything in 140 characters. […] I think, sometimes, that you need to know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. I’m not good at Twitter. That’s not who I am. I’m good at Facebook, that’s who I am. And so, my thought was, ‘Why waste time with Twitter if what I really am good at is Facebook? Why not just put my time into that?’”
#8. Finally, in a more global view, how to do you think the rise of social media has affected journalism, both negatively and positively?
Curt Autry: “I think it’s had a negative impact in that the rush to be first has added fuel to the fire of this whole ‘fake news’ phenomenon. I think, in the past, we viewed news we heard on TV as evolving. What was true on Monday sometimes was not true come Wednesday. But that didn’t mean it was fake. But now, with the advent of social media and with politics being so contentious, I think it has added fuel to the fire.”
John Gray: “Negatively, it’s opened a door for people who just are very snarky, who want to troll and cause trouble and kick the beehive sometimes. It’s perfect for those kind of people, because they can just create a fake page, or even if they don’t want to hide who they are, and they can just jump on there and attack people and really be heavy-handed with things.”
Frank Somerville: “What I find with Facebook is Facebook can be used in a good way and a bad way. There are some really interesting stories on Facebook that you read and go, ‘You know what, that just made my day reading that.’ […] I try and share stories that I think will enhance someone’s day or make them smile or make them think or make them feel. I mean, not all my stories are happy. I’m about to post a story about a kid who was addicted to Adderall and committed suicide. But what I find is, is that when you tell a story like that, you make people feel. And there are so many people who have been affected by suicide and so there could be a benefit, in the sense that it brings a community together, where you realize, ‘You know what, I’m not the only one suffering from depression,’ or, ‘I’m not the only one suffering from drug abuse,’ or, ‘I’m not the only one that’s been affected by suicide.’”
John Gray: “Positively, it certainly connects you directly with your readers or your viewers. It’s great that way. Before, if you were a TV anchor, you were this guy or gal coming out of a box. And yeah, maybe they could find your email if they went to your website. Maybe you’d write them back if they wrote you, […] But, nowadays, they can immediately respond to something you post, and you can immediately respond to them. It’s the connection there, it really removes all the barriers to connect directly with your viewers.”