As traditional TV audiences continue to decline, more and more people are moving towards streaming, mobile devices, and social media to get their news. If you work in the industry, that statement likely doesn’t come as much of a shock to you, but for some journalists, that truth hasn’t led to much change in how they approach their craft. That’s a mistake.

Social media is arguably the best tool for broadcasters to reach a large audience these days and they all need the help of their staffs and on-air talent to amplify their voice on social media and create compelling content to build the same brand loyalty on social that they built over the airwaves for decades. Just dipping a toe into Twitter or posting plain links to your work on your Facebook Page won’t cut it. With the speed of news at an all-time high and the time allowed to produce it at an all-time low, journalists need to maximize their return-on-effort to make their time spent on social worthwhile – for both themselves and their employer.

In order to do that, everyone in the news media industry today needs to use the data available to them to understand the best ways to utilize each platform and learn from the best. Many already do this, but for the others who are interested in improving their social media presence, this seven-step guide is for you.

Let’s go over the seven things a journalist can do to begin building their influence and reach on social media by growing their Audience and Engagement (and it just so happens these tips are also a good way to coach someone who wants to get serious about social to improve their Share Rocket scores):

First thing’s first: To get the most out of social, you need to first be on its most important platforms. There have been lots of attempts at usurping the three largest social networks in America, but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are more or less completely entrenched for now and the immediately foreseeable future. Facebook is unrivaled when it comes to reaching a large audience. Instagram has a dedicated user base and its attempts to undermine Snapchat’s success have been fairly effective when it comes to attracting a slightly younger demographic. While it’s true Twitter’s active user base and growth have mostly stalled, it is still the social network where the majority of news is broken and you need to have a presence there for that reason alone. Create an account on all three and learn the basics of the different ways you can post on each. A healthy social presence requires the ability to use all three, if only to get the most out of photo-based posts (which are the easiest to directly transfer between platforms).

Now, you need to find some inspiration, especially if you’re new to one of those three platforms. You can use Share Rocket or other social media analytics or rating services to identify the top performers on each social media site. Follow those at the top of the charts in your market to see if they have unique approaches to the stories you know well to make them stand out on social. Check out other markets, both big and small, and follow a few of the top performers there, too. Get a good mix from across the country, so you’re not just seeing the same echo chamber comments you may see in your market. A journalist needs to remain unbiased and be willing to hear both sides – even (and perhaps especially) when they do not agree with one of them. When you see some of those opposing viewpoints, don’t discount them. Use them to understand the mindset of the other side and develop empathy for their beliefs. Encouraging healthy debate is a great way to build trust with your audience and providing a space for it is a great way to build both your reach and engagement numbers. The more strong voices you follow on social media, the more ideas and approaches you will discover, and that will ultimately make your own posts more effective.

This is probably the least complicated of the steps, but for many, it seems to be the most difficult. In order to get better on social, you have to participate. In order to participate, you have to put yourself out there. At first, try posting at least three times a day on Facebook, at least twice a day on Twitter, and at least once a day on Instagram. As mentioned above, if you cross-post photos to all three platforms (which you can link together and make automatic), this will add practically no time to your workday. But think of that as the bare minimum. As you get more comfortable, try to get closer to double those numbers. It doesn’t matter if you’re sharing breaking news from your station’s website, an interesting piece you saw elsewhere in your social feeds, or just a photo of you, your pet, or someone you spoke to that day. From the extra focus on Facebook alone, you’ll likely be surprised how big a difference it will make in your overall social performance and pushing you up the social rankings in your market.

When you went through to find strong performers in your market to follow, were any at your station? If so, they are a valuable resource both for you to learn from and to help you increase your audience and reach. Let them know you want to get better on social media and ask for tips or see if they would mind sharing an occasional post from you on their social accounts. Follow everyone in your newsroom and comment on your coworkers’ posts and interact with the other commenters. This will increase their engagement and encourage them to do the same for you. It also gives your audience a peek into the relationships within the station and makes them feel like they’re a part of the gang. This will help cut down on trolls and create loyalty among your viewers. Few things feel better than getting ready to engage a troll or some snark from someone on social media only to find your fans have already stood up for you and your work. Also, your station likely has a social team (or at least a digital team that also helps run the station’s social presence). Those folks have control of the big guns: the main station social media accounts, which likely have far more followers than any individual at the station. Befriend them and let them know you’re increasing your efforts on social. It encourages them to share your material with a wide audience because they know you care and want to get better. If your station isn’t big on sharing posts from their team and instead like to re-post them natively from the main station account, try to at least get them to tag your page in the post. At the very least, ask them about what seems to be working on social media. They have their fingers on the pulse of it all day and will likely know better than someone who has been out and about reporting all day. Now that you’re making the effort, teamwork can help elevate you to the next level of success.

Once you’ve been trying to improve for a couple of weeks and followed the previous steps, it’s time to see how you’re doing. If your station is a Share Rocket customer, ask your social or digital team if they can show you your Asset Report Card or where you stand in the Market Report. If your station is not, demand a meeting with your GM and tell him you must have it (kidding – you can use another social media analytics or ratings tool if you have to, I guess). Either way, take a look at your social performance since you stepped it up and see what your numbers have done. They should be trending up. It’s especially important to look at your engagement per post on each platform and type of post, if that data is available. This will give you a quick idea of where you are getting the most return on effort and tell you if your approach is optimized for success. As mentioned before, it is best to be present on all three platforms, but this exercise will tell you where to focus to make the biggest impact in the smallest amount of time.

This is another assessment step when going from an amateur on social media to an expert, but as opposed to the last step, this one is both qualitative and quantitative. Take some time one day to go look at the profiles of some of those strong performers you followed back in step two. Scroll through a few days’ or weeks’ worth of their posts, noting how they approached the topic, what type of post they utilized, and what the response was in the comments (including if the individual followed up or responded to what is there). Also, using Share Rocket or another service, see if your team can pull up data on those individuals’ social performance and see if their approach aligns with yours. Share Rocket makes it particularly easy, as directly on your Asset Report Card, you can see your posting habits over the last week compared to the top five individuals in your market. Like in anything else, you want your social media (in both types of posts and tone/content) to be more like the best. Even if the top performers in your market are not with your station, you can still learn plenty from them.

With all of that in mind, you should be ready to keep improving on social. Repeat steps three through six on a repeating basis to be sure you’re not left behind as new trends emerge. It will most certainly require some patience and persistence to build a large and engaged audience, so try not to get discouraged if your numbers aren’t immediately comparable to the highest echelon of performance. Focus on the strides you have made to pull yourself off the bottom of the rankings. Social media is still in a major growth period for local broadcasters, and if you put in the effort, you can ride the wave as it’s cresting. If you do, you will be a more valuable and marketable talent to future news directors and general managers. Plus, you’ll be better prepared as the audience for local news moves from standard broadcast TV into the future of the industry. Buy into social now, before you get left behind.

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