Friday, February 16, 2018

Some ideas for better Facebook posts

I've written a few times recently about the importance of social media in generating website traffic for What I haven't said is that what's posted and how it's posted make a difference.

While there is value to The Orion and its audience in the posts themselves (they are good ways to deliver news and information), it's more important to the success of the paper to use social media to lead readers to the website, where they can get a full story or video and then stick around to view more content.

I think each social medium has its strengths.

• Twitter is best at getting news to the audience quickly and providing a link to more information as soon as it's posted online. That's why it makes sense for reporters to post information about stories while they develop and link to finished stories when they're posted online.
• Snapchat and Instagram are good for self-promotion, but not so great at delivering traffic to a website.
• Facebook, for my money, is the best tool for engaging readers and getting them more involved in website content. But Facebook posts need to be carefully constructed to do that, and social-media managers need to actively manage their Facebook feed for engagement to be effective.

Here are some examples of posts I created from recent Orion content that might help improve paper's Facebook effort.

This is an actual post from Jan. 30 in which a reader is asking a question about the way the website works (or doesn't work). It should have received a response as soon as the PR team or other manager saw the query but didn't. I added what would have been an appropriate comment. This is what I mean when I say managers need to actively manage the Facebook page.

My idea here is to get readers thinking about their own Valentine's experiences and then give them a place to react to either the Facebook post or the column. In either case, they're more likely to click through to the column with this prompt than just the Facebook-provided description of the original piece.

Andrew Baumgartner wrote a really nice piece about a book-signing event. The readers most interested in the book will probably be fans of Coach Greg Clink and the players on that 2015-16 team. By asking for their memories, this post lets them know about the book but also gives them an opportunity to share their experiences. 

Asking Facebook visitors about their experience at the concert actually extends the story about the BMU's experiment with live programming. Students who read the comments will have a better idea than the story could convey about whether BMU concerts are a good idea and will have more information about whether it's something they might want to do. Taking text out of the bottom third of the original story to emphasize the volunteer aspect engages students who might read more to find out how to volunteer.

These types of posts take a little more time than just letting Facebook pick up images and text from a URL, but they have a higher probability of being read, getting people to click through to the original stories and inspiring readers to share the content with their friends.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

3 ideas for making your home page better

Web-news experts downplay the role of the home page in a news ecosystem where social-media referrals are so important, but analytics show lots of readers start with the home page and navigate to stories from there.

So, I took a look at the current page and came up with three suggestions to make it more useful and appealing.

1. Standardize photo size and make the play image horizontal

Wordpress templates don't adjust themselves to get rid of unnecessary white space, which means the home page can look messy if photos aren't cropped with an eye toward making the space around them work well. Solutions:
- In the carousel or rotator that is the dominant art element at the top of the page, make sure the photos are all horizontal and that they're cropped to the same size. If you don't, the whole page will jump up and down as the template adjusts to each new photo depth.
- For all stories teased on the home page, make the photos horizontal. If you don't, the coding will create chunks of trapped white space. To the right is an example of how a vertical and a horizontal photo at the top of two sections affect the space. The vertical photo creates an empty space.

2. Replace the sidebar calendar with a list and move it to the top of the sidebar

Now that The Orion has a calendar editor, have that person pick three things of interest that are happening on campus or in the community each day and put them in a module at the top of the right column. 
The list could be titled "What's Happening Today" or something like it and be taken from events that are already in the calendar. It should be changed every day, adding one more fresh element to the home page and training readers to come back to The Orion every morning. Topping it with a small photo would make it more appealing.
You should end the list with an invitation to see what's on the rest of the online calendar page. 

3. Use the template better by emphasizing photojournalism

When the editors chose the FLEX Wordpress theme, I'm sure they liked the bold look of having a photo carousel stretch the width of the page. That's great, but it doesn't play to the strength of The Orion, which at the moment is hard news coverage. I was going to suggest that the paper look at a different template that plays to strengths instead of a weakness (see The New York Times homepage for a template that focuses on news), but a better idea would be to improve your photos. 
Having a photo of the day consistently is a good first step, but in the web world it's essential to have good great visuals to attract readers. There are talented shooters on the staff this semester, so that should be easier than it has been in the past. But good editing is essential:
- Only include stories with great art in the carousel.
- Be sure the images are sharp and have enough resolution so they aren't pixelated or fuzzy in a large size.
- Be ruthless with crops. You want stunning images that are composed well as your invitation to readers.
- No more signs or logos in the carousel! 

Friday, February 2, 2018

January traffic shows importance of social media

Traffic for January 2017 and January 2018 (click to see a larger image)
The beginning of a semester is typically a slow time for traffic at, so the low numbers for the past two weeks aren't a surprise. A close look at the Google analytics does provide an insight into how important social media is to a the website.

I set up a traffic comparison between January 2017 and last January 2018. That's the graph at the top of this post.

Why the difference? Well, the flow of news is different from day to day and week to week, but my impression is that this semester started out really well on the news side. I thought that would show up in the traffic numbers. Also, news reporters and editors had tweeted up a storm as they covered a women's march and two political events, so I expected a bigger audience.

What I found when I dug deeper into the analytics was the opposite. And while there are other factors at work, I think I also found the reason for the slower traffic.

Social media acquisition comparison, January 2017-January 2018 (click to see a larger image)
Traffic driven by the tweets was responsible for driving more readers to last month (a 158 percent increase), but a poor effort on Facebook more than matched it and was responsible for 76 percent decline in Facebook referrals -- that's more than 1,100 fewer visitors! Referrals from Google search and visits from people who typed in "," were about the same in the two months, so this turned out to be an almost perfect experiment in the importance of social media.

Mobile app downloads and traffic for January 2018 (click to see a larger image)
The numbers for The Orion's mobile app were comparable. One bit of good news: Downloads made a big jump during the first week of classes. I'm going to guess that's because staff members at the first critique of the semester added the app to their smartphones.

Here are the most-read stories from the first two weeks of the semester. Note that eight of the 10 were written by reporters or editors from the two news sections.

1. Chico State sisters die in fatal car crash - 445 pageviews
2. Gas tax proposal endorsed by local representatives fuels unrest in Chico - 408
3. Commercial cannabis legal in California yet still banned in Chico - 211
4. Memorial planned for Frace sisters - 207
5. Michael Bethea: a journey - 201
6. LaMalfa speaks against gas tax, attacks protesters - 157
7. Congressional candidates speak out at town hall - 145
8. Domestic dispute leads to lockdown of two local schools - 121
9. Wildcat of the Week - Claire Wayne - 119
10. New director of Gateway Science Museum - 118

Here are the basic traffic numbers for Jan. 21-Feb. 1.

From Google Analytics. Click to see a larger image