I was really energized by Joy Mayer, Director of Community Outreach for the Columbia Missourian (and professor at Missouri School of Journalism). Her enthusiasm for serving readers is contagious. Here are my top take-aways from her June 28 Poynter/NewsU webinar.
1. Listen, don’t just talk. Turn content into conversations — and go find where people are already talking about the story you are writing. Join that conversation and share. Use social media not just to promote your content, but to eavesdrop. (I found this especially relevant in our Pinterest discussion yesterday. If we paid attention to what folks are repinning like crazy on Pinterest — how might that change our coverage? )
2. What do you read to stay informed? Why not share that with your readers on your blog and through your social channels?
3. Issue specific invites. Don’t just ask: What do you think? Try to craft a specific, thought-provoking question to advance the conversation. Instead of making general requests for reader photos, get specific about the photos you want. Inspired by this advice, we asked readers to submit photos of stars (in murals? street signs, etc.) to help celebrate July 4. We could have easily just asked, “Send photos from your July 4 celebrations,” which is a little too broad. Because of the power outages, we scrapped this project. But we will definitely trot this star idea back out in the future. Christmas, perhaps?
4. Try to identify the audience for your stories. Who, specifically, would find this useful? Not just “all of Southwest Virginia.” But maybe Roanoke taxpayers. Or Southwest Virginia parents.
How might this influence your storytelling choices? Some examples:
Handouts: When covering stories where many folks might show up to public meetings (and are captive audience), why not create a fact sheet to distribute, to help keep the debate fact-based? Low cost, high engagement. Missourian also did this with “How to talk to you children about 9/11,” targeting parents with handouts at libraries, daycare centers, etc.
Surveys: When covering an election with many issues at stake, why not create an online survey for readers, to see what most care about?
5. To measure engagement success, look at the ratios. For example, of the total people who viewed your blog post, how many commented? Or filled out a survey? For crowdsourced photo galleries, how many were submitted, versus staff-created?