By Emilie LutostanskiDirector, Local News Resource Center

The Digital Transformation Lab for publishers of color is a six-month, cohort-based initiative — funded entirely by Local Media Association — that aims to bridge gaps in knowledge, resources, and technology while providing a framework for immediate and long-term revenue growth.

Accelerate Local, designed to reinvent business models for news, launched the Digital Transformation Lab for publishers of color in September 2019.

Emilie Lutostanski (center), director of the Local News Resource Center at LMA, met with the Houston Defender team on-site in February 2020 for a day of training and recommendations as part of Digital Transformation Lab. From left: Sonny Messiah Jiles, Jodie Jilies, Lutostanski, Margo Williams Hubbard, and ReShonda Tate-Billingsly.

As part of the Digital Transformation Lab, each publisher is receiving 1:1 consultation in overall strategy and revenue opportunities, sales and promotions training, and strategy coaching in social media and digital audience development. Participants in the pilot Digital Transformation Lab for Publishers of Color include The Atlanta Voice, The Dallas Weekly, Houston Defender, New York Amsterdam News, and The Washington Informer.

Emilie Lutostanski, director of the Local News Resource Center at LMA, is working with participating publishers in the Digital Transformation Lab on conducting social media audits and delivering audience development recommendations. The Local News Resource Center is funded by the Facebook Journalism Project in partnership with Facebook, Instagram and CrowdTangle.

Social media audits in the Digital Transformation Lab include a review of the organization’s social media accounts and result in recommendations that bring the social presence in-line with many best practices for local media. The suggested opportunities take into account the often limited resources of small newsrooms among the cohort and beyond, and include everything from registering for inclusion in the Facebook News Index to utilizing free tools that build audience understanding and increase engagement.

The challenges in social media and audience development are not unique to participants in the Digital Transformation Lab, and in fact, are widely addressed in the local media landscape. Here, we share some of the most relatable recommendations, found in the Digital Transformation Lab, that can help grow social engagement, social referrals and digital acumen.

Meet a posting frequency goal using data to determine schedules and content. 

Every organization has a unique cadence to publishing and distributing content on social channels. In the Digital Transformation Lab, we discuss how local news publishers have found success when they understand their own audience’s engagement and consumption behaviors as well as which content tends to resonate. With some planning, this can be done regardless of the number of daily posts produced or staff size.

For example, we recommend posting content on Facebook throughout the day, with special attention to early morning to capture the best opportunity for click-through and engagement. However, for several publishers in this cohort, their Instagram audience tended be engaged later in the day, so recommendations were to post content that aligns with the afternoon and evening consumption trends among those specific audiences.

Lean into local, including elevating community members and local business partnerships. 

This post from The Atlanta Voice on the promotion of a local community member received 10x engagement than an average post for the page.

We know that quality local content is highly unique and therefore valuable. With one Lab participant in particular, at least 27% of all Facebook site referrals last year went local news content. In 2019, 54% of the publisher’s top 250 most-trafficked stories were local news.

Among the cohort, local news and coverage of local influential professionals drives significant engagement across platforms and especially Instagram and Facebook. We recommend not only leveraging relationships across local media to collaborate on content and promotions as The Dallas Weekly has done with 97.9 The Beat DFW, but also with local business professionals and nonprofit leaders in whom the audience is invested.

Leverage free technology tools to maximize reporting, automation, and data-informed decisions.

CrowdTangle and Google Analytics are both free reporting tools for news publishers and fundamental to gaining progress with digital transformation. In the Lab, we recommend not only adopting these tools, as many publishers already have, but ensure all sides of the business are maximizing their value through exploring different features, applications, alerts, and automated reporting. Additionally, tools like IFTTT can assist with automating some posting and other processes to save time that can be reallocated to learning to gather and analyze reports and trends.

In the Lab, we emphasize the importance of regular meetings and conversations to review and understand data and then make content, posting and even revenue-driving decisions. For true digital transformation, we recommend reviewing interal use of these and other tech tools to ensure informed and empowered decision-making capabilities, and start training or conversations where needed.

Register local news Facebook Pages in the Facebook News Index.

A local news page in the Facebook News Index receives benefits and consideration with respect to some Facebook policies and products, and registering news Pages will allow Facebook to understand the full breadth and needs of the news ecosystem on Facebook. Any page admin should see the “News Pages” option under the “Registrations” tab in Business Settings, which is where you can begin the process of registering the page. This is for local news organization pages, not talent or individual reporter pages.

In the coming weeks, the Local News Resource Center will publish further findings and recommendations based on work done in the Digital Transformation Lab toward social media and digital audience development. Visit the LNRC page for more resources, case studies, learning opportunities, or to reach out with your own questions about social media strategy.

The Digital Transformation Lab also includes support for the five black-owned newspaper publishers in overall strategy and revenue opportunities, sales and promotions training, and more. Accelerate Local will continue to report on the work being done through this unique Lab.