Engagement top priority in social media strategy
By Emilie Lutostanski • Director, Local News Resource Center
Using Facebook Live as a local TV journalist is not new — but the way WCPO in Cincinnati, Ohio, prioritizes engagement is key to leveraging this tool for meaningful relationship-building with the audience.
News Director Mike Canan was inspired by the ask-me-anything (AMA) format — an idea he had successfully tested in newsrooms on different platforms over the years.
“For me, the No. 1 value of Facebook is engagement with people, our brand and our personalities,” he said. “We do that best by actually interacting with people, not just blasting stuff out there, and that’s what I think these Facebook Lives were really successful at.”
When public-facing events were challenging or impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions, WCPO called on staff reporters, anchors and meteorologists to post their own AMAs using Facebook Live or text posts — and most chose Facebook Live.
“I think the anchors were comfortable with the idea of a Facebook Live because they had done those things earlier in their career,” Canan said. “Some of the pre-work we did with the folks was, talk through [that] the goal here is engagement — show your personality and actually have a conversation with people in a way that’s hard to do right now with the pandemic.”
The WCPO news team offered several tips to keep engagement high during live AMAs.
Authenticity is key for building trust
“Savor the opportunity to get to be you on that platform more than, perhaps, you get to be you during a newscast,” said anchor/reporter Kristyn Hartman. “That’s just such a great way to build trust. … Using these platforms, it really does serve your viewer because they get to know who they’re welcoming into their living room.”
Acknowledge the audience for return viewership
“When I am conducting a Facebook Live, I try to acknowledge as many people as I can because that is what will have them coming back,” said meteorologist Sherry Hughes. “Our audience, they want news, but I also think that they want something more from the people that deliver the news: they want to feel that connectivity.”
Moderate the conversation by choosing the best questions
“We tell them [our staff], try to find the right spots to jump in and answer things,” Canan said. “Don’t don’t feel like you are responsible for defending the entire world of journalism or defending every decision that the station has made.”
Nail the frequency and timing
WCPO’s Facebook Live AMAs are occasional, unique opportunities to engage and get personal with the news team outside of their cadence of Live video posts for weather events, press conferences and local news.
“[Facebook Live posts] are very instrumental to the work that we do at a TV station. But it’s an engagement tool, just one tool,” Hughes said. “Most of the audience, they don’t want you doing the weather on it every single day. You can wear out your welcome.”
Canan said he’s learned valuable feedback from the community through AMA conversations. In one instance, a reader noted divisive phrasing from the station on certain social posts, and staff realigned their messaging to focus on facts over stoking argumentative engagement.
“I think every single AMA, we’ve gotten really good takeaways,” he said. “It has really helped us better understand how to connect with our audience.”