The live chat is, in a sense, the original social media – the Arthur Crudup to Twitter and Facebook’s Elvis Presley. I think I set up and conducted my first live chat in 2004, when I was a fledgling web producer at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The technology has evolved somewhat, but the idea remains the same: Get readers into a virtual room with reporters, experts and newsmakers to ask questions directly.
In my recent travels for Digital First, I’ve been teaching a little bit about liveblogging and chats – and learning a lot, too. In what I hope will become something of a regular thing here at ZJ, I’d like to highlight the work of some of my DFM colleagues and pass along best practices and how-tos for any other journalists who’d like to try out what they’re doing.
At the York Daily Record (in York, Pa., birthplace of the peppermint patty with the same name), business reporter Lauren Boyer has become a community fixture. While she’s active on social media, her best successes have come from a couple of older-school engagement tactics: Live chats and real-life meetups.
In early February, Lauren started organizing weekly CoveritLive chats with members of the community, beginning with a live chat with a local CPA firm to kick off tax season.
“This initial effort had only 30 live readers — but they posted A LOT of very specific questions about their income tax filings,” Lauren says. “This motivated me to keep it up, figuring the quality of the discussion — providing a public service to those few readers who tuned in — was more important at the beginning as people start to catch on.”
Just last week, one of Lauren’s YDR colleagues, Sean Adkins, shared a particularly notable success story. Following a live chat with a local staffing firm, a local reader sent in her resume and was later offered a job earning $40K (now that’s community service!).
There are probably many opportunities for your newsroom to take advantage of free or inexpensive live chat tools. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
If a reporter has a big investigation or enterprise story published that got people talking, hold a chat with that reporter and/or some of the newsmakers involved in the story.
Hold regular chats with your reporters and columnists. When I worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer, we had chats almost daily with a staff member. From the TV writer to the food critic and the various sports reporters, all of these chats were on a regular schedule and usually got a lot of participation.
Open up a chat for your readers and staff to dish live during the big game/debate/local event.
Hold chats with experts in your community on topics of interest like taxes, health care, pet care, gardening, relationship advice, cooking, etc
Invite one or more local bloggers to participate in a chat about local issues or their blogging subjects.
This may be an old hat to some of you (much like the phrase “old hat”), so please share your experiences with live chats in the comments area. What tools do you use for your chats? What topics and people have worked best for you? What best practices could you share?
So your news brand has a Google+ account. Great. Now what? Maybe you’ve been sharing posts to see what works to stir up engagement and/or root in that SEO, but you’re thinking there has to be more (there is).
Since my overview of Google+ for news brands, I’ve curated some best practices and tips that can help your news organization get a little more comfortable using Google + and taking advantage of what it has to offer.
Being There is Half The Battle
You may have noticed that a lot of news organizations have somewhat abandoned Google+. This makes it prime spot on the social media map to make your mark.
“Google Plus users notice when a news org puts resources into the platform,” says Amy Duncan, Social Editor for BreakingNews. “They reward those news orgs by becoming regular commenters and content sharers on their pages. Simply put, if a news organization is willing to dedicate resources to Google Plus, it is very easy to become the best game in town.”
Choose Posts Wisely and Use Good SEO
You don’t need to post every story here, but be sure to post news you have exclusively or first in your local area, content you think will get a lot of people searching and talking about it.
When you post stories here, remember to use your SEO (search engine optimization) skills, as you want to help Google users find your story. In the text you post with your link, be sure to include the names, places and keywords people may be searching to find this info. Bold your headlines and any keyword phrases to add SEO value using these G+ specific shortcodes.
Google recommends asking questions of your followers when you post an update, and taking care to + mention the people and organizations mentioned in the stories (using @ before their name). You might even want to + mention people who may want to weigh in on your post, like experts in a field and/or certain active followers.
Like retweeting, take the time to share posts from your reporters and readers to your stream. For instance, if you see a G+ post from a staffer that might not be SEO-optimized, click “Share” and put it on your stream with better search terms included.
Make It a Priority During Breaking News
BreakingNews has made Google+ a core part of its social arsenal, winning it a dedicated following on the platform.
“In our experience, Google Plus is far from the ‘ghost town’ it is frequently described to be,” says Duncan, who manages BreakingNews’ Google+ account. “In fact, we have seen a very high level of engagement. According to All my +, each post on +Breaking News has received an average of 34 comments, 38 +1s and 27 shares. When a big story breaks, we see those numbers go through the roof.”
BreakingNews keeps posted content fresh by taking advantage of one of the key attributes G+ has over Facebook: The ability to edit after posting. It isn’t uncommon to see BreakingNews add updated info to the top of an already-posted G+ post, like so:
And this doesn’t just work for a curation giant like BreakingNews. Last summer, The Trentonian in Trenton, New Jersey (a Digital First newspaper) took to Google+ in its breaking coverage of a shooting in a nearby apartment complex. By using G+ in addition to the usual Twitter and Facebook to cover the news and crowdsource for information, Interim Editor Joey Kulkin got a big break on some insider info.
“Someone in one of The Trentonian”s Google+ circles wrote that she thought her cousin was the shooting victim laying in the parking lot. So I immediately latched onto her, and we kept in constant communication. She was really trusting and answered all of my reply questions. G+ is where she confirmed that the victim was her cousin about 10:20.”
Post During the Work Day
According to a February 2012 report from Simply Measured derived from the activity and engagement of the top 100 brands on the platform, Google+ is primarily used during work hours and not at home (which differs somewhat from Facebook, which has nighttime surges in activity).
86% of the engagement that takes place happens during working hours (5 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
89% of all engagement happens on the weekdays
Wednesday is the most popular day for brand posts and for user engagement with those posts
The highest engagement with brand posts happens between 9-10 a.m. local time
Google’s own best practices (released my way via a cheat sheet from a Google rep) say the most G+ users are online from 1 to 3 p.m. local time and say the best time to post are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time.
Circles can work both like Twitter and Facebook lists. Create them not only to direct who sees your posts, but to help you monitor the accounts you want to monitor.
First of all, know that as a brand, you can only add people to your Circles if they are also brands or if they have already added you to a Circle.
You might want to create a Circle for your paper’s employees (or even smaller segments, like reporters and online staff), other news orgs, local companies and organizations and those who have Circled your brand on G+. Note: People who’ve added you, but whom you don’t reciprocally add to circles, will still receive your public posts in their stream.
Google recommends creating Circles of your most engaged users to direct your post to them specifically (in addition to posting updates publicly).
Jen Lee Reeves, Interactive Directer at KOMU-TV, uses G+ circles to organize sources and contacts.
If you’ve built some great Circles, be sure to share them with your readers. Like a good Twitter list, if you’ve curated a Circle of local newsmakers, athletes or even your staff, others may find it interesting and useful as well.
Hold Hangouts With Your Staff and/or Newsmakers
The Hangout feature of Google+ is, in my opinion, the best part of the whole shebang. Hangouts can connect your staff and readers face-to-face, using tools that don’t require a lot of technical know-how or fancy equipment.
Though you can only have up to 10 people actually participate on camera in a Hangout, you can live stream Hangouts to the rest of your readership using the built-in “on air” functionality, which streams and saves the video to your brand’s YouTube page.
Lots of promotion for the chat, on-site, on other social media and, of course, on G+.
Published a piece on their site after the fact, featuring the video from the chat (now in their own video system to boot). This final post was also posted to G+ for those who couldn’t tune in live. This pretty simple final step is key, as it makes more readers aware of what you’re doing on G+ and how they can get involved in the future.
Try it out! Hold a Hangout with a few of your local reporters to talk about a local issue, live stream an editors’ meeting, bring in a couple of city council candidates to talk with your reporters on camera, bring in a few readers while you’re at it.
If you really want to make it interactive, team the Hangout up with a Twitter or Cover it Live chat, where a staffer on camera can relay questions from the readers who couldn’t join in on the camera chat.
Alex Byers, Senior Web Producer at Politico, offered this helpful tip for Hangouts:
Hangouts also work well as an internal meeting tool. The spread-out Digital First engagement team does this for our staff meetings. I even used G+ to conduct my fantasy football draft last fall.
Don’t Just Duplicate Twitter and Facebook
For one thing, it can take a lot of time to replicate the same updates on three tools. Also: These tools are different from one another and their audiences expect different content and approaches. Switch up what kind of content you post to where based on the engagement you get from what you post on each channel.
Also, consider mixing up the order of your social workflow.
“Many Google Plus users use Google Plus in addition to Facebook and/or Twitter, if Google Plus is always the last place you publish, these users will notice, especially in a breaking news situation,” says Amy Duncan. “Not only will your Google Plus page become redundant to users in the context of your other online presences, but it will also become redundant on Google Plus itself, if your competitors are consistently beating you to the punch.”
Not every news outlet can afford to dedicate a staffer to Google+ like BreakingNews, but it’s worth testing out some timing changes to see if it works for your site.
Interactive content, made up of video and photos, continues to not only be the most frequently posted content but it also drives the most engagement. For the Top 100 brands, it makes up over 65% of engagement happening on Google+.
Use All My+ to track your brand’s engagement on Google+. When you try something news, run a comparison here to see if it worked.
If you want to see just how and where an individual update traveled on Google+, click the arrow to the right of a post to get the option to “View Ripples”. On every post that has been shared on G+, you can see who else shared it by looking at this actually pretty awesome visualization.
Interact in Your Comments
I shouldn’t have to tell you this – it IS a social network, after all. When you reply to commenters or want to thank those who spread your post around, be sure to + mention their name (much like you would on Facebook). Add +1s on the comments you want to highlight for others to note.
Ask Your Readers What They Want
Honestly, you should be doing this on every social channel you use as a brand on a fairly regular basis. When you try something new, ask your followers what they thought of it. Post open-ended questions like, “What would you like to see us do here?” Include a note on your About page asking for feedback and ideas.
The New York Times’ social media crew did this early on with their use of Google+ to mold a strategy over time.