The way newspapers and traditional media companies generally use social media can easily jeopardise or sabotage our business model — especially when it comes to paid content. But it can also boost our strategy in ways that were unthinkable before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram existed.

At Zero Hora, a local newspaper based in the south of Brazil, social media became a key part of the whole company strategy. And that lead us to becoming Brazil’s most engaging newspaper brand.

How did we do it? Here are four steps that, if combined wisely, can pay back the investment with real engagement — and with much more than simply likes or retweets.

1. Define your goals and fight for them.

Because social networks weren’t created for companies and brands, and thus all have a consumer approach, it wasn’t obvious that sharp goals were a must. This is why a lot of media companies have struggled, behaving as ordinary users, like me and you, and not as businesses.

What works in our personal timeline almost never works in a brand/business one. At Zero Hora, our two main goals are clear:

  1. Generate traffic to our Web site.
  2. Build a solid relationship with the fans and followers.

Before starting anything, we ask, “Are we helping users get to our content on our Web site?” and “Is this improving our brand awareness?” If either answer is “no,” we quickly change the plan.

A seat at the table: To be truly effective, social media requires equal access — to the newsroom agenda and the editorial staff — and to be valued as a core area of any media company.
A seat at the table: To be truly effective, social media requires equal access — to the newsroom agenda and the editorial staff — and to be valued as a core area of any media company.

2. Enrich your teams.

Social media needs to be an “institution” inside any news company. It has to be valued as a core area, just like marketing, circulation, and advertising, for example, and not be the little desk in the corner of the newsroom. The team also needs be in the spotlight. It needs to have access to the newsroom agenda, to all editorial staff, and to the editor-in-chief. If conversation is not clear and easy, the team can’t work.

Another important decision for your social media team to make is not to hire the best analyst from that cool agency that does branded content well. You don’t need to!

What you really need is a journalist who can see the power of social media and think strategically about how to promote news content, while following your goals. If she or he already has experience as a reporter or editor, even better. This professional needs to be trained and retrained — and the company needs to formally provide support.

At Zero Hora, a dedicated team is consistently empowered and actively participates in all our news projects, planning content promotion and distribution to the right channels, while also measuring the results.

3. Be in the conversation.

The watchword for social media is interaction. That is why we can’t be careless toward our fans and followers. We need to reply, talk, ask for opinions, give feedback, apologise when it’s necessary, explain, and answer. It is part of our job to pay attention to what is being said to us and about us. Monitoring is critically important. But monitoring and not doing anything with it is a waste of time.

At Zero Hora, we used a tool called Social Monitor to keep watching, 24/7, what is trending on social media and also on our main channels. We set filters that go along with our goals and build daily reports, even helping with content creation.

Our social media team also works hand in hand with the customer/subscriber service and respects the channel that the fan or follower chooses to use. If someone sends a message via inbox on Facebook, that is where she or he wants the conversation to be. It would not make sense to call on the phone or send an e-mail.

4. Respect your fans’ and followers timelines.

Bear in mind that the algorithm is not our enemy. If you understand it and also respect it, you can achieve fantastic results. That means that you cannot simply throw your content out onto your timeline as if it were your Web site with a breaking news feed. Social media doesn’t work like that.

That is why you need to deeply know your audience, segment your publications when needed, keep your consistent tone of voice and enjoy the possibilities that the platforms give you. By doing so, your followers, fans and, consequently, the algorithm, will appreciate your effort.

And your engagement will rise sky high!