While pretty much all news media companies are on Facebook and YouTube, are they truly engaging their social media audiences?

Newspapers are generally the best at multi-media offerings in their market. They are content generators and aggregators, marketers and advertising platforms, government watchdogs and entertainment guides.

Newspapers have among the best Web sites, and no other medium even comes close when it comes to mobile offerings.

One area, however, where newspapers need to develop a stronger presence is on social media.

Social media and search sites such as Facebook and YouTube provide wonderful audience development opportunities for newspapers. There are a wide range of different demographics, geographics, age groups, etc., all able to be targeted.

But to reach these audiences, newspapers must do more than just post stories and video from their Web sites.

To effectively utilise social media as an audience development tool, newspapers must become the local social media leaders in their markets by thinking more like social media users and by matching the way that users consume information on these sites.

I have a Facebook account and interact with a number of newspaper pages. From what I’ve observed, most newspapers post links to articles that ran in the print product that morning or breaking news throughout the day.

Clearly this is good and drives traffic to the newspaper Web and mobile sites. But if the Facebook user has already heard about or read the story, or if it does not interest them at all, they will tend to ignore it.

Obviously, this is not good because if users don’t interact with your posts on Facebook, they eventually won’t see them. According to Facebook, the average page only reaches around 12% of the audience that has liked the page. Providing relevant and interactive content can help to increase this.

For example, most of my Facebook friends love to take quizzes and read lists and random bits of trivia that they come across on Facebook. Even my most educated Facebook friends tend to read, partake in, and share these often whimsical posts, which are usually made by larger Web sites such as Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.

Newspapers, too, could develop and post local versions of lists and quizzes. If they are fun and quirky enough, they will be shared and interacted with.

YouTube is another Web site that offers an attractive audience to newspapers. My daughter, an early-20s millennial, virtually never watches traditional television. She, and others like her, gets most of their video content from Web sites such as Hulu, Netflix, and, most importantly, YouTube. In fact, according to Neilson, YouTube now reaches more 18-34 year olds than any cable network!

While most newspapers do have a YouTube channel, these channels generally have very few subscribers. With the exception of the larger local and national newspapers, most newspaper YouTube videos are only able to generate hundreds, if not only dozens, of views.

Even at the national level, the first printed newspaper to show up on a list of top YouTube news and information channels is The Wall Street Journal, which comes in at number 57. The top 10 includes channels such as The Young Turks and The Nerdist, which offer news and information in an interesting, often quirky, manner.

To better capitalise on this video frontier, newspapers need to look at and mimic what is popular on YouTube. So, am I saying that newspapers should aspire to be the next Young Turks? No, probably not.

They should, however, take a lesson from these sites on how to attract and engage local audiences, because people don’t go on Facebook or YouTube specifically to interact with businesses or the media. Rather they view and share what interests them. So in addition to posting links to articles, newspapers need to generate more fun and interactive content that truly engages readers.

Of course, YouTube and Facebook do offer targeted marketing opportunities for newspapers that want to incorporate that strategy into their marketing budget.

Targeted ads on YouTube generally cost much less than ads on television (which are much less targeted) and can be an effective tool given that viewers are less able to skip the ads as they can on television. Not to mention the fact that newspapers that already have a commercial can upload the ad to their YouTube channel at no cost and promote the ad on other social media sites.

Facebook, too, offers a number of targeted advertising options. But all that being said, even just freshening up content a little and making it more reader-involved and fun can generate more interaction, which gives the newspaper the opportunity to drive consumers to other products.

I’ve focused largely on YouTube and Facebook because, along with Google, they make up the top three most visited Web sites in the United States. There are other social media sites, however, that provide news media companies with tremendous opportunity.

Twitter, for instance, is one social media channel that most newspapers have done a pretty good job of maximising. Other sites such as Tumbler, Pinterest, and Instagram offer different and available audiences.

All of these social media offerings can be, and should be, utilised to cross-promote and strengthen one another.

It seems that, rather than being out in front of changing media, newspapers are often reactionary when it comes to creative disruption.

It’s no secret print readership is losing ground to the Internet. This is not because consumers believe newspapers are irrelevant; it’s just that media consumption habits have changed drastically in the past few years, and the printed newspaper often doesn’t provide the level of selection and interactivity that people want.

To become the media companies of the future, newspapers must become more interactive and must provide content in ways that people want to consume it.

Does this mean that newspapers should abandon their journalistic principles and mission? Absolutely not! But in order to sustain a model of engagement and interaction, they need to do a better job of connecting with the audiences the way the audiences want to be connected with.