Community engagement gets sexier in digital age


It’s a mixed bag when your staff regularly peruses Editor & Publisher’s classified job listings, or those on

  • Will one of your stars fly the coop?

  • Will someone come to you demanding a sexier title?

  • Will someone find his own job there, the one that you secretly posted? “Reply to blind box.” (Kidding! I am sure this never happens. Maybe.)

The upside comes when someone unearths a trend to steal, as I recently did on both of the aforementioned sites.

Like many newspapers, we at S-R Media/The Spokesman-Review want to engage with subscribers and the community. We’ve done this well over the years, with reader panels who peppered past editors with suggestions large and small, and reader panels around niche interests such as cooking and music.

Readers are our test kitchen. Editors across the world have known this always and have intuitively “crowd sourced” even before that term came into common usage.

Still, there is room to up our game.

The PA Media Group last week showed up on seeking a community engagement specialist, one of three such positions open there, according to Cate Barron, editor of The Patriot-News Company.

The posting mentions the opportunity to “help re-engineer the community engagement function as part of an exciting initiative that is redefining digital journalism” in central Pennsylvania.

In fact, Barron said, the company is also adding data analysts and SEO and SMO experts to demonstrate PA Media Group’s full-bore commitment to digital news and information.

“The engagement specialists will be responsible for building conversations and user-generated content on and across all platforms,” Barron said. “They will be an integral part of our news-gathering operation, engaging our audience online and in person at local events. We see them as a powerful addition to our staff of reporters and photographers.”

Similarly, The Austin American-Statesman is seeking a social media editor. Zach Ryall, online managing editor, noted that The Statesman was an industry early adopter of the need for such positions, and has had a full-time social media editor since 2009 (the most recent holder of that post left for a job at a much larger metropolitan daily newspaper).

“The case for the position now is as strong as it was years ago,” he said, adding that, of course, bringing more traffic to content through posts is a goal. But, “we also have had excellent success using social media to crowd-source, interact with readership, and function as a sort of ombudsman for the newspaper.

Ryall continues: “The social media editor assists with giveaways, contests, lends a consistent, human voice and personality to our social stream, making sure folks know there is a real person rather than a feed on the other end. On any given day, having a person in that post results in at least a little more street credibility, and during big news, provides us reporting and sourcing capability we never had before.”

Like Barron, Ryall expects social media hires to know their way around traditional (Twitter, Facebook) and emerging platforms such as Google+, Tumblr, and Pinterest, “to push brand, grow audience beyond our traditional demographic, and collaborate with other internal departments,” he said.

Likewise, the PA Media Group listing requires its new hires to have experience with “online community engagement and a demonstrated ability to build, maintain, and engage an active audience (pulling content in rather than pushing content out),” and to “train news hubs in best practices for engaging the local audience through targeted topical coverage, live interactive events (chats, tweet-ups, etc.), user engagement (e.g. elevated comment posts), and other means.”

Barron said: “Of course these specialists need to be well-versed in all things digital and should thrive on constant deadlines. But, more importantly, we’re looking for creative team players with energy and enthusiasm, and who have a passion for great community journalism.”

Clearly, these two news organisations are onto something.

The need for our journalists and (in the parlance of marketing) “brand advocates” to connect with the community is nothing new. It’s the digital tools and the expectation of constant connection that are still new to too many newspaper companies.

We must move ever so quickly to capture the imagination of journalists (and yes, marketers) who love their communities, who are citizens of their communities, who want to report, who want to share, and who want to make things better.

We need our journalists and marketers to know we’re committed when we say we revere print traditions yet seek to expand our reach to our digital customers — or better yet, to those customers who love print and digital.

Ryall put it this way: We want “to have this person continue to play a role in maintaining our brand as a pre-eminent source of credible, up-to-date news as well as advance audience engagement and digital circulation using each of the various social ‘tools’ to their best advantage.”

That’s just a modern way to say newspapers and media companies, as always, exist to help citizens be informed, interested, engaged, and involved in shaping their lives.

The best among us always remember our critical role in getting citizens news and information, whether it be online, on mobile, in print, or in person at community forums. There’s plenty of community engagement to go around.

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