Mining the news archives to connect with readers on social media


As marketers for news organisations, we all should embrace the innovative technologies that social media provide us to connect with our readers and to share our brand stories.

On March 30, all brand pages on Facebook will be converted to a new page template. A key feature is the addition of a timeline of the brand’s history.

As news organisations, the history of our brands also shines a light on the history of the larger communities we serve. Our brand stories can tap into our knowledge-seeking readers’ interest in historic events, as well as their nostalgia for times past. Facebook Timeline gives all news organisations a powerful opportunity to tell their brand story in a new way.

A small group at The New York Times strategised how best to take advantage of Facebook pages’ new features. A primary goal of our Facebook page is to provide a forum for readers to join in conversation with each other and our journalists about news and ideas. Through regular Facebook chats with reporters and editors, we aim to create a space where readers can come “inside” the Times newsroom and go behind the story.

With this goal in mind, we selected a celebratory photo of a newsroom gathering as our launch cover photo. To create our timeline, we curated select moments from our company’s history and illustrated these moments with historic front-pages and photos as well as photos of Times staffers at work over the years. Sample milestones:

We plan to regularly update our Facebook timeline with “On this Day” milestones with more historic front pages and photos. “The Learning Network” from The New York Times has already seen strong engagement across Facebook and Twitter when members share “On this Day” historic milestones with their communities of teachers, education professionals, and students. We expect to see similar trends on our main Facebook page.

When building your brand timeline on Facebook, consider including historic milestones from both your news organisation’s history (e.g. a front page image of an award-winning piece of journalism or a photo from your newsroom while covering an historic event) and your audience’s history (e.g. a photo or a front page from your archives of a local sports team’s big win). Look for historic “where were you then?” events for your community.

These historic milestones are a powerful means to strengthen the ties your readers have with your news brand. When readers revisit your milestones that document important news events that influenced their lives, they will remember that you were their source for information. Your brand is indelibly tied to their own personal history.

Our use of Facebook Timeline has received a great response from our readers. In the first week of launching Timeline, we tracked more than 3,000 mentions (97% positive) about our Facebook timeline across social media. We also enjoyed more than a 240% increase in our average daily of new “likes” (or fans) to our page on February 29, the day our timeline launched. We continue to see higher-than-average daily new “like” numbers in the weeks after launch.

I’m eager to see how other news brands tell their stories through the use of Facebook timeline, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. The Times recently launched another social media project that also taps into the power of our archives with “The Lively Morgue” on Tumblr. Please drop me a line on Twitter at @NYCcyn or to highlight your own work or other notable examples.

As many of you are now likely building out your own Facebook Timelines, here are two other examples that may spark inspiration:

  • The TODAY Show’s Facebook Timeline has a wonderful collection of photos and videos of their crew (e.g. the show’s first trip abroad in 1959), as well as appearances from notable guests over the years.

  • Ad Age’s Timeline highlights notable articles (e.g. 1939’s “Television is Here” editorial), as well as industry milestones (e.g. 1946’s beginning of the post-war baby boom) and milestones for the brands Ad Age covers (e.g. 1979’s introduction of Absolut vodka in the U.S.)

Past is prologue. Tap into the great work produced by your news organisation over the years and invite your readers to get a bit closer to the people and events that have made your news organisation what it is today.

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