Okay, confession time… 


I worked in social media for a year before coming to the University of Kent. I not only worked “in social media”, I worked in social media marketing, a close cousin of every journalism lecturer’s living nightmare: Public Relations. I was working for a growing media agency, Manning Gottlieb OMD, which is part of the wider Omnicom Group. This was a “trendy” and “modern” agency complete with the kind of office you’d expect of any company remotely interested in tech: think a pool table in the middle of the office and bean bags available to break out and do work on. Truthfully the culture of the office and all of the team was remarkably nice, and for anyone who wants to go in marketing I can’t imagine a better company to work for. But the actual day-to-day work wasn’t for me, it never truly interested me in the way you could tell that it did my colleagues. Where you’d expect it to be like Mad Men it was more like Twelve Angry Men whenever a client rejected an entire pitch over one tiny detail.  


Yet I made some great friends, it paid the bills for a year and made me realise exactly what I wanted to do in the future, which I don’t think is an entirely bad end to that chapter in my life. Plus, the benefits of this first foray into full-time work aren’t limited to just those mentioned. I’m actually able to apply a lot of what I learnt to what I’m currently doing journalistically, or at the very least, I can see how they could be of use in the future.  


That’s exactly what this blog post is looking into, a few of the lessons I learnt from my relatively brief stint in social, and how they could help my journalism (and yours too if you fancy reading).  


Make use of Question Stickers in Instagram 


On Instagram there is a massive number of opportunities to better understand your readers or viewers, or even to get potential leads, through the Questions Sticker. This in-built function can be placed on an Instagram Stories frame, and used in various ways. Let’s say you aspire to be a political journalist like me, and you were covering the fairly recent story on Boris Johnson’s new deal with the European Union. You could use the questions sticker to literally ask your readers what it is about the new deal they want to know, and they could submit these questions. This could then lead to a whole article along the lines of “We answer your questions about Boris Johnson’s deal” or at the bare minimum it could inform what details and level of explanation you provide in your articles about the deal in the future. This doesn’t have to be limited to political journalism either, it’s possible for travel journalists to use the questions sticker to ask for recommendations of places to visit or what kind of things the viewer wants to know about a certain place.  


Use Google Trends to see what interest there is in a topic over time 


Google has a very handy tool called Google Trends which can be used to see ‘interest’ (i.e. number of searches) for a particular topic or word over time. This has a whole host of uses for us in journalism. One simple way this is useful is in seeing whether a topic is picking up a particularly high level of interest on a certain day or month, which we could then use to pursue particular stories to write to capitalise upon times when a topic is particularly salient in the public discourse. This tool even allows for you to compare the interest in two topics or words over time, which gives it extra usability. From an SEO perspective this can help us in crafting headlines and toplines. Let’s say you’re writing an article about a recent report stating that cannabis use is on the rise, but you’re unsure whether to call it marijuana or cannabis in your headline. You can search both words in Google Trends and see which one has had more searches in a given time frame, to see which word would be best at optimizing traffic towards your page. If you are publishing in different countries, you can even change the region to see how searches change across borders. So, in the cannabis example just stated, in the UK cannabis has a higher level of searches on average, whereas in the States it’s the opposite with marijuana being the more popular term. 




You can even use Trends to add colour or more context to your articles. If I were writing an article about the recent manifesto launches of each party, I could use this tool to see what level of interest each launch generated at the time. So, looking at the past week’s searches (19 November to the 26 November inclusive) between the three main parties (the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats), it appears that Labour is winning the surf wars in terms of sheer volume (see below). 




Explore different post formats on Facebook 


Facebook is by far the most sophisticated of the major social media platforms in terms of the types of posts you can do on a given page. This is largely a result of their desire to appeal to advertisers by offering ads that support efforts at every stage of a consumer journey (from discovery to purchase). But, as journalists we can and should take more advantage of this too, even if we aren’t spending any money buying ads on the platform. Carousels are one type of these posts, with them offering the chance to include links to showcase multiple images and links in up to five different frames in one post which users can scroll between. This could be used by a regional paper to summarise the ‘top’ stories on their site at a given time, with each frame containing a link to a different article on the site. This gives followers an element of choice in which article they choose to read, but ultimately still leads to a click-through to that publisher’s site. See below for an example of how the Centre for Journalism might promote two recent blog posts on the site: 




In the example, the first frame would click through to the individual blog post about the Christmas CfJ drinks in London, whereas the second frame would click through to a different post by Amber about the decline of paper books. 


Another potential post format to use would be the slideshow function. This essentially combines up to 10 different pictures into a single video which transitions at a given speed between the different images. This could be used as a follow up for a UGC call on your page, perhaps asking for pictures of the impact of a recent burst of adverse weather conditions in your publication’s area. You could easily use Facebook’s slideshow function to combine your user’s image into a short video which can be more interesting than simple image galleries. 


If you fancy some more inspiration of the multiple post options Facebook can offer (although some of these require paid spends), give Creative Hub a browse. 


Answer the Public can help you better optimise your articles 


Answer the Public is a free tool which allows you to look at what questions people are searching for around a topic. So, for example, if I type in "uk general election" into the database, it will sprout off a whole host of questions that people have searched around this topic (e.g. "how does uk general election work?" or "who will win uk general election 2019?"). The site will then put this into a kind of mind-map which branches them off by type of question (i.e. what, when, how, who etc. – see below). This is a great way of visualising and understanding exactly what our readers are wanting to know about a particular topic, which we can then use to better inform what details are contained within our articles, or can inspire us to write whole articles explaining a particular topic (i.e. explaining how the UKs voting system works based upon the question "how does uk general election work?"). This tool also contains any comparison searches people have made (i.e. "uk general election vs local election") and any preposition searches (i.e. "uk general election results by year" is built upon the preposition of that search term "with" something else).  




Lessons from the enemy: Things I learnt working in social media marketing