Secrets to growing your readership through Facebook and Twitter



Secrets of growing your Facebook audience

The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) has for the first time published six-monthly figures for regional press social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

Topping the league for the biggest year-on-year increase for Facebook likes and Twitter followers is the Norwich-based Eastern Daily Press.

Its total social media audiences, though, are overshadowed by the likes of Trinity Mirror’s Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo.

So where does your paper stand in the social media standings?

If you want to do better on Facebook you might find these stats from Mari Smith and Buzzsumo (click on the link for a graphic) helpful:

  1. Posts published between 10pm and 11pm get 88 per cent more interactions (likes, shares and comments) than the average Facebook post.
  2. Picture posts get 179 per cent more interactions than the average Facebook post.
  3. Posts ending with a question get 162 per cent more interactions than the average post.
  4. Videos are the most shared post type, with 89.5 average Facebook shares.
  5. Posts published on Sunday get 52.9 per cent more interactions than the average Facebook post.
  6. Excluding pictures, posts with 150-200 characters performed the best, averaging 238.75 shares.
  7. Posting with a third-party tool results in 89.5 per cent less engagement than directly posting to Facebook.
  8. Posts that link to long-form content (2,000-plus words) get 40 per cent more interactions than linking to short form content.

Arthur Habrial (with another graphic) has chewed the data and produced something similar for Twitter.

  1. He suggests the best times to tweet are Saturday and Sunday, when your engagement rate is likely to be 17 per cent higher than weekdays.
  2. Tweets published between 8am and 7pm will have 30 per cent more engagement (clicks, retweets, replies) than tweets published outside that timeframe (including Saturday and Sunday).
  3. Tweets of fewer than 100 characters will result in a 17 per cent higher rate of engagement than longer tweets.
  4. Tweets with hashtags have twice the engagement of tweets without them.
  5. But don’t overdo the hashtags! There is a 17 per cent decrease in engagement when using two or more hashtags.
  6. A tweet’s retweet rate increases 12 times when you ask your followers to either ‘retweet’ or ‘RT’.

Such tips are, however, will only get you so far. The foundations of sustainable audience growth are built on compelling, well-targeted content and a close, two-way relationship with your readers. Get that right and you may find yourself soaring up the ABC’s newest chart.


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Why the closure of The Independent hurts journalists so much

IT is not just the fact that a national newspaper is closing that hurts so much (though that is bad enough, not least for the 150 full-time staff who face losing their jobs).

The pain is particularly acute because it is The Independent, which was a pioneer in so many ways when it was first published in 1986.

It was the same year that Eddie Shah launched Today, whose colour presses started a technological revolution in Fleet Street.

In those early days, however, The Indie (has a nickname of such affection ever been bestowed on another national newspaper?) was resolutely black and white.

In fact, it revelled in its monochrome, publishing huge, crisp, high-contrast photographs by the likes of Don McCullin that were extraordinarily informative and emotive.

Writers, too, were given the space and freedom to express themselves.

I still have somewhere a yellowing clipping of Robert Fisk’s deeply moving and searingly honest interview with a tank commander on the eve of the first Gulf War in 1991. I remember cutting it out and hoping that I would one day be able to write like that. I fear I may wait even longer for that wish to come true.

But it wasn’t just The Indie’s news coverage that was ground-breaking. It also introduced the Alex cartoon strip to a mass audience. Alex a snobbish, money-obsessed banker, the sort of character who came to typify the Eighties. He was unmissable.

But those glory days are long gone. The Indie launched in a decade when the future for the newspaper business seemed dazzling. Rupert Murdoch had bought the Times and Sunday Times, and there were the launches of The Mail on Sunday, London Daily News, News on Sunday, Scotland on Sunday, Wales on Sunday and Sunday Correspondent.

Today the internet is posing a huge challenge for newspaper publishers, though the survival of The Independent as a digital brand has to be seen as an expression of optimism.

It had, however, better get its act together. When I was researching this post news The Indie failed to get a single entry about its own demise on the first page of a Google search: “Closure of The Independent”.



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We’re a big lottery winner too!

A Champagne Cheers!

We’re winners too!

AND so, at last, we have our £33 million a winner – a real winner.

Camelot, operator of the National Lottery, has confirmed that it has verified the winning ticket bought earlier this month in Worcester.

Its owner is remaining anonymous, which while understandable is frustrating for those of us who would love to know more about the lucky person whose life has been transformed forever by riches beyond their wildest dreams.

What is the first thing they will buy? Will they keep all their winnings or give some away to family, friends and charity? Will they move, and if so where? How many rooms: five, twenty-five, or one-hundred-and-five?

There are so many questions, but for the moment no answers.

Where I work at the Worcester News we have thoroughly enjoyed reporting on Worcester’s lottery win.

It has been nice to see our city at the centre of national media attention. I was even interviewed about the story on the BBC News Channel!

We were, though, troubled that so many apparently spurious claims for the fortune were being made.

It risked making the people of Worcester appear a bunch of grasping chancers.

Fortunately, now that the frenzied speculation is over, the true nature of city folk has shone through.

Dozens of warm congratulatory comments have been addressed to the winner on our website and Facebook page.

We are also winners in a way. It is too early to say exactly how the story, which has run for a week and featured on our front page four times, has boosted newspaper sales. But we do know our website page impressions have soared!

Now if only the winner decides to speak to us…



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Journalists, like everyone else, should not be guaranteed anonymity until they are charged

THE acquittal of two more Sun journalists on charges relating to misconduct in a public office has prompted blogging lawyers Adam Tudor and Isabella Piasecka to come perilously close to suggesting crime suspects be given the right to anonymity before any charges are brought.

While I admire their defence of the journalists’ treatment under the Metropolitan Police’s discredited Operation Elveden, I fear they are adding fuel to the fire of those seeking further curbs on the Press.

The freedom to name arrested people is an important one, though it is actually quite rarely exercised. Newspapers recognise the damage it can do (and the legal recourse a wronged person has) and will usually only name suspects on sound public interest grounds.

The police believe they should be the ones who make the call on public interest rather than the media, and their stance is that names should be withheld in normal circumstances. Publishers remain able to identify suspects without police co-operation if they are confident in their facts.

It is an arrangement that rests uneasily with many editors, but I can live with it as long as the naming of suspects is not restricted by law.

The prospect of the police being free to make arrests in secret is chilling, and risks undermining one of the most important principles of English law: clause 39 of the Magna Carta, which established that no one should be arrested or imprisoned except by the judgement of their equals and according to the law of the land.

If you do not know a friend or relative has been arrested how do you, or the media on your behalf, protest about the rights or wrongs of it, including the length of time they are put on bail?

I have blogged on this subject previously here. Former chief constable Andy Trotter explains the police stance on the issue here. Former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s support of naming suspects is here.






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Why the craft of headline writing is as important as ever

THE DIGITAL transformation of the regional newspaper business has cost many sub-editors their jobs, yet in some respects their skills are needed more than ever.

Subs (read Charlotte Baxter’s wry job description here) were once the beating heart of the newsroom. Usually journalists of experience (and sometimes of prodigious talent), they were the guardians of the paper’s soul.

The subs policed its style, established its character, and watched obsessively for errors in fact, spelling and grammar.

But by far their most important role was to write headlines, the words that caught the eye and made browsing readers stop and pay attention, so that when they put the paper away they felt satisfied and eager to read the next issue.

Such skills are just as vital online, where there is more competition than ever for readers’ attention.

One of the most successful digital news operations of the age understands this.

BuzzFeed was only launched in 2006 but now draws 200 million people to its site every month. Even more impressively, it gets 18.5 billion impressions from social media.

Its huge audience growth has been achieved largely on the back of its famously irresistible headlines.

The site concluded some time ago that the way to build its audience was through social rather than search (Facebook now accounts for more traffic to news websites than Google).

And the way to get stories noticed and shared is with skilfully crafted, intriguing headings written by journalists who understand what makes people tick.

Those new to the craft could do worse than reading Sarah Snow’s superb guide (based on an infographic by QuickSprout) to Buzzfeed-style headings.




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Has the regional press got its mojo back?

COULD it be that at long last the regional newspaper industry has got its mojo back?

The pessimists have enjoyed a field day during our years of cutbacks and closures.

With our confidence shaken our response to the headline-chasing analysts and prophets of doom from our own ranks has been uninspiring.

But I sense a change in the air, an acceptance that although there are still great challenges ahead there are many reasons to be positive about the future.

Industry leaders are rediscovering their voice and delivering a long-overdue message of hope.

Crucially, their vision of the future lies both online and in print, a resilient business that has been written off far too soon in some quarters.

Last month Ashley Highfield, Johnston Press chief executive, told BBC Radio’s Today programme that the local press will be printing newspapers “for decades to come” because many consumers prefer to read a paper in print rather than online.

He said those who have written off the industry have overlooked the fact that it is approaching a tipping point at which digital revenues cancel out print declines.

Meanwhile, Sir Martin Sorrell, boss of the world’s biggest advertising agency WPP, said newspapers had been disproportionally hit by advertisers moving spending online, but that the effectiveness of print advertising was now being reappraised.

He said: “I think actually we are starting to see with traditional media, particularly newspapers, a little bit of the pendulum swinging back because people will realise they are more powerful than people give them credit for.”

Sir Martin’s view was endorsed by Pablo Del Compo, worldwide creative director of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, who said the shift by advertisers online and on to social media had gone too far, and that print is a more powerful medium than people realise.

Further evidence of this energising new outlook came when Johnston Press, a 250-year-old publishing business, snapped up a start-up run by a 21-year-old entrepreneur in Brighton.

The fledgling Brighton and Hove Independent was seen as a weekly newspaper and website that harnessed print and digital in an exciting new way.

And this, surely, is where our future prosperity lies: in innovative products and services that consolidate our print-online-social command of local markets.

We are not an industry in decline, we are an industry that is changing. We stand not at the edge of an abyss, but at the beginning of a renaissance.

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How to build a sentence

SENTENCES are the building blocks of news stories.

Get them right, and your writing will have strength and direction.

Here are a few tips to help you:

Keep it simple: The key to good writing is simple thoughts simply expressed. Use short sentences and short words. Anything that is confused, complicated, poorly written or capable of being misunderstood risks losing the reader; he has much competing for his time and will not persist with a story (or newspaper) that makes unnecessary demands of him.
The basic sentence structure of subject-verb-object works every time. The cat (subject) sat (verb) on the mat (object).
Avoid all but the most basic subordinate clauses:
The cat was an old ginger with torn ears and a scarred face. It sat on the mat and purred, not The cat, which was an old ginger tom with torn ears and a scarred face, sat on the mat and purred.

Voice of a sentence: Sentences have a voice; they are either active or passive. The voice of a sentence is the kind of verbal inflection used to express whether the subject acts (active voice) or is acted upon (passive voice). In journalism we strive to use the active voice whenever possible because reports written this way have more vitality and impact: Teenagers throwing stones clashed with police during riots in parts of Worcester last night, not In several parts of Worcester last night there were riots in which police
clashed with stone-throwing teenagers.
Sometimes, though, the passive is better. We would write: Prince Charles was trampled on by a prize bull at the show, not A prize bull trampled on Prince Charles at the show because Prince Charles, not the bull, is the presence in which we are most interested.
Politicians, bureaucrats and the police love the passive voice because individual actions are buried beneath a cloak of collective responsibility. When things go well a minister will say: “I decided on this course of action”. When they go wrong he will say: “It was thought to be the right thing to do”. Be on your guard against such use of language.

Mood of a sentence: Another quality of a sentence is its mood; it can be indicative, imperative or subjunctive. The first two need not concern this guide. The third sometimes
requires grammatical know-how of a high order so most people tend to ignore it. However, careful writers will use the subjunctive mood to express hypothetical situations in sentences usually containing if and that. If the river were (not was) to rise further there may be flooding.

Overloading: Overloaded sentences do not need to be long, but they are saturated with facts, eg. A man living alone was approaching his house when he was attacked
by seven armed robbers who forced him at gunpoint to open the front door of his secluded cottage in Worcestershire before leaving him so badly beaten that he is now afraid to return home.
The main points in this sentence are (a) that a man was badly beaten by robbers in his secluded cottage in Worcestershire; (b) he was beaten so badly he is now afraid to return home. The additional facts can wait a moment. Give the facts first, and if you think
there are too many facts for a single sentence, distribute them in two or more sentences to
construct a gripping, but clear narrative. To avoid overloading, re-read and re-write. Restrict sentences to just one or two facts.

Non sequiturs: A common feature of many overweight sentences is the presence of non sequiturs. A non sequitur is a statement that has little or no relevance to what
preceded it, resulting in a sentence that tries to join the unjoinable, eg. The egg-and-spoon race was won by eight-year-old Billy Brown, whose parents taught him advanced maths when he was just three years old.
You might well ask, what does maths have to do with an egg-and-spoon race? That is a non sequitur.

Companion words: Put companion words as close as possible together: The letter has been sent to parents; in it the headteacher outlines his plans for stricter discipline, classroom repairs and more after-school clubs, not The letter, in which the headteacher outlines his plans for stricter discipline, classroom repairs and more after-school clubs, has been sent to parents.

Danglers: What do you make of these sentences:
If found guilty, the Football Association could fine the Newcastle players.
• After eating my lunch, the waiter engaged me in conversation.
• When trying to log on, the system rejects my password.
Phrases at the beginning of a sentence need a noun or pronoun, and they will cling to the first one that comes along. This can make a nonsense of your writing. In these examples, the Football Association is not at risk of being found guilty, the waiter did not eat my lunch, and the system is not trying to log on. If your writing causes confusion, so that readers have to pause and check the parts of your sentence to work out exactly what you mean, you have lost them. Write simply, write clearly, and if you must use the sort of sentence construction shown above (called a dangling modifier), make sure that the
something to be modified is right next to the phrase.

Clauses: Put clauses in the right order to make your meaning clear: On the day of his retirement the policeman caught the disgruntled cashier robbing the bank, not The policeman caught the disgruntled cashier robbing the bank on the day of his retirement.
Do not begin a sentence with a subordinate clause (sometimes called an inverted sentence), eg. Asians closed their shops on the anniversary of the attack because they feared reprisals from racist thugs, not Fearing reprisals from racist thugs, Asian shopkeepers closed their doors on the anniversary of the attack.
In the latter example readers would have to read through to the end of the sentence before finding out exactly who were fearing reprisals.

Lists: Where a verb is to be implied in a list, it has to be established in the first item, not in the middle (or end): Until motorists driver better, motorcyclists learn left from right and cyclists how to pedal, we will have death on our roads will not do. There has to be unity; which could have been supplied with Until motorists learn how to drive better, motorcyclists how to tell left from right, and cyclists how to pedal… Keep sentence construction uniform when dealing with a list. The Army, the Navy and the Air Force, not The Army, the Navy and Air Force. Do not try to make the odd man out in a list relate to the wrong verb. The clock is fast and unreliable and it chimes only every two hours, not The clock is fast, unreliable and chimes only every two hours.

Rhythm: Good writers are sensitive to the rhythm of their words. Keith Waterhouse offered this observation: Rhythm is mainly about putting words and punctuation marks in the right places so that they don’t jut out like loose paving stones to trip up the reader as he travels from one end of the sentence to the other.
So, avoid staccato sentences: Police said they moved in after a fire bomb was hurled at their lines, their response swift and uncompromising. They pressed forward in formation, a water cannon backing them up. Officers fought running battles with protesters, wielding their batons to push them back.
Each sentence here has the same rhythm. It is difficult for the reader to follow the thread of the narrative when it is delivered in this disjointed way. Vary the length of your sentences and use punctuation like traffic signs, telling your reader to slow down, notice this, or stop. Read your words and listen to how they sound. Does your story flow, or does it stumble along in fits and starts? If sounds pleasing, the chances are it will read well.

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