Why good news is really good news for regional news … thanks to social media

In a world where page views, unique users and audience engagement are increasingly the most important metrics to news brands, it could be easy to just go where the fish are most likely to bite.

Crime shifts page views. Football shifts page views. Stories about things happening on Twitter and Facebook shift page views. Same too with weather, traffic and travel, and stories which begin with the headline ‘The most remarkable/stunning/unbelievable XXXXXX ever?’ The ? normally signifies the answer is, at best, maybe.

On this blog, I’m just as guilty of that, and I have a blog post to that effect coming up shortly.

Audience analytics can bring us closer to the audience than ever before, enabling us to respond to what they like by doing more of it, and at the same time doing less of what they don’t like.

I firmly believe that if your home page isn’t leading on the story which is generating the most clicks – something we monitor using Chartbeat in the Trinity Mirror newsrooms I work with – we’re not serving the audience properly.

But we also need to make sure that such a focus on what the audience is liking now doesn’t stop us doing the stuff which also makes our brands stand out. In a digital world, we have more competitors than ever before. For example, it’s never been easier for national newspapers to cover news we’d traditionally have seen as ‘ours’ thanks to wealth of content out there online.

Likewise, the new breed of news sites – Buzzfeed being an obvious example as it moves into mainstream news, but there are others out there – will understandably chase an audience wherever it sees one.

The challenge for regional publishers to ensure that the audience thinks of us when it wakes up, is at work, on the way home or sat with an ipad to one side and a glass of wine in hand while Corrie is on. Ensuring we’re covering the content they are interested in is one thing – and this goes way beyond ‘news’ – but conversely, we also need to do some of the stuff which doesn’t instantly make you think ‘that’ll shift page views.’

That doesn’t mean we should carry on doing everything we’ve done for the last 150 years in print without questioning it. To me, the regional newspaper leader column needs a rethink. Wouldn’t it make much more sense for that daily chore to become a daily column from the editor or senior member of staff. But that’s a post for another day.

It does mean, however, that some stories are worth doing because of what they tell people about our brands: That we’re local, and proud to tell the good stories, as well as the bad ones and the ones we know will go viral.

And that’s why I believe social media may well have saved the good news story. 

This post was prompted by this front page in the Worcester News last month:

In the newsrooms I have worked in, this front page would fall under the category ‘right for the brand’ rather than ‘guaranteed sales lift’.

Online, it may not be a story which drags people in from Google News, or even the most clicked on the home page. But that’s where social media comes in, and in particular Facebook.

The right ‘good news story’ is actually a huge draw to people on Facebook. Looking through the stories which get people talking on the Facebook pages of the brands I work with, it’s just as likely to be a good news story about an area as it is a crime or football story. And often, the debate underneath is much nicer too.

The right good news story, like the one above,  has the potential to help connect local readers – the ones we need to survive in the digital age, although the global exposure will always also feel nice – like no other story.

The right good news story isn’t just something people dip into because it’s breaking and they need to know, it’s one which they engage with because it means something to them, and which they have an opinion on. That forms a tangible bond between reader and our brand.

It’s exactly the same argument used by people when they make the ‘right for the brand’ argument for a front page which may not sell as well. The big difference is, and this is largely thanks to Facebook, we can now see the impact positive stories have. Not through page views or unique users necessarily, but through a feel-good factor which will emerge in Facebook comments (and to a lesser extent, Twitter reaction).

Take this post from the Rossendale Free Press this week:

At time of writing, that’s 29 comments and counting. All suggesting good chippies. And the Free Press is leading that discussion. That can only be a good thing for the Free Press.

We’ll never truly know if good news sells papers. We can be pretty much certain that bad news drives more traffic than good news on our websites. But we can also be certain that when it comes to connecting with a local audience, nothing does as much for our brands on social media than a good news story.

And that, for me, is really good news.


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