Sizing up WNY’s digital landscape

New digital tools and platforms are changing the way businesses, non-profits and media outlets operate. But many of these entities in Western New York are behind the curve in making the best use of social media.

Three digital media experts spoke about the landscape in Buffalo on Wednesday at a happy hour panel discussion at Allen Street Hardware sponsored by Investigative Post.

While some panelists said the WNY market as a whole lags in its embrace of digital media, they agreed some businesses, non-profits and media outlets are making smart use of it.

“It’s incredible how many stories come from our viewers via social media,” said Michael Wooten, a reporter and midday anchor for WGRZ.

“I don’t know how we filled newscasts five years ago,” he quipped during the panel discussion, moderated by Investigative Post Editor Jim Heaney.

Wooten said the fact the station receives a breakdown of social media interactions along with traditional TV ratings is evidence of a change in how success is measured.

Furthermore, the quality of those online interactions is more important than the size of your following, said Jason Mollica, president of public relations firm JRM Comm.

“You can have 2,000 followers on Twitter, but are you talking to them? You want to create a conversation,” Mollica said.

The value of social media in the non-profit world is turning online engagement into real-life participation, said Tivona Renoni, community outreach coordinator for GObike Buffalo.

“It’s about making sure you give people a way to actually contribute,” she said – be it texting, sending photos or signing a petition.

Another key to effective use of social media is having the right technology and infrastructure.

“Mobile is the way to go,” Mollica said. “Having a mobile-responsive site is the most important thing.”

Wooten agreed, citing an example of a problem the television station had when tweets embedded in a story didn’t display properly in the mobile app.

The speakers also agreed that Facebook is the best social platform for their work.

“Facebook gives the poster more opportunity to describe and greater ability to engage readers” Renoni said, than the limited word count and rapid-fire dialogue associated with Twitter.

Mollica said he tells clients to start with Facebook because of the way it allows users to contribute to a discussion.

And Wooten said that while “the numbers game makes Facebook seem bigger than Twitter,” the latter is more effective for breaking news and engaging people during the work day. Twitter users also tend to be more engaged with the news, he said,

Still, there is value in email newsletters, although persuading people to read them can be a challenge, Mollica said.

“We’re all inundated with emails, people are on the lookout for spam, so the content has to be good,” he said.

GObike’s monthly emails have a higher than average open rate and are a way to reach people who don’t use Facebook, Renoni said.

Ultimately, the speakers agreed, similar rules apply on social media and in the real world: be honest and genuine, and provide interesting information.

The happy hour was part of “At Issue,” an event series hosted by Investigative Post. Sponsors include Bernhardi & Lukasik, the M&T Charitable Foundation; Talking Leaves Books; Schroeder, Braxton & Vogt; WGRZ; and Artvoice.

The series continues Feb. 11 with Heaney’s “Real State of the Community,” a no-spin presentation on how the Buffalo and Western New York economy is faring. Details on the entire series can be found here.