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Investigative Post: Social Media Playbook

WHO WE ARE

Investigative Post is the only news organization in Western New York dedicated exclusively to watchdog journalism. We’re a non-profit newsroom that produces independent, non-partisan investigative stories and analysis on issues that matter to the citizens and taxpayers of Buffalo and Western New York.

 

WHAT WE DID

Supported by funding from the INNovation Fund, we developed a campaign aimed at raising our public profile and building a base of supporters and followers directly associated with Investigative Post on social media. We used paid social media advertising to promote Investigative Post’s Facebook and Twitter pages with the intention of increasing our audience reach, increasing high-quality traffic to our website, marketing our events and promoting fundraising activities.

Our primary motivator in doing this was the fact that the majority of our web traffic over the past several years has been from social media referrals. As a web-based organization, we rely on our website to tell our story and share our content. Thus, we focused on building our base of readers in order to increase the reach of our content and help spread awareness of our organization and work in the community.

We were very successful at achieving our goals of growing our social media fans and followers, which gave us a broader base of people to share our stories with and helped us grow our web traffic significantly. We also successfully improved awareness of our event series and improved engagement of users who visited our website. This campaign helped provide the foundation for us to build on our increased awareness in the community and helped us develop a larger base of people to share our work with, and ultimately, people to whom we can reach out in order to ask for a donation or to become a member to help us continue to grow the organization in the future.

 

STRATEGY

Bicycle Creative, our advertising vendor, conducted pre-market research to identify users most likely to “like” and “follow” Investigative Post and be interested in our content. Facebook and Twitter enable organizations to target prospective followers based on factors such as demographics, including location, gender, and age; interests, such as investigative journalism, the environment and politics; and news organizations they already follow, such as The New York Times, Mother Jones or The Buffalo News. Bicycle Creative evaluated our current fans and followers and worked with us to identify key targets for our campaigns.

With the guidance of Bicycle Creative, we broke up our ad spend by platform and objective to help us reach our various goals. For our Facebook and Twitter ads aimed at driving followers, we targeted people within a 20 mile radius of Buffalo, NY because they were the most likely to be interested in our hyperlocal-focused nonprofit news organization and its content. In addition to targeting by location, we ran campaigns specifically targeting people who “liked” or followed other nonprofit news sites, such as Mother Jones and ProPublica, or who had expressed an interest in investigative journalism and related activities. We also tailored specific campaigns to people interested in the areas we cover with our stories, such as the environment and economic development. In addition, we retargeted people who had already visited the Investigative Post website or who were already signed up to our email list in order to build on a base of people we knew were already interested in our content.

We also allocated a large amount of spend on Facebook and Twitter specifically aimed at promoting individual events during our event series. These events were held locally to raise funds and awareness of Investigative Post in the community. Our ads and targeting varied depending on the type and topic of the event we were promoting but focused on locals interested in things related to the event. For example, when we were promoting our Trivia Nights that featured local-themed trivia at bars, we targeted millennials 21 and older with an interest in trivia games or who “liked” or followed the pub at which we were holding the event. For our luncheon discussion on education, we targeted people who had expressed an interest in education-related issues or were in an education-related profession.

Spend

  • Twitter Spend: $5,550.28
  • Facebook Spend: $8,295.36

 

GOALS

Our primary goals were to raise overall awareness of our organization and events, build a base of supporters and followers associated with Investigative Post on Facebook and Twitter, and increase both our web traffic and the engagement of users on our website.

Specific goal numbers:

  • Increase Facebook & Twitter fans/followers by 6,000 over the course of the campaign
  • Increase web traffic by 12,000 visits
  • Increase traffic from social media
  • Drive visits to Event page on iPost website
  • Increase engagement of users on iPost website (pageviews, time spent on site and pages/visit)

 

RESULTS

When we began our campaign on Sept 23, 2015, we had 1,457 Facebook likes and 2,013 Twitter followers for a total of 3,470 fans/followers. At the end of our campaign we had 5,641 Facebook fans and 3,143 Twitter followers for a total of 8,784 fans/followers. This represents a 287% increase in Facebook fans and a 56% increase in Twitter followers, as well as a 153% increase in overall fans/followers (an increase of 5,314 fans/followers overall). The majority of our ad spend was used on Facebook, which accounts for the difference in percentages between platforms.

As a result of our increased follower base, our overall web traffic increased significantly, as well as our traffic specifically from Facebook. Having a broader follower base increased our reach, which help put our stories in front of more people and ultimately resulted in more users sharing stories with their own social networks, which helped increase traffic as well. From Sept 23, 2015 to May 23, 2016 our website had 109,970 total visits, compared with 72,867 over the same period the year before (to account for different sweeps months).

In addition, as a result of promoting the events through ads, we reached our goals of increasing traffic to our Event page. While raising our web traffic significantly, we also improved the engagement of users on the Investigative Post website by increasing the amount of time they spent on the site and the number of pages they viewed while decreasing their exit rates. This shows that we were targeting the right users rather than sending traffic to the site that would be unlikely to be interested in our content or becoming a member.

  • Facebook Likes: 1,457 (September ’15) → 5,641 (May ’16)
  • Twitter Followers: 2,013 → 3,143
  • Web sessions: 72,567 → 109,970
  • Page views: 108,997 → 155,773
  • Traffic to events web page from social: 2,887
  • Drove 2,887 visits to Event page on website

 

DOS & DON’TS

  • DO target people locally in fan/follower campaigns and when promoting events.
  • DO take advantage of Facebook and Twitter’s retargeting features to advertise to people who have visited your website and/or specific pages on your site or have engaged with one of your previous campaigns.
  • DO target the people in your email lists on Facebook & Twitter (they can be uploaded and matched with users on these networks)
  • DO start with a smaller budget to test out some different campaigns and see what’s working before investing more.
  • DO your research and take the time to come up with specific groups of people to target based on the interests, affiliations and preferences of people who are already interested in your organization or its content.
  • DO tag all of your links in your ads by campaign so that you know where your Facebook and Twitter traffic is coming from (Use Google’s URL builder).
  • DO provide a value proposition for why someone should like/follow you (ie. Don’t miss out on updates, exclusive content, etc.).
  • DO separate ad groups by desktop and mobile so that you can compare the performance and spend on each.
  • DO set goals in terms of raw numbers, but realize that it’s impossible to know exactly how much success you’ll have with a campaign until it’s been up and running for a while and you know how much you’re paying for impressions and clicks.
  • DO aim to pay less than $1.25 per fan on Facebook and less than $3.00 per follower on Twitter. If it’s costing you more, consider narrowing the people you’re targeting.
  • DO stay updated on digital advertising in general and new features being added to Facebook and Twitter’s ad platforms. They are constantly releasing updates and adding targeting features that can be beneficial to your organization.

 

  • DON’T use generic ads for every group you target. Make ads specific to different groups.
  • DON’T set your ad campaigns and forget about them. Monitor regularly to see which campaigns/ads are performing well and continue to edit and optimize.
  • DON’T make the copy in your ads too long or confusing. Get right to the point.
  • DON’T assume Facebook and Twitter will filter out people you don’t want to see your ads (such as people who already like/follow you in a fan/follower campaign). You have to filter out these people manually, or you’ll waste money on irrelevant ads.
  • DON’T waste time with right-hand ads on Facebook. They’re too small to get your point across, easily overlooked by users and often hidden by ad blockers.
  • DON’T just hit “boost post” or “boost page” right from your Facebook page to run ads. Use the Power Editor in the Ad Manager to access more robust targeting options, create ad variations and break out your budget.
  • DON’T use stock photography in your ads if you can help it. Invest time in finding engaging photos and videos that explain your organization and the work it does.
  • DON’T be afraid to switch up your ad strategy. What works one month or with one group of users may not work with the next.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

We had originally planned on splitting the ad spend equally between Facebook and Twitter but Facebook proved to be much more cost effective in terms of gaining followers at a lower price, so we ended up allocating the majority of our spend to Facebook. Our original projections assumed a cost of $1 per new fan/follower, but Twitter proved to be more expensive in terms of adding followers and cost us closer to $2.50-$3.00 per follower. In addition, we saw greater results in terms of web traffic at a lower cost on Facebook compared to Twitter, probably in part because Facebook has more robust, specific targeting options that allow us to reach exactly the types of users most likely to be interested in our content. Thus, while we recognize the value in Twitter and consider it an essential piece of our social media strategy, we would recommend organizations allocate the majority of their spend on Facebook in future campaigns.

Another lesson we took away from the campaign was that just building up your follower base isn’t enough. While we reached our goals in terms of building up our numbers on social media networks, increasing traffic and engagement and improving awareness in the community, the next part of our work involves turning the people who have “opted-in,” our readers and fans/followers, into members and donors. This campaign was a necessary first step, but there is work to be done in educating these followers about the value of our organization and its work and why we need their support.

 

HOW OTHERS CAN REPLICATE

This campaign could be replicated in other news organizations looking to build a base of readers and spread awareness of their organization in the community. As we’ve outlined, there are many opportunities to advertise to specific people on Facebook and Twitter that would be most likely to be interested in your content and events. Facebook, in particular, makes it easy to target specifically those who would be most interested in your content based on their interests and other pages they follow. This can help organizations spend their time and funds more effectively rather than wasting it advertising to people unlikely to be interested in what their organization offers. Once you’ve built up a base, the biggest challenge, and one we continue to work on, is to tell your story as a nonprofit news organization and help followers understand that you rely on the support of members and donors to do the work that you do. Now that we’ve been successful in building our base, our next steps in terms of strategy will be targeting those most likely to donate and explaining to our engaged followers how their donation and membership can specifically help sustain our organization.