NPR Training
Storytelling tips and best practices

How to grow a social media community from scratch

Teresa Gorman is a former member of the NPR Training Team.

I spoke with Kat Chow, a producer with NPR’s Code Switch, about how she helped grow the blog’s social media presence from scratch when it launched in 2013.

Think strategically about where to spend your time

Code Switch focused a lot on Twitter when they launched because they knew they could have interesting conversations there with a diverse audience they wanted to reach.

Make a Twitter list of experts and those talking about your beat

Use lists to find stories, jump into conversations and introduce yourself to that targeted audience. Lists can be a way to start creating a sense of community and to learn the interests of the audience you want to serve.

Get your entire team involved

Make sure everyone has a Twitter account — and actually uses it. Identify your team members’ strengths and make it a true team effort. Plus, don’t forget to incorporate the personality of the team into your social media efforts. Encourage the team with training, tips and reminders of what’s going on in the social space. Highlights and suggestions can help any time-strapped reporter to do more on social media.

Experiment with different ways to get your audience talking

For example, the team started a conversation around the hashtag #theyasked where they asked their audience to share examples of questions they’ve been asked about their race or culture that “they’ve found interesting, awkward or just plain offensive,” Kat said.

The team spent some time brainstorming the hashtag as you can see — it is catchy, short, and no one else was using it. That’s important to check first. If someone is already using it or having a similar conversation, why not join in?

When brainstorming questions, make sure to think about what people would actually want to answer and can answer in a 140-character tweet.

Share stories in different ways and at different times

Kat shares the same story multiple times a day, but makes sure each share is unique. Try a photo, a key fact, a great quote, a different version of the headline and more.

Get creative: Use social to tell stories in a new way

The account @todayin1963 tweeted moments as they happened in 1963. It was inspired by other historical Twitter accounts, including @RealTimeWWII. It is an unexpected thing to find in your timeline, and presents news outside of the traditional article or radio story.

This type of project takes a lot of planning and research. Kat spent hours and hours preparing for the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination alone. One way to help plan is to use a spreadsheet for editorial content planning. You can even set up a formula that will count a tweet’s character count.

Save time using tools that are already out there

Kat uses TweetDeck to schedule tweets, Topsy to search social media, and If This Then That to set up all types of ways to save time on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and more. IFTTT sets up “recipes” to do certain actions on all types of online services.

If you have the time, here’s a webinar where Kat talks about these tips in more detail:

How @NPRCodeSwitch Grew an Audience on Social Media From Scratch from NPR Digital Services on Vimeo.