Leadership Report 2011 - Appendix - Social media

Leadership fellows learn to connect with social media

KDMC’s 2009 leadership program focused on social media strategy for news organizations and sought to immerse participants in the culture and technology of what was then a new media to most of them.

imageOne participant, Melanie Sill, editor of The Sacramento Bee at the time, launched a local blog network, Sacramento Connect, with coaching and support from KDMC. It was radical at the time. Most traditional news organizations disdained local online start ups and bloggers as upstarts and rivals. Sill, on the other hand, saw an opportunity for partnership.

Three steps proved key to developing the network:

  1. Staff of the Bee reached out to local bloggers and came to understand their expectations and needs if they participated.
  2. Sill involved the Bee’s revenue side early in the project; the Bee’s vice president for advertising joined Sill as a KDMC fellow.
  3. The network launched as a Version 1 instead of a polished final product. Sill said, “We knew we would build the network by learning as we went.”

She described the premise: “By connecting other content providers with the Bee through Sacramento Connect, we could all benefit. The Bee and partner sites could all reach people who might not otherwise come to our sites. By increasing readership of our content, we could increase our advertising success. The Sacramento Connect landing page and ‘related content’ links on sacbee.com could also give readers a way to spot some of the best of the local Web, including sites that might never come up on a Google search.

“Advertising people seemed to get the idea,” Sill recalled. “The traffic was good and also started generating revenue, which created a lot of credibility in the organization.”

Sill, who left the Bee in 2011, emphasized that the relationships key staff members cultivated with local bloggers and news sites were crucial to success.

Sacramento Connect launched in April 2010 with 18 partners. Today, the site lists more than 160.

Other 2009 KDMC participants became active with social media.

For example, The Charlotte Observer created a reader engagement editor position and began holding online chats on special topics, such as local elections. Charlotte integrated Facebook and Twitter feeds and created a directory of social media links to Observer staff.

The Wilmington (Del.) News Journal built social media tools and engagement into almost all its coverage, including breaking news, politics, sports and entertainment. At news planning meetings, staff began to discuss engagement strategies tied directly to stories or projects.

“Some of our greatest successes have come with breaking news,” Editor David Ledford said in 2010. “A blizzard last winter shut down the state. Roads were closed and paper delivery was hampered. But online was a hive of activity. We seeded the coverage with a Twitter hash tag and then pulled posts from the state and region onto our home page. All government agencies, schools and emergency responders used our hash tag. Readers shared more than 1,200 photos. Our website set several traffic records during the storm.”

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Leadership Report 2011


Michele McLellan

This report was written by Michele McLellan, a journalist and consultant who works on projects that help foster a healthy local news ecosystem. As senior leadership consultant for [email protected], McLellan helped develop KDMC leadership programs in 2008-2011. She also blogs about key leadership best practices at Leadership 3.0.

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