After being named the Guardian’s #1 Twitter pick for #waternews, outreach coordinator Aubrey Ann Parker explains our winning strategy.
In January 2010, I remember Andrea Hart, then our Chicago-based news desk editor, saying how excited she was that we had just reached 1,000 Twitter followers, a threshold she had been working hard to cross. I didn’t really know what that meant until a year later, when I began running the news desk and our social media platforms.
Everyone thinks of social media as easy. You put something out into the world using 140 characters or less, and you might hit it big; something you’ve written goes viral and is shared by millions. But viral hits are most often a product of chance – they happen when we’re not trying to make a splash more so than when we are.
For example, above is a photo of a fox that was taken by a Traverse City photographer, Tyler Franz. He took the fox to a vet after it was hit by a car, and the story and the photo went viral – this original Facebook posting had 303 likes, 47 shares, and 66 comments. The story and the photo were later picked up by a bunch of big blogs, and it was even retweeted by Ashton Kutcher. But again, Tyler wasn’t hoping for a famous image; the attention that the photo received was just happenstance. Those who saw the photo related to Tyler’s compassion, and thus they shared it.
Many organizations attempt to create this buzz for products, stories, or ideas, but “going viral” is not easy to manufacture.
The Big Plan
As a news organization, we use social media platforms to publicize stories that we’ve written. But we also use it to highlight stories that we don’t have time to write; stories that other organizations are writing about. The trusted sources that we follow include the Guardian, Reuters, The New York Times, and other big names. We tweet stories that they’re writing about water, as well as the ones that our own reporters are writing.
Above is our growth on Twitter and Facebook over the past five years. For a while, our Twitter and our Facebook numbers were growing at about the same rate, but that changed in 2011, around the time that I took over the news desk and implemented THE BIG PLAN – my idea to diversify our Twitter feed. We weren’t only going to tweet stories from the Guardian, Reuters, and The New York Times; we were going to tweet water stories from every country in the world, even if that meant tracking stories down from the smallest of local news organizations.
The plan worked. Our monthly Twitter gains went from 100 per month before Andrea really started pushing on Twitter to more than 200 per month following the transition, and now we gain about 300 followers every month – three times the rate of when we started back in 2010.
Our Twitter feed now has a fixed schedule. Five days a week, we tweet one or two stories starting at 6 am (EST) from the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Island nations. Then at 8 am, we cover North and South America. At 10 am, we tweet about Africa and Europe. The cycle results in two to three tweets per time slot, every two hours, from 6 am to 10 pm in the Eastern time zone, when most native English-speaking internet users are online. That’s 20 to 30 tweets per day, five days a week.
We’ve sent 13,000 tweets in five years, and we have 14,000 followers to show for it. Not easy.
#1 for #Waternews
The social media model that we’re crafting at Circle of Blue is evolving all the time. In my next blog, I’ll give two examples of how we’ve used Twitter and Facebook to find stories and also to tell stories.
We’re using these social media platforms to tell stories, but they’re also helping us to become better listeners. That’s why, just two weeks ago, Circle of Blue was named #1 on the Guardian Sustainable Business page’s top 10 list of water tweeters. We came in ahead of the World Bank and even Matt Damon. Pretty big deal.
But since we’re always pushing to use our social media platforms better, we’re not stopping at #1.
We think the next step is to not only listen for stories that are trending and then tell good narratives with great imagery but also to ask the world, “What water stories need to be told?”
How do you ask the whole world a question? We’re using #KnowWater. We began this a month ago during our presentation at Stockholm Water Week, and we’re already getting responses from around the globe. We will continue to promote this hashtag and get people to send us their stories.
–Aubrey, outreach coordinator
is a Traverse City-based assistant editor for Circle of Blue. She specializes in data visualization.
Interests: Latin America, Social Media, Science, Health, Indigenous Peoples