In November of last year, Facebook bought CrowdTangle. As of March, the tool is being used in 520 local newsrooms, and CrowdTangle expects that number to climb to 600 by April.
"I think there are a lot of changes happening in the local news industry right now," said CrowdTangle CEO Brandon Silverman. That's been true in print for awhile, he added, and is starting to impact local TV, too. "There's a real hunger and a need to help folks figure out how to navigate all the changes happening in the industry."
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Since Facebook bought the company, CrowdTangle added 165 local newsrooms. That acquisition made CrowdTangle free to news organizations that Facebook has lately been wooing on its roadshow across the United States. What it offers may be attractive to small newsrooms that may not have a dedicated social media team, or even a dedicated social media person.
Here's what it does:
Measure and discover: CrowdTangle shows users how their content is performing on different platforms. It also shows what competitors and others in the industry are doing. CrowdTangle recently announced a partnership with Reddit which offers 50 state lists with subreddits to follow. It also tracks what Silverman calls "first-party sources" including police departments and school districts and elected officials and what they're posting on social media.
"So we take what was otherwise a really hard, manual process around tracking various accounts and make it super easy."
Compare: The tool offers a way to see how other organizations in the industry are doing. Local TV stations have started using this lately, Silverman said, to measure their on-air talent's social reach. Newsrooms can compare the social accounts of anchors, for instance, with others in the same network or market and see who is best engaging with the audience on social.
"It's almost like Nielsen ratings, but for social," Silverman said.
Identify influence: A Chrome extension from CrowdTangle lets people see where content is being shared across platforms and by whom, Silverman said.
Here's what CrowdTangle isn't: It can't measure click-throughs, reach impressions or anything that media companies own the rights to. And it doesn't gather user-generated content. Crowdtangle has helped publishers reach larger and more engaged audiences, but it's also been accused of contributing to the "eerie sameness" of digital news.
Newsrooms can request access to CrowdTangle through its site. The company prefers to start with in-person training, which is happening as part of Facebook's ongoing visits to local newsrooms. They also offer regular follow-ups and online training to share best practices.
CrowdTangle is used in a number of corporate organizations with newsrooms around the country, including Tegna, the E.W. Scripps Company, Cox Communications, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Univision and Gannett. Newsrooms including The Texas Tribune and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune also use it.
Amanda Wilkins, audience editor at the Dallas Morning News, went to Facebook's newsroom get-together in Dallas in February to learn about how CrowdTangle helps mine social for ideas and insights. It's been "hugely helpful" so far, she said.
"We kept tabs on our local competition pretty well, but being able to see at a glance what's taking off on social for media outlets across the state has been huge," she said.
They've already used it to identify stories and to get a better idea of how they compare with competitors, Wilkins said.
"I feel like we might be just scratching the surface on what we can get out of it."