Inside USA TODAY’s Facebook Live strategy

May 18, 2016
Category: Tech & Tools

John Kasich was supposed to go live with USA TODAY.

In the dwindling hours of his presidential run, the Ohio Governor was scheduled for a back-and-forth on Facebook Live. It would’ve been a newsmaker, given that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had dropped out the night before, putting Kasich in a two-way contest with Donald Trump. Then, after months of fighting off the inevitable, Kasich dropped out. He canceled his media appearances.

“We do editorial board interviews with candidates — a lot of newsrooms do, obviously. But to bring something like Facebook Live into that experience — I think it says a lot about where we all are,” said Mary Nahorniak, deputy managing editor for digital at USA TODAY.

Like many news organizations, USA TODAY has ramped up its production of live video in the wake of Facebook’s decision to emphasize streams in its all-important News Feed algorithim. The interview with Kasich — thwarted at the last minute — is representative of the national newspaper’s strategy for capturing live audiences: leverage the know-how and access of journalists across each of USA TODAY’s various sections to produce newsy video with baked-in expertise.

Leading the charge toward live video at USA TODAY is Nahorniak, who manages a partnership between the newspaper’s social media and video team. Together, they try to find opportunities for live video in USA TODAY’s story ideas and execute at least one every day. She talked to Poynter about the newspaper’s strategy for using Facebook Live and how it makes time for video amid daily newsroom chaos.

Use your experts

When it comes to live video, news organizations have a huge asset on their side: A staff full of veterans who know stories inside and out, Nahorniak said. Reporters can write several paragraphs of background material in a matter of minutes — why not take that context on camera?

By way of example, Nahorniak cited a recent livestream by NFL writer Tom Pelissero, who went live to discuss the NFL’s fall schedule. He also took questions from viewers, Nahorniak said

“He provided some context, and people could ask him directly about what they want to know,” she said.

Plan ahead

When you work in a newsroom with dozens of stories whizzing by every day, it’s easy to miss opportunities for live video, Nahorniak said. So, USA TODAY has created a planning document, shared between the social team, that lists daily story budgets along with the platform that each story will appear on.

“We’re looking at that spreadsheet and going, ‘OK, where are the holes?'” Nahorniak said. “Are we doing a Facebook Live video on Thursday? So, all right, let’s think about what’s happening on Thursday and what we might be willing to do.”

The document helps Nahorniak’s team coordinate Facebook Livestreams, but it also gets them thinking about repurposing video for multiple platforms. If, for example, a story is slated to have a Vine or Instagram video, USA TODAY might consider re-cutting that video and using the revised version on another social network.

Know your priorities

There are too many social platforms for every news organization to master. So, when faced with Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine, what’s a journalist to do? In sum: Figure out what you’re good at, and what’s most important, and start there.

“It’s really important for us in the newsroom to communicate to everybody what are your priorities, when are your priorities and why?” Nahorniak said. “There are so many things that we don’t jump on because we don’t know where they’re going to go yet. Or, if you play the odds, you can make an educated guess about the networks that might not be available much longer.”

By way of example, she cited Ello, a social network that initially got a lot of buzz that abruptly fizzled out. Sometimes, USA TODAY jumps on a platform as a “land grab,” to establish a presence in case it becomes influential. Sometimes those networks become less important over time.

But when Facebook, which controls a firehose of traffic, announces it’s emphasizing something, journalists would do well to pay attention, Nahorniak said.

“When you hear Facebook say, ‘We’re prioritizing it in the algorithm,’ that’s a big clue that we need to jump on this right now.”

Be conversational — and fun, if the situation calls for it

One sportswriter for USA TODAY’s sports vertical, For The Win, recently decided to give a 30-minute Facebook Live tour of Citi Field, the New York Mets’ stadium, while trying out the smorgasbord of new food options.

The food-centric video is an example of the tone the newspaper tries to strike in its livestreams — fun and conversational, while still hewing to the news.

“I think it’s part of what gives us really good engagement on social — we can talk to people in a plain-spoken way. We use the second person, and a lot of news organizations do that now,” Nahorniak said.


Like many news organizations, USA TODAY has a solar system of properties orbiting its central brand. There’s For The Win, USA TODAY Life, USA TODAY Sports and USA TODAY College, among others. To build Facebook Live audiences for each, USA TODAY shares video across its various pages.

A recent example of this cross-pollination was at work during a recent Q and A between “Orange is the New Black” actress Diane Guerrero and USA TODAY Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page. The video was streamed on Facebook Live and subsequently shared by USA TODAY’s other pages.

“So we coordinated on: Where will that video come from, what will it look like when it comes from her? Nahorniak said. “And the second it starts, let’s get these three other related pages and people to share this video and make sure it’s reaching a wider audience. So it’s kind of looking at this rainbow of brands that we have, choosing the right one, and then figuring out all of the ones that are related to it and how we can leverage them.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Mary Nahorniak. She is deputy managing editor for digital at USA TODAY, not deputy managing editor for social. Thanks to Nahorniak for flagging the discrepancy. We apologize for the error.