January 6, 2017

Social cards — images designed for specifically for social media — aren’t new. News organizations have been using them to create content and promote their journalism for awhile now.

So when Marketplace’s Nishat Kurwa took on the idea of social cards for the L.A.-based public media organization, she combined the concepts of distributed content and social promotion. And, kind of by accident, she started tackling another challenge: Culture.

“When I came to marketplace two years ago, part of my role was to think about culture shift in an organization that had been a legacy organization,” said Kurwa, senior producer for digital.

There had already been some creative projects, but the digital staff wasn’t yet built up and there was no well-developed digital strategy. Most of the journalists there were still focused on transforming radio content into web content, not producing for digital first.

Kurwa had a few other challenges, too. She wanted to create more journalism for social platforms and distributed media, and she knew that the algorithms for platforms such as Facebook were hungry for visuals. But Marketplace doesn’t have a graphics team. And, you know, it’s radio.

At the same time, other public media outlets approached that issue, too, resulting in WNYC’s audiograms and NPR’s in-feed audio clips. Originally, after talks with Facebook’s news team, Kurwa envisioned video spot cards.

Marketplace has two back-end developers and one front-end developer and, at the time, they were working on Marketplace’s new site. When Kurwa approached them about the idea of an audio discovery tool, she realized there were a few problems. One big one: Who would actually make them? Marketplace has five people on the digital team and no one devoted exclusively to social promotion. Everyone has to pitch in.

“It was too tall an order, so then we scaled back,” she said.

Kurwa worked with front-end developer Arjuna Soriano on the idea of a social card generator that would allow reporters to pull a few key details from the story, an image from Getty and share. The cards are filled out using a simple template with prompts. And they limited the word count so the reporters wouldn’t just transpose their stories onto the cards.

A group of reporters started playing with them, and eventually, one had the idea of using their mugshots instead of searching for images each time.

That, Kurwa now thinks, was a lightbulb moment for everyone.

“That made all the difference, I think, in terms of incentivizing them to use them.”

It made use of both the reporter’s personal brand and of Marketplace’s. It helped the reporters figure out their key takeaways, freed them up from writing web posts and made them more likely to promote their own work on Twitter. Some have told her that they’re now more active on social media.

“I’m happy with that as a starting point for sure,” she said. “I think for some people, it’s harder to think about composing a tweet and boring to tweet the headline.”

The quote cards give the reporters creative flexibility, a reason to promote their work on social and they help the digital team spread that work, too. They also help Marketplace’s 90-second spots, which often have a short shelf-life, get another shot on social.

Kurwa plans to keep iterating and getting feedback from Marketplace’s journalists. They’d still like to add in a way to include audio. They’re working on figuring out the best time to use the quote cards and whether they’re better as previews or summaries.

But the process itself has taught her a few things: By working with the developer, Kurwa learned to be more flexible and to take resources into account when thinking about what’s possible. By working with the reporters, who are the users, she learned how important it is to bring them in early and build on what they’re telling her.

“We started out with this one goal of trying to figure out a way to make our audio more discoverable in social feeds,” she said.

And the result isn’t what she thought it would be. It’s actually better.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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