February 2, 2018

All news organizations want to increase social engagement and traffic flow to their sites. Short of hiring more staff or buying followers (hint: don't do that), the easiest way to get a boost in traffic is to post to social at untraditional times, most often overnight. 

But what to post? Most news organizations' archives are full of timely, still-relevant information that viewers would love to read. Here's how to surface those posts.

Hare: Hi, Ren! You’ve been busy helping us fight those fake Twitter followers. What other superpowers will we learn about today?

LaForme: Hi, Kristen! I’m going to do that thing again where I’m not actually talking about just one tool and instead focus on a concept. 

Much to the chagrin of a handful of our louder readers, I’ve been posting stories from our archives to social at night. Many of our older articles are incredibly relevant. Posting them at night is a great way to provide fresh-ish content to our audience and increase our traffic. And most of it does pretty well! We’ve got some good stuff in the archives.

The real problem is finding it. Mining the archives sometimes feels like roaming through the desert with a metal detector. There’s so much stuff that just doesn’t make sense to reshare. 

Hare: Yes! I often think of our archives as treasures in the attic, but you do have to dig to distinguish the timeless from the (once) trendy. Do you have thoughts on how to do this?

LaForme: That’s a great analogy. And it touches on the two problems to solve here. The first is that you need to know what’s timeless and what’s trendy. That’s a skill you have to develop on your own, probably the hard way.

The other problem is actually sorting through all of that stuff. Tools can help, but there are a couple of other great techniques I use, too.

We’ve talked about Crowdtangle before. One of my favorite ways to use it is to create a Poynter-only list on our Facebook and Twitter dashboards and search for posts that did well in the past. My methodology is to first check what did well exactly a year ago because an anniversary is an easy peg to post on, but I often expand the date ranges if I don’t see anything I like. Occasionally I don’t catch anything useful in my net and just search for the top posts over a three-month period.

I figure if it did well once, it’ll do well again.

Hare: But I’m guessing then you have to put your anti-trend glasses on, so something that was hot one year ago (maybe another Facebook algorithm change) might be stale one year later. 

LaForme: Exactly! One year ago we were all talking about our new president’s atypical press pools and the odd things Sean Spicer was up to. That’s not worth reposting because it’s not really valuable anymore and people would just get annoyed with me. 

But advice about writing, questions about how to cover immigration, ways freelancers can work better with editors, how Pulitzer winners have managed to stay humble, we have loads of posts like that and people love them.

If Crowdtangle fails to surface something good, which happens on occasion, I’ll take a couple of paths. Another surefire one is to use Google Analytics to search for popular posts from the past. On the dashboard, I go to “Behavior,” then “All Pages,” then pick a date range on the top right of the graph. That’s a great way to find posts that performed well in the past.

And this sounds silly, but I’ve learned which topics tend to be both evergreen and continuously interesting to our readers and keep returning to those topics. We have a slew of what we called “coffee break courses” that translated tips from our popular courses to our editorial site. We also have a tips category, a writing category and a few other things that continue to be great. 

And, Kristen, you’ve written some awesome longer pieces that share great information and tell really interesting stories. Those always perform well, too. 

Hare: Well yay! I know for a fact that I’ve written my share of trends that don’t age well, but that’s probably another story. So we have Crowdtangle and Google Analytics. Any other tools for helping people mine their archives for re-sharing?

LaForme: How do I put this kindly? I’m not a huge fan of our site’s built-in search (or most sites’ for that matter). We’re still working out how we want it to work, so look for some updates there soon. 

But another thing I like to do is use Google to search our archives for things relating to news from that day. If, for example, I wanted to see if we had anything that relates to the crazy winter they’ve been having up north, I would search “site:poynter.org snowstorm.” Turns out we have a great story with ideas for covering blizzards and a fun short post about how a terrible snowstorm kept a student newspaper (the one I worked for in undergrad, actually) from being delivered.

Hare: Excellent! So you’ve Frankensteined yourself an archives tool of sorts. Anything you wish existed that would make this easier, faster or better?

LaForme: There are a couple of companies out there (out of my budget) that use AI mine news sites for content that’ll do well on social and automatically post it for them. I want that. There’s just so much stuff in our archives. It can be overwhelming. But a couple of decent posts a night do really well for us, and that’s all I can ask for right now.

Hare: I think making the most of your archives is really important right now. We just spent a month in my newsletter, Local Edition, talking about how you have to say no to things. Using archives instead of reinventing the wheel each day is one tool for being smarter about what you do take on. 

LaForme: That’s a great point. Why bust your butt and budget to fill overnight slots when you can share your great, still useful work?

Archive Mining Need-To-Know

Price: Free
How-to: Create a list on Twitter or Facebook with only your news organization. Stick with "overperforming" but change the date to look for posts that did well from the past. Repost them on social.

Google Analytics
Price: Free
How-to: Use the "All Pages" section of the "Behavior" tool to see what articles on your site have performed well in the past. Repost them on social.

Price: Free
How-to: Pick current events. Search your site with "site:YourURL" and a keyword about that news hook on Google. Find related stories on your site. Repost them on social.

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of articles that highlight digital tools for journalists. You can read the others here. Got a tool we should talk about? Let Ren know!

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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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