The regional press on Twitter: interview with Johnston Press’s Mark Woodward

In a previous post, we saw that some regional newspapers do a lot better than others in terms of their Twitter click-through rate. Johnston Press titles, The Northampton Chronicle and Echo, The Scotsman and The Lancashire Evening Post tended to perform the best out of the 10 newspapers that we looked at in this regard.

The Online Journalism Blog talked to Mark Woodward, head of websites at Johnston Press, about the findings and about how Johnston Press sees Twitter as a whole.

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Image: Johnston Press

How Johnston Press adapted to Twitter

The need to adapt to the evolving digital landscape is very important for regional newspapers as they attempt to reduce the well documented decline in readership.

A large part of this adaptation is concerned with the growth of social media and the ways that this can be used to drive traffic to a news site.

Out of all the papers analysed in the original post, the Johnston Press titles seemed to be doing this best.

“We very specifically set out a couple of years ago to get everybody across the group up to a basic level of Twitter and Facebook activity,” Mark says.

“One of the things I did was to ask every online title to have a Twitter account. Then a massive signal went out across the business for journalists to have a Twitter account.

“The signal across the business was permission to use. In the past it had been a very grey area with people not knowing what they should do or what they shouldn’t do.”

Every one of Johnston Press’s papers – around 190 titles – now has a title Twitter account and Facebook page in some form, and Mark estimates that Johnston Press have over 1000 brand Twitter accounts in total.

This equates to a significant potential reach for the company. Such a big move towards using social media, and Twitter in particular, may partly explain why they fared so well in terms of click-through rate.

Humans are better at running accounts than RSS feeds

Of course, volume is not the only factor when it comes to referrals from Twitter, and the accounts of The Scotsman, LEP and Northampton Chronicle and Echo stood out because they were obviously run by a human.

Some regional papers (including some Johnston Press titles) still run their Twitter accounts by hooking it into their RSS feeds.

Mark is unequivocal on the subject:

“It’s so formal and it doesn’t give you any extra. You don’t feel like you’re engaging with a person, it’s faceless.

“Also, often when a person does it they’ll give a little bit of extra detail in there or point to something that’s in the fourth paragraph down rather than in the first par but that’s of equal interest.

“If I sat there looking at this and I was the Birmingham Post [which came last in the survey] or whatever I wouldn’t be too worried because I’d know that I could up my game quite quickly. But it needs to be that everybody in the newsroom sees this as their job and it needs to be not just the title accounts.

“Everybody in the newsroom should be looking to retweet, engage and push.”

14% of Johnston Press’s traffic came from Twitter and Facebook in November

The amount of traffic that Johnston Press websites get referred from Twitter and Facebook has dramatically increased in the past year.

Last month 4% of their traffic came from Twitter and one in ten visits came from Facebook.

Compare this with November last year when both Twitter and Facebook accounted for 3.5% of traffic each, and you’ll see that the overall traffic from the two social networks has doubled.

With such a growth in referrals from social media are we likely to see more content adapted specifically for social media?

“There’s a real battle going on. Search was king in the 00s but we’ve seen Google traffic dip over the last years and social, Facebook and Twitter, making up a bigger percentage of our referral traffic.

“If that continues you could see the point where you look at headline writing, for instance: rather than being written for search you’re back to potentially writing for social. That’s much more akin to headline writing in print because you’re trying to capture the imagination.

“You can’t get away with clever headlines for search but you can get away with clever headlines in print and certainly for social.

“So, you can see the day where actually social becomes more important and you’re making sure key words are in your article to drive the search and the headline drives the social.”

Twitter is also a source of news

There is also another, arguable equally important, side to Twitter. Although Facebook seems to be better in terms of attracting readers to news sites, Twitter can also be used as a source of news.

Mark says that he sees Twitter as extremely important for a modern news outlet:

“Twitter is a great editorial tool. We use Twitter in a number of ways not just to promote our brands but to pick up on breaking stories and break them ourselves and crowd source.

“Also, it’s a good old-fashioned contact book. If you’re trying to get hold of somebody Twitter is just another tool to try to track somebody down.

“Then there’s the stuff that’s more difficult to measure, but we have been able to ensure that when Bradley Wiggins get knocked off his bike in Wigan we’re out there with the first tweet. It makes sure that our brand is in there with the mix, if not at the top of search engine results.”

With the number of referrals from social media likely to continue to increase, it is more important than ever than newspapers look strategically at how they use it and how they engage with their readers.

3 thoughts on “The regional press on Twitter: interview with Johnston Press’s Mark Woodward

  1. Pingback: Some content links and thoughts for 2014 « Damien Mulley

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