How the NY Times' social media strategy is evolving

By Cory Bergman Comment

Social media is always in a state of change, and the New York Times is adapting with it, explains the news organization’s social media editor, Liz Heron, at the BBC’s Social Media Summit (video). There are lots of good lessons in here for TV, as well.

Heron says their social media team has grown from one to three people, and the Times’ strategy has evolved over the last few months. “We tell our journalists and encourage them to not just think about it as distribution and promotion,” she said. “In fact, if you just think about it only as distribution, you’re not getting what you can out of social media, the most that you can, which is really about user interaction, engagement and news gathering.”

Heron says she asks reporters who want to create social accounts to first explain their strategy for interacting with users. “We really want them to have a strategy so they know how to use it well,” she says. “Develop relationships, reply when people talk to you.” She points out Nick Kristof as a great example on Facebook and Brian Stelter on Twitter. And like many newsrooms, “We don’t really have any social media guidelines. We basically just tell people to use common sense and don’t be stupid.”

Heron says the social media team, which now has access to developers through a recent reorganization, is getting more involved in “high-impact” projects in the newsroom like the Oscars Facebook Ballot earlier this year. “We want to do a lot more projects where we build platforms around our journalism,” she said. “We really want to start focusing on Facebook more,” adding that Twitter tends to be more popular with journalists (“we’ve sort of cracked that code”) but doesn’t have the reach of Facebook. “Facebook is this huge community that journalists haven’t really figured out how to interact with it in the best way yet,” she said. Heron says the Times is thinking about ways to do more on its main Facebook page (1.3 million) — compared to its vertical pages — as a way to reach more people.

Meanwhile, she says they’re planning to un-automate their main @nytimes Twitter account (3.2 million), which is a “cyborg” mix of automated headlines and human interaction. “It’s an RSS feed of our headlines and we also jump in there all the time,” she says. But beginning on Monday, Heron says they’re going “hard core engagement” and unplugging the RSS feed as a one-week experiment. “Really taking that to the next level,” she says, “and hopefully figuring out our staffing situation so we that we can do that more with our main news desk in the future.”

Plus: More from the BBC’s Social Media Summit