How The National Post Newspaper is Making a Splash with Social Media [Interview]

By Lauren Dugan Comment

The National Post is a daily Canadian newspaper that’s trying, like all newspapers, to find its footing in an increasingly digital world. The Post has done some interesting things with FourSquare and other social media, and embraces a balance between traditional media and extending its reporting into social media. We had the opportunity to chat with Chris Boutet, Senior Producer, Digital Media at the National Post, about why social media is a natural extension of what goes on in the newsroom.

How does the National Post approach social media? What are its goals?

How the National Post approaches social media speaks to the way the Post operates in general. We are a leaner paper, and don’t have too much of a hierarchical structure – we’re given goals and guidelines, and a large part of what happens is a result of conversations that reflect the interests of the people who work here.

I know some other organizations might get into social media because they think they have to, but with us it was very much a product of the way we – the editors and reporters – engage with information online. We got into it because of how we want this information delivered to us.

Engagement is a big goal at the Post. Gone are the days of creating an awesome website and waiting for people to come to you. So much of the way you reach people online is by providing information in the spheres that people are already engaged in.

Another driving goal that we had getting into social media was to provide information in a timely fashion in the areas we knew our readers already were.

We also wanted to show people the character of the Post. We are an irreverent paper that has a lot of dry wit, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and beneath it all we have a vaguely disguised optimism. This personality is able to come through in social media.

Let’s talk about the different platforms that the Post has a presence on – Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare. How did each of these come about? And what type of presence do you have on each?

First, our Facebook page. It started as a National Post “lite”, and it’s constantly evolving to meet the needs of our readers. Now, there is a lot more focus on politics and commentary, because that’s what people wanted to engage with more. At the end of the day, the community should play a strong role in developing the product alongside you.

We started our flagship National Post and Financial Post Twitter accounts back in March 2008, which began as more of the information-gathering aspect of the Post. Everyone at the Post agreed that Twitter had this viral aspect, and the initial idea was to put ourselves out there because people were there and looking to find and share content.

Our experiments with FourSquare came about really organically. Again, it was born out of the interests of the people who work here. A group of us was using FourSquare last spring – checking in was fun, and we got into creating venues and playing around with it. A co-worker of mine even created my “soul” as a check-in…and he’s they mayor of it today.

One day just sitting at the cafe patio talking about FourSquare, we began discussing how we could apply it to the product we create at the Post. Could it be useful as a news delivery tool?

We did a few small experiments, and eventually captured FourSquare’s attention and got an official brand page.

We now have someone comb through the newspaper every day and add locations to as many stories as possible – and we now have over a thousand tips for our readers!

During the Toronto International Film Festival 2010 we created the FourSquare TIFF Insider’s Guide, which gave our TIFF experts a chance to share their knowledge with our readers based on locations around Toronto.

And during the recent 2010 mayoral elections, we created a FourSquare experiment that asked people to check-in at the Toronto Mayoral location we created and tell us who they voted for. We really wanted to see if it was possible to run a mobile exit poll.

Where do you see the intersection of social media and traditional media headed in the future?

When it comes to the iPad and mobile versus print versus the web, I don’t think anything is really going to replace anything else. All three spaces have their advantages and disadvantages. Smart news organizations are going to learn where we can overlap those so we can create a better overall product.

We want our readers to use everything we create, because it’s all integrated – our Twitter account is an extension of our newspaper, our FourSquare experiments an extension of the newsroom.

Also, I think we’ll see a lot more customization when it comes to web products. The advantage of digital media is t hat you can give people a lot more control over what they engage with on your site.