Going Social in Small Media Markets

When Letitia Walker took over as news director of KATC-TV in Lafayette, Louisiana seven years ago, she wanted to use social media to increase viewer engagement and boost ratings.

“When I first came most of the online presence was teasing towards the newscasts, and after the newscasts, entire stories would be posted,” Walker said.

When she started at the station, KATC had 4,500 Facebook likes. Now it has more than 160,000 likes: more than half the number of television viewers in the area.

At the same time, the station went from being behind in the ratings to being the ratings leader in the area, according to Walker.

What changed? The newsroom only has 15 employees in production and they don’t have anyone on staff solely dedicated to social media or their website.

“I tell everyone it’s their responsibility,” said Walker. “Everyone is an admin, and everyone should look out for us, the viewers, the brand. Our anchors, our producers, our weather people, everyone is responsible for making sure our viewers are served on all platforms all the time, 24 hours a day.”

The news focus has changed, too. “We have developed into breaking anything and everything online, getting it all out there,” she said. “There is little that is saved or preserved for the newscast exclusively.”

Making online news everyone’s responsibility and breaking news online are two ways small news organizations can overcome the challenge of maintaining a strong online presence.

Make content king, says Mark Zusman, editor of the Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon. “Content plays an even more important role given the democracy of distribution that has defined our media landscape over the past decade.  Good content begets a good social media presence.”

Don’t worry about being perfect or having the latest technology, says Mike Madden, editor of the Washington City Paper in the nation’s capitol. “You can’t sort of let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You can always find ways to improve the experience readers have on your site even if you can’t add new bells and whistles all the time to make it look like something that was just recently launched.”