The New York Times started using Pinterest in early June, focusing on home and design, fashion and food. Ebyline recently caught up with social media editor Lexi Mainland by phone to discuss how The Times is using Pinterest and other social media platforms such as Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter. Here are excerpts from that interview:
What do you do as a social media editor?
I am responsible for helping to define a social media sensibility for The New York Times –
The Times recently started using Pinterest. Why did The Times decide to launch on the platform?
We, like everyone, have noticed over the past few months that Pinterest has gained so many followers, and it’s such a great visual social platform that for at least a couple of months we’ve been paying close attention to Pinterest and starting to brainstorm what The New York Times‘ presence could be there. We immediately thought that because home and design, fashion and food are the three most popular topics on Pinterest, and we have such great content from The Times in those three areas, that we would focus our efforts on Pinterest around those three content areas to start.
How has it been going so far in terms of followers and engagement?
Well, it is going well. Actually, I tweeted out on Friday that we joined Pinterest the same day that Britney Spears did, and The New York Times was only about 90 followers behind Britney, so we felt like that was a pretty good measure. We have gotten a great response so far, and it has been really fun. [As of June 11], Britney spears has 1,081 followers, and The New York Times has 1,123.
Could you talk a little bit about The Times’ overall social media strategy and how Pinterest fits into that?
We really always try to be doing things that are creative and innovative on social platforms ,.. For Pinterest, we have these boards up now that cross over between these three content areas, so we have a board called Color Riot. That is all about bright colors, and it includes posts from our Food, Home and Fashion departments all together in one place. And there’s really no other place on our website that you sort of get this crossover remixing of three distinct sections.
The other thing that we’re doing on Pinterest is, you’ll see almost all of the pins that we have posted, you can actually see who posted them. They’re not posted by The New York Times. They’re posted by the actual photo editor or story editor, who are experts in that subject area. If you click through on their names, you’ll see it says, you know, dining photographer editor or homes section photography editor. I think that’s a really fun way to personalize the sharing of our journalism on social media.
The Times is obviously on Facebook and Twitter. What other platforms are you on, and which platform do you get the most engagement from?
We get a lot of engagement, probably the most engagement, on Facebook and Twitter. But we are on Tumblr – we have two New York Times Tumblrs. One for our T Magazine, tmagazine.tumblr.com, and one for our archival photography collection, which is called The Lively Morgue, livelymorgue.tumblr.com. Those are really, really fun projects, both of them. They get lots of engagement, they are very visual, and I think they make really good use of Tumblr.
And then we are starting to do more on Reddit. We have a lot of readers, people who like New York Times journalism, who are on Reddit, so we are trying to do more there on that platform that they are most interested in. We have been doing a couple of IAmA interviews there. We did one that was with Paul Krugman, our Nobel Prize-winning columnist. He answered questions for a couple of hours on Reddit, which was really great ...
I think Reddit is pretty amazing. It’s kind of like a utopian community where everybody has interesting things to say.
Talk a little bit more about Facebook and Twitter. For what purposes does The Times use them?
We like to spark conversation on Facebook. We try to get active conversations going with most of the things that we post there. We often find that really, really interesting and vibrant discussions pop up among our readers around our content. For example, over the weekend, we had a front-page story about high school students using prescriptions drugs like Ritalin, and we posted on our Facebook page to ask people if they would share their experiences with us. A really lively discussion generated about whether or not these drugs are appropriate, and people sharing their experiences of taking them or not taking them, and that’s always really interesting to us. Wherever possible, we actually try to take those Facebook comments off of Facebook and post them back on our site in some way.
Do those comments ever make it into the print paper?
Yeah, they do. We have done a few stories where we used our main Facebook page to crowdsource people’s experiences, and we’ve used it back in actual stories.
Does The Times have a social media policy for its staff?
We don’t have a specific social media policy by design, mainly because we don’t want to hinder our journalists from using these platforms to do journalism and to feel comfortable there. So, we basically just tell them that we expect them to conduct themselves on social networks just as they would anywhere else, in real life, in an interview. So, we have been quoted before as saying our social media policy is: don’t be stupid. I think it’s kind of flip. What we really mean from that is, social media is really no different than any other platform where you’re acting on behalf of The New York Times. We trust our journalists to be smart about it, and so far we’ve really not had many, if any, real problems.
How does The Times measure ROI (return on investment) when it comes to social media, and how much of a factor is that when creating social strategies?
Certainly, we don’t want to be creating content on social media like into a void. It definitely matters to us that we have an audience and that we’re building an audience. But, you know, when people ask me this, I tend to say, which is true, that I work in the newsroom, and I’m focused on the journalism of it and creating the most compelling journalism that I can. We have a business side and a product team that’s more focused than I am on clicks or other sort of direct ROI aspects.
What I’m looking for is a more-engaged reader, someone who wants to come back tomorrow and read another story with us.
How does The Times quantify the positive results of nytimes.com tweets?
A simple way of quantifying it for us is just to look at the rate of followers increasing on these accounts. The New York Times has almost 5.3 million followers on its main feed, and we just crossed our 5 millionth follower threshold only a few weeks ago. So, we’ve gained almost 300,000 followers in a couple of weeks. When I see our numbers constantly going up like that, I feel safe in assuming that we’re engaging people on these platforms.
What I love the most, obviously, is, we put out questions on our main Twitter feed to people. Months ago, we asked people to tell us their five favorite fiction books on Twitter, and we created a hashtag #fiction5, and we got thousands of tweets back with people listing their five favorite fiction books. And we ended up doing a data analysis and putting up a little graphic showing what our readers enjoyed most in the fiction world. That’s the most gratifying thing, when you can tap directly into this readership of really interesting people with interesting ideas and opinions, and you hear right back from them.