TIME Social Media Editor Kelly Conniff talks Sandy, election coverage

Time Magazine TwitterWhen news breaks, readers turn to social media to read and post updates, presenting opportunities for news outlets to engage with them and challenges in keeping up with multiple platforms and a 24/7 news cycle.

Ebyline recently discussed these challenges and opportunities with Kelly Conniff, who started as social media editor at TIME in September after working as social media manager at the National Geographic Society since 2009. Excerpts from that interview follow.

What social media platforms does TIME focus on?

Really the number one platform we’re on is definitely Twitter. We actually just hit four million followers today, which was amazing. Beyond that we also are on Facebook, and we just actually hit 600,000 [Facebook likes]. We’re one of the biggest news brands on Google +, and we should be in the neighborhood of hitting two million next week, which is just amazing.

We’re also on Pinterest and Instagram. We actually have two Tumblr’s. One is TIME magazine proper, and it’s very much kind of our behind-the-scenes look at how the magazine is made, how we put together our amazing covers, and basically how we do what we do. We also have one for LightBox, which is our photography blog that is very popular in the industry. That one focuses a little bit more on the photo projects that we feature every day as well as kind of promoting what’s happening in the photography community.

Tell us about the social media strategies you used during Sandy.

With Sandy, we had people without power and without heat, and it was an interesting situation in trying to wrangle people together to work out ideas. We realized that what people were looking for in this scenario were stories from people on the ground. People wanted to know what it was like to be in Staten Island, Coney Island, or in the Rockaways, or in Connecticut, or anywhere in New Jersey where they were hit really bad.

We decided to just go with a very low-fi hashtag campaign of asking people to submit their Sandy reports. I was so surprised at what we got, not in terms of the volume but the depth that people went into when it came to telling us about their stories. We aggregated up some of the best, most poignant, funniest, responses on our newsfeed blog. That was also a really great way to say, “Hey look, we asked you guys for something, and we definitely heard what you had to say and here’s what happened.”

Time Magazine CoverWhat about that amazing cover image from Sandy? Tell us about that.


We have a great photography department here. They worked with us to come up with the idea to hire five photographers who were covering different areas of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and areas that were really affected. These people are professional photographers who have shot for TIME in various capacities, including Ben Lowy who is well-known as very much an iPhone photographer.
We actually used one of the photos that was taken by Ben Lowy on the cover of TIME magazine, which is pretty amazing. I was so impressed that we did it because that week was such a huge week for politics and just everything that was happening in the world. We actually closed three issues that week. We had one with a Romney cover, one with an Obama cover, and then easterners in the Northeast got the Sandy cover.

There’s a lot of pressure to be the first on social media, especially around the election. How do you balance that with the need for accuracy?

For us, we were really more interested in what people were feeling and thinking and doing about voting instead of making sure that we were first. We had a hashtag campaign that was just #TIMEVote, and we asked a series of questions that were kind of the day before and the day of. It was a little different from what everybody else was doing, but we’re there for that analysis and thoughtfulness.

The night of the election when Twitter was going crazy and Facebook was going crazy, we focused on having a live blog that pulled in tweets from all of our correspondents. They sat there and looked at the projections and the results and gave their commentary in a way that not many other brands can. I think we really focused on being thoughtful instead of just predicting and trying to be first. I think at the end of the day that’s really what TIME is about.

Does TIME have a social media policy for staffers?

We do. It’s mostly informal and that’s actually something we’re working on kind of updating. One great thing about most people who work at TIME is that they’re very proactive in having their own accounts and being very thoughtful when they tweet.

TIMES has some impressive social media stats, but are there other ways that you measure ROI?

Yes, I think that’s something that all brands are struggling with right now because there is no hard and fast rule of how to do it. For me, I sit solely on the edit side, so I’m always looking for new ways to engage. When you sit there every day and you’re looking at your followers and you’re seeing what they say when they comment on a Facebook post or re-tweet you or comment back, it’s really all about making sure that people are not just pushing our ‘Retweet’ button or the ‘Like’ button and then just moving on to the next post.

 

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.

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