TIME Social Media Editor Kelly Conniff talks Sandy, election coverage

Time Magazine Twitter

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.


@NYTimes Social Media Editor Lexi Mainland Talks Pinterest, Reddit and More

NYT Pinterest

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  for instance, which platforms we want to be using and what we want to do with them. I also work on big news projects that have a social media possibility for them, big things like the Olympics or the election, or things like last night’s Tony Awards, big events that people like to feed into socially.

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.

New York Times' Pinterest page
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 interviewSo, 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.] I feel like everything we do is helping to create a more engaged reader or to bring somebody into The Times who might not ordinarily read our stuff.

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.

How The Wall Street Journal Uses Sound Bites on Pinterest

In this 24/7 news cycle world, with stories broken down into miniscule sound bites, The Wall Street Journal has found a clever way to present select ones from the News Corp.-owned newspaper via social media.

The Journal has been pinning “memorable” quotes on Pinterest. Beneath each quote, context is provided along with a link to the complete story online. WSJ staffers use Adobe Photoshop to create images of the individual quotes, which have blurred out text surrounding them. As of June 7, the quotes board alone has 6,524 followers and 45 pins.

The Journal must have smart social media editors working in its New York City offices because the quotes that are selected immediately draw the reader in – it appears they are pulled from controversial articles or ones of extreme interest.

Here are some examples this contributor viewed when writing this blog post:

  • “This is something we think we have the legal authority to do,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, defending his proposal to stop the sale of large sodas;
  • “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think that same-sex couples should be able to get married,” said President Barack Obama, who previously supported only civil unions, in an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts; and
  • “The leading cause of death for young black men – those ages 15 to 24 – is homicide,” said Attorney General Eric Holder on the shooting of Trayvon Martin allegedly by George Zimmerman.

But this isn’t the only Pinterest board The Journal has going. It has 33 others, with a total of 8,857 followers, 874 pins, and 74 likes. Some of the other boards include: select front pages; WSJ Fashion, New York Fashion Week; #morningWSJ, through which readers were ask to send in their photos of how they start their day; WSJ Graphics; and many more.

Other papers using Pinterest include The New York Times (it just recently launched), USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, and Orange County Register.

Now, let’s see how they compare by the numbers:

  • The Wall Street Journal: 8,589 followers, 34 boards, 874 pins, 74 likes;
  • USA Today: 2,228 followers, 17 boards, 552 pins, 126 likes;
  • Los Angeles Times: 1,181 followers, 61 boards, 1,517 pins, 232 likes;
  • The New York Times: 480 followers, 14 boards, 30 pins, 3 likes;
  • Denver Post: 130 followers, 12 boards, 175 pins, 16 likes;
  • Orange County Register: 174 followers, 11 boards, 197 pins, 14 likes; and
  • San Francisco Chronicle: 90 followers, 11 boards, 55 pins, 0 likes.

It looks like The Wall Street Journal should start celebrating. Perhaps with a quote.

This Week’s Headlines: New AP Stylebook, NYT Inks Deal with Hulu

This week brought an interesting mix of social media news and more serious headlines out of Syria. A look at the headlines that caught our eyes this week:

  • The First Pinterest-Enabled Magazine: Plenty of magazines have Pinterest-enabled websites, but with its June issue, House Beautiful became the first to create a Pinterest-enabled print publication. Thanks to an invisible watermark printed in the magazine’s pages, readers can scan pictures with their smartphone and pin the images to their Pinterest boards. We’ll be interested in seeing how quickly readers catch on and whether other lifestyle publications follow suit.
  • Now playing: The New York Times signs on to Hulu to reach a new audience for its long videos: The NYT will soon join news outlets like ABC News and the Wall Street Journal on popular video site Hulu.com, posting short documentaries on the Hulu site as part of a content licensing agreement. Ann Derry, head of the Times’ video department, says the paper’s new Hulu channel will help raise awareness about the paper.
  • AP uses itself as an example in Stylebook’s social media chapter: The Associated Press released the new AP Stylebook on Wednesday, and it includes the AP’s own guidelines on retweets. The AP’s strict stance on not writing tweets in a way that express personal opinion is controversial, and some journalists have criticized the AP for not mentioning this controversy in the Stylebook.
  • Syria Sees No Need for Journalists to Investigate Massacre: Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, says there is no need for journalists and freelance writers to investigate last week’s massacre in the village of Houla, because the Syrian government is conducting its own investigation. He said that Channel 4 News, which produced a video report on the massacre, should have shared its information with the government rather than releasing the video the public and urged reporters not to “base your information on reports.”
  • Penguin, Macmillan respond to DOJ in e-book price fixing suit: Two major publishers have filed responses to the Department of Justice’s e-book price fixing lawsuit. In their responses, Penguin and Macmillan both say many of the conversations mentioned in the lawsuit are not relevant to e-book pricing.

This Week’s Headlines: Time Magazine Cover Makes Headlines, Judge Rules on Facebook Likes

Did Time Magazine take its cover image too far? That’s the question on many people’s minds this week in response to a story on attachment parenting. Here’s a look and this and other media news from the past week:

  • Time magazine breast-feeding cover provokes strong reaction: Time Magazine‘s provocative cover depicting a young mom breast-feeding her three-year-old son went viral, as bloggers and media commentators questioned whether the magazine had gone too far. The cover image was part of a pre-Mother’s Day story on attachment parenting, but the image seems to have overshadowed the topic.
  • Storify introduces new feature to make individual story elements more sharable: Storify, an online platform for curating social media mentions around news topics, recently added features that enable users to share, “like,” or comment on individual social media posts within a story. (For more on Storify, check out Ana Gonzalez Ribeiro’s Storify post from March.)
  • Pinterest Plug-In Lets You Track Pins From WordPress: Bloggers, copywriting services, and publishers on Pinterest have a new tool in their arsenal of tracking tools. WP Pinner, which launched this week, allows WordPress users to content on the popular pinboard site, schedule pins, track repins, and more.
  • Court: No 1st Amendment protection for Facebook ‘like’: A federal judge recently ruled that hitting the “like” button on Facebook is not free speech protected under the first amendment. The issues arose after several workers claimed they’d been fired for supporting the sheriff’s opponent for re-election. An attorney for one of the fired workers said planned to appeal the ruling.
  • Greek Journalists Dodge Threats and Yogurt to Cover Rise of Far-Right Party: As Greece’s political climate heats up, journalists face threats from members from the country’s far-right Golden Dawn party. The Athens Union of Journalists has condemned these threats and vowed that party leaders will not silence reporters. Protestors broke into a TV studio and pelted the host with yogurt and eggs on air after he’d interviewed a Golden Dawn spokesperson.