Hannah Sandfield, Taylor Banks and Drew Matheiu
Everything seemed to be going along quite nicely with our project to create a social media strategy for the monthly Cincinnati magazine, until it wasn’t.
We then compiled research on Cincinnati Magazine’s competition and best-in-breed other city magazines, and on the social media platforms themselves and how to best take advantage of each one.
Everything seemed to be going along quite nicely with our project to create a social media strategy for the monthly Cincinnati magazine, until it wasn’t. As a result, we learned a whole lot including that even if a curveball comes your way, you can still hit a home run.
In January 2018, Cincinnati Magazine, a monthly lifestyle magazine in Cincinnati, Ohio, presented our team with this challenge; find a way to reach a younger demographic and expand the magazine’s audience through social media, keeping in mind the limited resources available to the publication.
Its website gets more than 2,000 unique monthly visitors. Its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter platforms had a large audience to start with — more than 20,000 followers each — but the engagement with posted content was very low.
The magazine only had one intern to work on the social media platforms, and did not have the means or employees necessary to create new content and needed to rely on just the content that appeared in the print publication each month.
Our initial approach: Very straightforward
We started by looking into Facebook, which is the most popular social media platform for news given that 45 percent of American adults say they get news from this platform.
However, we realized upon doing a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of the magazine’s social media accounts, that all three could be used to help reach that younger demographic.
We then compiled research on Cincinnati Magazine’s competition and best-in-breed other city magazines, and on the social media platforms themselves and how to best take advantage of each one. We would later compile this into a social media guide for the publication to refer to after the end of the semester.
Facebook’s algorithm changed around two weeks in, which was a turning point for us since engagement became our new buzzword. Engagement is interaction with content on social media platforms. It is comments, likes, shares, etc. and not just views.
Some things we noted in our initial strategy pitch to improve engagement included:
- shorter captions on Facebook.
- color schemes and photo filters on Instagram.
- the use of hashtags and retweetable words on Twitter.
We recommended a five-point plan for each platform that incorporated these points along with suggestions of using call-to-action phrasing whenever possible, shortening links and thinking about the ideal timing for various posts and tweets.
Over several weeks, we worked with Cincinnati Magazine to implement the five-point plan. The publication’s staff opted to implement only one strategy per week to see which garnered the greatest results, but there was little direction to go but up when it came to engagement.
Almost as fast as we saw positive results we noticed a troubling pattern: engagement would peak during the first week of the month when Cincinnati Magazine posted new content, but then dip and stagnate for the remaining three weeks of the month.
We quickly realized that good engagement required good AND fresh content. We also were reminded of the original challenge, especially the part about needing to rely on “just the content that appeared in the print publication each month.”
This meant that an obvious solution to our conundrum — continuously create new content — was out of the question.
Because the magazine did have content that didn’t make it into the magazine and also had the creative staff to find new ways to highlight different aspects of stories in the magazine each month, we had an aha! Moment.
What if the magazine’s social media strategy included an organized and well-planned approach to deliver interesting content during those off weeks and maybe use the final week to promote what was coming up in next month’s issue?
That’s when we came up with our “The four-week-calendar” strategy. It goes something like this:
Week 1: Cincinnati Magazine will continue to post all of its new content on each social media platform during the first week as usual.
Week 2: Content that was posted in week one is repackaged, perhaps with a photo gallery of behind-the-scene photos or a few sentences highlighting an interesting list that accompanied a story. This content is divided up into Post A and Post B content.
Post A content is more news-like and encompasses things such as breaking news, profile pieces, feature stories and sports. Post B content is more lighthearted and includes posts about food and drinks, new restaurants and things to do over the weekend.
Post A content is posted at the beginning of week two or Monday through Wednesday because research suggests that people are more likely to engage with more serious content at the beginning of the week when they are in a working mindset. Post B content is posted Thursday through Sunday because by the end of the week, people are in “weekend-mode” and are looking for things to do and new places to drink and eat with friends. The majority of content Cincinnati Magazine publishes is Post B, and the highest engagement happens during the weekend. Week two capitalizes on timeliness.
Week 3: Content from other editions of the magazine can be highlighted. To do this we created another calendar — a social media holiday calendar — that provides a great jumping off point for this approach. For example, June 19 is listed as National Martini Day in the social media holiday counter, so on that day, Cincinnati Magazine could look in their archives for a “Top 10 Best Bars” list or previously published recipes such as “Recipe: The Martini, Resuscitated” or “Recipe: Obscura’s Peppermint Martini” and then repost it with a caption like, “Celebrate #National Martini Day with an Obscura’s Peppermint Martini” or “Raise your glass at one of these bars for #National Martini Day.”
Week three is also when Cincinnati Magazine will experiment with Post C content, which is content that did not see much engagement in the previous two weeks. This is an opportunity for the social media team to experiment with different captions and hashtags to see what works and what doesn’t.
Another way to re-use content
Week 4: At the beginning of the semester, Cincinnati Magazine was reluctant about creating videos, but once they saw that the previous strategies were working, they began to show an interest, and so during week three, the social media team will begin creating short videos with photos they already have, text and public domain music for Top 5 lists to post on Facebook.
In addition to the social media guide, the four-week plan and the social media holiday calendar, we have provided Cincinnati Magazine with a step-by-step video tutorial on how to create these videos using Adobe Premiere.
These videos will be posted Monday through Wednesday during this week. The rest of week four, as well as week five if applicable, will be used to tease content for the upcoming issue. This will build anticipation for week one, and the plan will repeat itself from there with the next month’s content.
Why these findings matter
Although the social media guide, five-point plan, four-week calendar, social media holiday calendar and video tutorial are all tailored to Cincinnati Magazine, we believe that these strategies can be expanded and modified to fit all publications that are seeking to expand its audience through social media.
These materials need little to no modification for other publications. However, the four-week plan may need to be condensed depending on how often a publication posts new content.
Regardless, the presented materials have the potential to transform the social media platforms of any publication by optimizing engagement, which in turn results in reaching a larger, more diverse audience.