How social media editors help news organizations engage audiences

By Brianny Aybar, UConn Journalism
May 6, 2019

Social media has become an essen­tial part of many Amer­i­cans dai­ly lives. What once was wak­ing up and read­ing the dai­ly news­pa­per or watch­ing TV has now become wak­ing up and imme­di­ate­ly check­ing Twit­ter, Insta­gram or Face­book. Social media has changed the way read­ers find and con­sume news, the rate in which they do, and the fil­ters they use to receive this infor­ma­tion. It  has not only changed the way peo­ple get their news, it also has altered the way jour­nal­ists cre­ate news. 

With­in the field of jour­nal­ism, a new job mar­ket has risen thanks to social media. Media out­lets need to con­nect with their read­ers dig­i­tal­ly and this can hap­pen through social media. Social media jobs are now stan­dard in media out­lets of every niche. Some of the most com­mon posi­tions are Social Media Man­ag­er, Social Edi­tor, Social Media Spe­cial­ist, and Dig­i­tal Media Man­ag­er. The main goal of these jobs is audi­ence engage­ment. Com­pa­nies want the jour­nal­ists in these posi­tions to engage their read­ers across many plat­forms, inform them what strate­gies work to enhance engage­ment, and to push con­tent to read­ers through social media and beyond. 

If it sounds a bit like mar­ket­ing, that’s because there are sim­i­lar­i­ties. Mar­ket­ing through social media is used when a busi­ness is look­ing to increase web­site traf­fic, build con­ver­sions, raise brand aware­ness, cre­ate a brand iden­ti­ty and pos­i­tive brand asso­ci­a­tion and improve com­mu­ni­ca­tion and inter­ac­tion with key audi­ences. News orga­ni­za­tions want to accom­plish these goals with social media, too. But jour­nal­ists are also using social media to take audi­ence inter­ac­tions a step further. 

To under­stand the duties of a social media edi­tors for a news out­let, I talked with Mandy Velez, Social Edi­tor for The Dai­ly Beast, and Adri­ana Lacey, Audi­ence Engage­ment Edi­tor for the Los Ange­les Times. These women opened up about their respon­si­bil­i­ties as social media edi­tors and their beliefs about the inter­sec­tion of social media and journalism.

Mandy Velez
Social Edi­tor for The Dai­ly Beast

Mandy Velez
(Pho­to via Twitter)

Mandy Velez is a dig­i­tal jour­nal­ist, cur­rent­ly work­ing as a Social Edi­tor for The Dai­ly Beast, a news and opin­ion web­site focused on pol­i­tics and pop cul­ture. Velez stud­ied at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh, and grad­u­at­ed with a degree in English/Nonfiction writ­ing and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Velez’s social media work includes an email and social edi­tor at Google’s pub­li­ca­tion, Think with Google, the Ladies’ Home Jour­nal mag­a­zine as a free­lance social media edi­tor, and with as a dig­i­tal edi­tor as well as a reporter. Velez has also had expe­ri­ence edit­ing and writ­ing lifestyle, news, and women-cen­tric pieces for A Plus, Ash­ton Kutcher’s start­up media com­pa­ny, as well as Huff­in­g­ton Post. She also con­tin­ues to dab­ble in inves­tiga­tive report­ing for the Dai­ly Beast while work­ing in social media. The abil­i­ty to write as well as strate­gize about shar­ing con­tent, which Velez loves to do, is what attract­ed her to becom­ing a social media edi­tor for the Dai­ly Beast. 

Velez han­dles all things social for the Dai­ly Beast. Their Twit­ter account cur­rent­ly has 1.22 mil­lion fol­low­ers and 2 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Face­book. As a Social Media Edi­tor, Velez is post­ing and strate­giz­ing how to make sure as many peo­ple see and inter­act with con­tent post­ed on plat­forms. Although this is not all her job entails, as she is also respon­si­ble for diver­si­fy­ing traf­fic sources. This means she has to make sure the con­tent is seen by peo­ple and fig­ure out a way to push that con­tent beyond social media. On a dai­ly basis, Velez sched­ules and posts new sto­ries on Twit­ter, Face­book, and Insta­gram. She also sends out these sto­ries to plat­forms like Apple News, Face­book groups, and influ­encers on Twit­ter that share that story.

I like to think of our team as the front lines,” Velez said, “We are the ones in between our sto­ries and the world.”

When it comes to audi­ence engage­ment, the con­tent audi­ences engage with the most vary across out­lets. Velez has noticed that on Twit­ter, pol­i­tics gain the most engage­ment, while on Face­book, weird sto­ries or race-relat­ed sto­ries do the best. To fig­ure this out, she empha­sizes the impor­tance of look­ing at ana­lyt­ics. H. Mack­ay wrote for an arti­cle in the Jour­nal of Infor­ma­tion Ethics, Social media ana­lyt­ics pro­vide media orga­ni­za­tions and oth­ers with a new and greater knowl­edge of their audi­ence. Know­ing your audi­ence enhances the way jour­nal­ist are able to tell sto­ries through social media. Velez men­tioned shar­ing infor­ma­tion with the world in dif­fer­ent for­mats is the per­fect inter­sec­tion of social media and jour­nal­ism. Baby boomers may enjoy read­ing text about the Park­land shoot­ing through Face­book, while some­one from Gen­er­a­tion Z could find out about that sto­ry through Insta­gram Sto­ries, Velez said. 

In the field of Social edi­tors, Velez said the most dif­fi­cult part of her job is also the most fun, the unpre­dictabil­i­ty of it all. 

I stay updat­ed on what’s hap­pen­ing, but also get to play a role in shar­ing what’s hap­pen­ing with the world and keep­ing peo­ple informed of the facts,” Velez said, “It’s a super reward­ing feeling.”

As jour­nal­ism is still a busi­ness that needs rev­enue, it is impor­tant that jour­nal­ists make clear to their audi­ence when cer­tain con­tent is a paid spon­sor­ship. Velez says a way to do this is with one-lin­ers in sto­ries, tag­ging posts as spon­sored, or hav­ing indi­vid­ual sec­tions on their web­site that make clear spon­sored con­tent lives there. Things only get uneth­i­cal when edi­tors or writ­ers try to pass of spon­sored or paid con­tent as a real sto­ry, Velez said. She empha­sized that trust is vital in this busi­ness, and remain­ing authen­tic and upfront when shar­ing both reg­u­lar and paid con­tent sto­ries is key.

For those who are inter­est­ed in enter­ing this emerg­ing field of jour­nal­ism, Velez sug­gests the first step is to under­stand the dif­fer­ence between the kinds of social media out there and know what kind you want to do. It is impor­tant to also gain any kind of expe­ri­ence in the the niche you see your­self work­ing in. Velez’s key sug­ges­tion is to take a Google ana­lyt­ics class to real­ly push your under­stand­ing of all aspects of Social editing. 

Adri­ana Lacey
Audi­ence Engage­ment Edi­tor for LA Times

Adri­ana Lacey
(Pho­to via Twitter)

The mul­ti-tal­ent­ed Adri­ana Lacey is a jour­nal­ist, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and social strate­gist who cur­rent­ly works for the Los Ange­les Times as the Audi­ence Engage­ment Edi­tor. Lacey earned a degree in Jour­nal­ism and African Amer­i­can stud­ies from Penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty, with a spe­cial inter­est in sports jour­nal­ism. Before she took her tal­ents to Los Ange­les, Lacey worked as a senior news assis­tant at the New York Times. While she was a stu­dent at Penn State, Lacey co-found­ed The Under­ground, a stu­dent-media site at Penn State ded­i­cat­ed to diverse voic­es and news. She was able to learn the ropes of the social media indus­try through cre­at­ing the social accounts for the web­site, as well as through many social media internships.

As the Audi­ence Engage­ment Edi­tor for the LA Times, Lacey works with var­i­ous desks across their news­room to strate­gize the best way to share their con­tent with their read­ers across plat­forms, as well as help the jour­nal­ists inter­act with oth­er peo­ple via these plat­forms. What attract­ed Lacey to this field of jour­nal­ism was her pas­sion for build­ing com­mu­ni­ties and inter­act­ing with peo­ple. She finds that through audi­ence engage­ment, she is able to con­nect read­ers to great jour­nal­ism. The best part of her job, she brags, is inter­act­ing with their readers. 

We’re often on the front lines, so it’s impor­tant to real­ly keep those con­nec­tions,” she said. 

With the growth of social media mar­ket, it is inevitable that jour­nal­ism and social media would inter­sect. Lacey feels like the two go hand in hand and it is essen­tial for jour­nal­ist to meet read­ers where they are at, which are social platforms.

It’s a dig­i­tal indus­try now, and everyone’s on their phones. When you’re able to con­nect the two, it’s a great way to reach an audi­ence you maybe nev­er would have been able to,” Lacey said, “It’s impor­tant in jour­nal­ism to meet read­ers where they’re at. Social media is one of those places, so it’s impor­tant to be there.”

Much like reg­u­lar social media users, Lacey finds it hard to dis­con­nect from social media out­side of her job. She finds it dif­fi­cult as an engage­ment edi­tor to take a break when they are always con­nect­ed online. 

Aside from her job as an audi­ence engage­ment edi­tor, Lacey pub­lish­es her own week­ly newslet­ter, The Social Sta­tus, about what is dri­ving the day in dig­i­tal media. She has been able to build up her sub­scribers organ­i­cal­ly. She con­sis­tent­ly tweets about her newslet­ter to gain traf­fic, but most­ly comes from word of mouth. Lacey’s advice to those seek­ing to boost their engage­ment is to make your con­tent interesting.

Make it inter­est­ing. You always have to ask your­self: Would I enjoy it? If not, oth­ers may not either,” she said.

Lacey’s advice to jour­nal­ist look­ing to enter the field of social media is to real­ly get famil­iar with and under­stand the plat­forms. She says it is impor­tant that those in audi­ence engage­ment think like a read­er and are ready to inter­act with read­ers. As a woman, and a woman of col­or, Lacey encour­ages oth­er peo­ple of col­or to join groups such as the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Black Jour­nal­ist, which she finds real­ly want their mem­bers to suc­ceed. She encour­ages more peo­ple of col­or to enter these fields.

There’s not many peo­ple around who look like me. What keeps me going though, is the fact that I can inspire more black women to pur­sue this field,” Lacey said.