What works online — tips from a Web producer

Maybe this is merely anecdotal evidence, but it seems like more and more online editors are coming from the newscast producing ranks. Take Renee Johnson, for example, who runs the website for WLOX-TV in Biloxi; the former producer is now running the show online.

She says to drive social, mobile and online traffic, you have to know your market just as well as a good newscast producer does.  She also recommends avoiding making generalizations about what will work online in your market.

“You post Jersey Shore on our site and you’ll get ripped, but Duck Dynasty does well.  Anything about guns, marijuana or religion is going to work, but when it comes to sports — basketball doesn’t engage, football does,” says Johnson.

One difference between producing a newscast and producing for social media is that you want people to do more than view your content.

“The share is what you really want people to do.”Screen Shot 2013-08-16 at 1.51.26 PM

Johnson is good at spotting what will engage people, including a story about a local county adding armed officers in all of its school buildings. Not only did it get shared more than 100 times with more than 600 likes, it generated more than 70 comments.  With such a hot button topic involving guns and schools, some of those comments were fairly intense.

“You want the community police itself; I try not to comment a lot,” Johnson said. “Though I will go in to post if someone is presenting wrong information.”

Johnson says mobile traffic has become increasingly important to the operation with an average of about 100,000 visits a day through mobile and about 60,000 going directly to the website.

She posts every local story WLOX produces to Facebook and Twitter, as well as what she calls “talkers” and significant breaking news, even if it’s from well out of the market.  However, Johnson says you can post too often, so she uses a scheduling tool to make sure that she doesn’t post more than once every 15 minutes on a routine news day.

“My biggest challenge is that everybody wants everything out as quickly as possible and that leads to small errors. But those small errors can ruin our credibility; people love to jump on your mistakes.”

The other challenge is for Johnson and the station to keep up with all the new digital tools that seem to crop up weekly, if not more often.

“It’s gotten to the point where I just try to pick one and do it well; I spend the time it takes to develop it. It’s all about expectation setting; it’s better to limit the ways you’re going to communicate with your audience and to do those well.”