Social first is smart strategy for promoting TV stories

Full disclosure:  I believe Boyd Huppert from KARE 11 in Minneapolis may be one of the best TV storytellers ever.  So, when he says it’s time for TV folks to rethink the value of social media, we should listen.

“I’ve been a reporter for 31 years, and the only audience measurement we had for most of that time was ratings; we checked the overnights,” says Boyd.  “It really didn’t tell us how individuals connected to content in the newscast, and I can’t connect with a ratings point.”

Huppert says reading and interacting with audience comments and posts has changed the way he views content and how to get more audience to see his stories.

The start of his new way of thinking came after his story about the friendship between a man in his 90s and the little boy who lived next door went viral.

But Boyd says the success of the original “Emmett and Erling” story wasn’t quite enough to change his attitude.  When a chance came to cover the friends again, Huppert decided to simply post a picture on Facebook.

“That photo was shared 4100 times, but I didn’t cover it; I made a mistake,” Huppert says.  “I wasn’t listening to our viewers, but I know better now.”

He went on to do another story about this pair that was aired in NBC Nightly News, and more importantly, shared on the NBC Facebook page.

“That story was shared 245,000, more than 10 million views,” he says.  “Therein lies the power of something I didn’t have any use for earlier in my career—generating content that is shareable.”

Huppert says about a quarter of the revenue generated by his stories comes from clicks. Now, he has a Facebook strategy for promoting his stories.  For example, a post about a piece he did on a group of kids who took it upon themselves to stop the bullying of a special needs child in their class was already shared by more than 1400 people before the story even aired.

“Teases don’t work on Facebook, they work on Twitter, says Huppert.  “If you say something like ‘You won’t  believe what happened…,’ no one would share that, it’s a commercial.  I’ve found that I need to write a narrative paragraph.

Huppert admits that goes against what TV reporters have been told to do “avoid giving the story away,” but he says he has proof that it generates on-air audience. For the bullying story, the key demos went from a .9 from the lead-in to a 4.9 at the start of the newscast and a 5.0 in the quarter hour where his story aired.

“If you’re going to tease, you have to deliver, but we’ve always earned our audience by the stories that we do.”