What kinds of Local News Stories Engage Social Media Audiences?

See the results of an experiment that produces new understanding about how to use Facebook and Twitter to engage audiences.

The study points out clearly that what audiences want on Facebook is very different than what they want on-air. Explainers and Feel-Good stories do well on social media.  But Social is not where you take heavy political debates.


NPR’s Digital Services blog explains the categories:

Place Explainers

Every city has traits, quirks, and habits that are begging to be dissected. These characteristics are well known to locals, but no one ever stops to explain why they even exist in the first place. Place Explainers investigate, answer, and explain these questions. In our project, KPLU tipped us off to this content type with its I Wonder Why…? series, which explores the “endearing, odd, even irritating” attributes of the Pacific Northwest. For example, why does Seattle have so few kids and so many dogs? A story by KQED pointed out the 26 signs you’re in Silicon Valley and a KUT piece listed what draws people to Austin and what drives them away.

Crowd Pleasers

We all love to brag every once in awhile about the area we call home. Crowd Pleasers zero in on that feeling of pride. These stories provide an opportunity to celebrate everything from beautiful weather in the Pacific Northwest to the athletic prowess of California athletes who won 93 Olympic gold medals. When Austin was ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek as the eighth-best city in the country, Austinites cheered on Facebook with comments such as “Yaaay!! GO Austin!” and “Whether Austin ranks 1st or 100th, I still love living here :)” That’s exactly the type of reaction you’ll get from Crowd Pleasers.

Curiosity Stimulators

You know those stories you come across that you can’t turn down? The ones that have you hooked at the headline? Curiosity Stimulators get that a lot. It’s the type of story that captures a geeky and quirky side of a city. And after people click through and read a Curiosity Stimulator, they often feel compelled to share it because they get the sensation of stumbling upon a local gem. The Curiosity Stimulator is a 4,000-pound spider-robot named Stompy. It’s a woman who married a corporation. It’s the discovery of a hidden video game city.

News Explainers

Event-based stories chronicle the news of a city. This bill was passed. This person was hired. That person was fired. News Explainers make sense of the news. Rather than just telling you what happened, News Explainers dissect why or how it happened. For example, here’s what people in Washington should consider before possessing legal marijuana. Now that Austin has declared support for same-sex marriage, here’s what happens next. Here’s why it’s been unusually chilly in San Francisco. Leading up to the 2012 election, ballot question guides such as this one by KQED were perfect examples of News Explainers. They took complex local topics and made sense of them for people.

Major Breaking News

Cities are saturated with everyday news stories such as traffic jams and fires. But Major Breaking News has a much bigger impact on a city or a region. Massive storms are an easy example of this because they tend to make life difficult for entire regions. But Major Breaking News doesn’t happen often — a few examples from this project include the coffeeshop shooting in Seattle, Hurricane Sandy, and the approval of legal recreational marijuana and same-sex marriage in Washington.

Feel-Good Smilers

Think “awww,” think “awesome,” think “hilarious.” Most of all, think positive: this category is made up of happy stories. A Feel-Good Smiler is a 10-year-old girl who convinced Jamba Juice to stop using foam cups. It’s the birth of an animal that locals love (Seattleites, apparently, are obsessed with orcas). It’s a nighttime Austin marriage proposal that found its way to Reddit. And is there anything more feel-good than warm cookies delivered by bicycle to your door? Humor, which tends to make people feel good, also plays a role in Feel-Good Smiler content. Cue Seattle’s Colonel Meow.

Topical Buzzers

A Topical Buzzer is the story of the moment that everyone’s talking about locally. When the Space Shuttle Endeavor flies overhead, a Topical Buzzer shows you photos of it. When the mayor of Boston writes an epic memo to Chick-fil-A, a Topical Buzzer tells you about it. When Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis serve coffee at a local cafe (and mobs of locals pack the streets to catch a glimpse), a Topical Buzzer rides the viral coattails of the story. The key to deploying a Topical Buzzer on your site: knowing when something is beginning to buzz.

Provocative Controversies

Have you ever come across a story about your city and you could feel your blood beginning to boil? That’s usually what happens when people encounter a Provocative Controversy — they get ticked off and highly opinionated. In Washington, when state officials killed a pack of wolves, locals had a lot to say about it. KQED’s story about the California State Parks Department sitting on a $54 million surplus for 12 years has dozens of comments. In Boston, a story about a doctor refusing obese patients elicited Facebook comments such as “SOOOO ANGRY !!!!” and “Shame on them.”

Awe-Inspiring Visuals

“Whoa…” You know that feeling? It’s the feeling you get when you see a killer whale catching air in Puget Sound. When you’re spooked by the images of a 75-year-old L.A. hotel wing. When you look into the cold dark eyes of sharks swimming in Cape Cod. When you’re haunted by a people-less time-lapse of Seattle. We already know people like to gaze at beautiful images. People love to goggle at beautiful images of their city. Awe-Inspiring Visuals capture that wonderment through photos and videos.

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