Twitter bird
Credit: By shawncampbell on Flickr. Some rights reserved
The Wall Street Journal Twitter account hit four million followers over the weekend, with its Facebook page also on the cusp of reaching two million fans.

This is a 235 per cent increase on Twitter, and a 375 per cent increase on Facebook, from when emerging media editor Liz Heron joined the WSJ two years ago.

Heron manages a team of eight social media editors, including former Journalism.co.uk technology editor Sarah Marshall.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, Heron explained that the Journal's social media strategy centred around using strong images, interacting with other users, creating shareable content and "keeping a close eye" on any changes in the algorithm of social platforms.

She also said she was was excited about what effect Facebook Paper, released in the US yesterday, would have on social news.

"It seems like more than just a news app, it's sort of a re-imagining of Facebook itself on mobile," she said.

"It's going to be even more important than it is today to have the most shareable, most accessible content on your Facebook page, because that's what will catch the attention of the human curators and editors who are going to be highlighting things on Paper."

So, based on the Wall Street Journal's social media success here are Heron's tips for best practice strategy and engagement.

1. Images, images, images

"Whenever possible, use images to tell a story," said Heron. "We often put photos and charts directly into tweets, and almost everything we post on Facebook has an image."

"Really putting a priority on being able to tell a story in a visual way has been one of the biggest shifts for us and the most important shifts in terms of growing our community."

However, Heron adds that it is not enough just to post an image, you have to have "the correct, perfect image".

This strategy around strong images is something that has changed the way the whole newsroom works.

"We [the social media team] did a lot of work with our photo desk and now there's a wider understanding within the newsroom that if they want something to do well on Facebook, it has to come with a photo, image or graphic," explained Heron. "That this is a total, non-optional prerequisite for putting news on Facebook."

"Spending 10 minutes creating a social image pays off", she added, such as the image below created by WSJ digital multimedia producer George Downs which received 197 Facebook likes, 78 comments and 47 shares.

WSJ London cab
Screenshot from Facebook.com/wsjeurope

2. Post things that will engage a mobile audience

"The majority of our social audience – and everyone's – is coming to us on a mobile device," said Heron.

She adds that it is best to write short "digestible" posts, with the most eye-catching fact or statistic up front.

"Post incredible stats, something that will really tell us about the world today, rather than just breaking news stories," she said.

When choosing graphics and other multimedia, the WSJ social media team also go for those that will "look great on a small screen" Heron added.

In terms of mobile storytelling, Heron said the Journal was also "making a big push" on short Instagram videos, such as this time-lapse in honour of the first cold weather Super Bowl, where the WSJ commissioned an ice sculpture of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to see how long it would take to melt.

3. Design posts to be shared, not just read

We need to be creating content that's designed to be shared and not just readLiz Heron, Wall Street Journal
"In the wider newsroom, I think we've successfully made the case that we need to be creating content that's designed to be shared and not just read," said Heron.

"And that's helped us a lot on our Facebook and Twitter strategy, just to have that kind of content ready to go."

It is also important to "experiment with form" on Facebook and Twitter, says Heron, in order to see what makes content more shareable.

As an example, she cites a story the Journal did recently on the world’s most-visited cities for international travellers.

"In this case, we actually listed the cities out [on Facebook]. That made it a little more shareable because people got a little taste of what they were going to get, without having to click through to the story.

"I think the more you give people a taste of what they're going to get and what you want them to talk about, the more they will talk about it."

4. A human touch really matters

We started paying as much attention to Twitter and Facebook any other part of our coverageLiz Heron, Wall Street Journal
"Have editors write all your social content and make sure you're replying to tweets and regularly asking questions of your audience based around the news," recommends Heron.

Heron says the Wall Street Journal now pays as much attention to Twitter and Facebook as any other part of its coverage.

"I think it's just more shareable to write out a post or tweet that has the most interesting stat or the most interesting quote from a story, instead of what the headline was on the website."

This is something that has really helped, especially with Twitter, because editors can jump into the conversation "when it makes sense," says Heron.

'What we try to do is come up with an intriguing, interesting question that's designed to inspire conversation," she said. "Usually that does pretty well for us.

Heron also says that when faced with critical comments it is important to acknowledge people and them know you are not ignoring them.

'For example, when we broke the story about Philip Seymour Hoffman, we were having some technical issues with our website so a lot of people were tweeting us and saying the links were broken.

"So we tried to talk to as many people as we could and I ended up tweeting from my personal account, just to say 'we hear you, we're working on it'.

"I think even with critical comments, you want to appreciate the fact that they're trying to reach out to you and talk to you."

5. Become a Facebook 'scientist'

Make it your business to be on top of every tweak in the algorithm and change your strategy accordinglyLiz Heron, Wall Street Journal
"Make it your business to be on top of every tweak in the algorithm and change your strategy accordingly, in real time," said Heron.

The Wall Street Journal social media team have become "Facebook scientists," she says.

"We really think about everything we put on there," she said, "asking ourselves, 'Is this the right image?' 'Is this the right story?' 'Is this going to be interesting and shareable?' How is it going to affect everything else we put on the page today?'"

In addition, the Wall Street Journal's social media strategies are "constantly evolving," she said.

"I think we've built a great team of social media editors here who are deeply immersed in the world of social media, and so they're very attuned to changes and trends.

"We're able to to tweak our strategy and be pretty nimble when we feel like there's something new going on."

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