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Ask readers where they get their news from and the answer increasingly points to Facebook and other social networks.

Working out a strategy to keep up with the latest platforms and top the charts on the more established networks is now an essential task for publishers, and at Trinity Mirror Regionals the key is to run trials.

"We don’t have the resources to go and do something across the board," explained digital innovations editor Alison Gow, speaking at the International Newsroom Summit in Hamburg today.

Start small

She explained the value of running trials in select individual newsrooms was gaining a knowledge about the platform and sharing those takeaways with other platforms.

For example, a WhatsApp trial than ran in Trinity Mirror’s Liverpool title revealed the chat app is a better tool for newsroom communication rather than news distribution.

A similar trial with Snapchat found the platform a difficult one to handle "unless you’re on of the big guys", who are chosen to take part in the Discover project.

"There is no automation feature for either of these apps," she explained.

"Probably every editor has either asked or been asked 'what are you doing with Snapchat'." The answer at Trinity Mirror Regionals now is "nothing really"..

Don’t give it all away

Instead, the focus is on Facebook, "without doubt the biggest social traffic driver," where the approach is to publish pieces of content that act as "entry points" for stories on the website, rather than giving content away entirely.

"They cannot exist in isolation", explained Gow, outlining the importance of Facebook as part of Trinity Mirror Regionals' digital strategy.

Facebook-native video is kept to a minimum, as the organisation wants viewers to watch these pieces on the website of a respective title.

"It’s vital for us that we keep getting Facebook right" – and to do so, analytics play an important role, said Gow.

Trinity Mirror Regionals recently unveiled its new digital strategy, with an increased focus on metrics and the introduction of analysts in newsrooms to help reporters work with analytics better.

The newsrooms know their social media audience both from looking at the numbers and from interacting and getting to know readers through comments.

Engaging with the audience in the comments comes with an additional advantage – a good debate under a post means people will continue to participate and comment, keeping the post at the top of their friends' news feeds.

Each title also has a "robust publishing schedule", she said, sharing stories journalists know will do well.

This does not deter experimentation, said Gow, but does insure audiences find what they’re looking for at the times they want to access it.

For example, Manchester Evening News publishes stories in its Family section geared towards parents who are up late at night, and every piece is designed as a "conversational piece of content".

Get involved early

But how can publishers ensure they are part of the conversation when social media platforms are rolling out new products?

Trinity Mirror Regionals works with experts at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to work out the best ways to use the platforms and to be part of early initiatives.

And taking part in beta tests with new tools that are being developed does not just give media organisations a head start, it gives them an opportunity to develop bespoke tools that work for them.

"If you don’t publish on social," said Gow, "you are in effect keeping content in a silo."

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