Chandni Sembhi
Credit: Chandni Sembhi on Instagram

When Chandni Sembhi joined the LGBTQIA+ outlet PinkNews as senior producer, she already had a track record of social media career success. Her previous content editor role at Channel 5 saw her produce viral tweets on their official account. She also runs the Instagram account So You Want To Be A Journalist, where she posts tips on breaking into media.

"More newsrooms are putting resources behind social media content," she said in a conversation at a Journo Resources event.

"Until there is another platform, social media will continue to be on the up. In the last year, many more journalists have gained a reputation through social media."

There are no official rules for presenting news or features on social media sites but Sembhi shared her best tips for using social media effectively to share and promote articles.

Presenting stories

Stories are presented differently on a publication’s website and social media. On most platforms, articles need to be condensed or cut down to fit post specifications but that should not change the take-away message of the story.

"Make sure you’re including all of the key facts," Sembhi explained. "You don’t want to leave people feeling misinformed."

Because of shorter, faster-paced content presentation, you only have between one and three seconds to grab people’s attention, so start with the most attention-grabbing, interesting or shocking info. This means identifying the ‘social line’ of the piece. If the article covers a sensitive topic, make sure not to sensationalise just to get clicks.

[Read more: Is Snapchat still worth publishers' attention?]

"You don’t want to pass judgement or opinion as a journalist. Using a quote could work really well - an expert or someone that has that lived experience," says Sembhi.

Social media is largely visual, so once you have got the text perfected, it is onto graphics, images and videos. One basic rule is to always make sure your content is in the correct style - social media algorithms will not push it if it does not look right or fit for the platform.

For both images and videos, using the correct aspect ratio is a basic first step, especially if you are posting the same content across several social media platforms. Using a square aspect ratio can help if you are short on time, as it fits most platforms; creator sites like Canva have a range of templates if you are not sure where to start. Sometimes, you will need to ‘re-version’ the post: for example, make sure you do not post an Instagram Reel with a TikTok video watermark still visible.

Thinking "natively" is another of Sembhi’s key tips; depending on which platforms you are posting on, the different functionalities of each app can help a story come to life, boosting engagement and creating discussions with readers. On Instagram, this includes using Reels and Stories, along with ‘stickers’ such as polls or questions to gain responses. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook similarly allow you to ask questions using polls.

Targetting the right demographic

"Audiences are very different platform to platform. Although all social media apps have a wide range of people on them, their primary demographic can vary wildly and that might change the tone of the stories you’re telling," she explained. The way your story is presented should not be the same across every platform.

Facebook is a long-established platform with loyal users. According to Sembhi, this means that it is "targeted at a slightly older demographic that won’t be into the snappy, fast-paced video you’d use for Instagram or TikTok." Facebook users also spend longer looking at single posts.

"The algorithm here is really interesting - it’s a lot of links, lengthy videos and captions, and groups."

Meanwhile, newer apps like Snapchat and TikTok have drawn in a younger crowd, primarily Gen Z (under 24), and you must grab their attention fast. On PinkNews’ Snapchat account, Sembhi covers stories from a "more dramatic" angle to catch viewers’ eye quicker.

[Read more: How freelance journalists can make the most out of social media]

Both Snapchat and TikTok rely on video formats. To present an article or story, quickfire news roundups and presenter-led content perform best.

It is important to remember how the app will serve up your content. On Snapchat, you can upload a three-minute video, but it will be broken up into parts posted as Stories. You have to be a partner to upload Story content to the app’s Explore page, so this platform might be better for established organisations who can produce branded content.

On Twitter, users aged 18-29 make up the largest group; fast bite-sized updates in real time (known as live-tweeting) catches their attention.

Though keeping general platform demographics in mind is key, it is best to also work out your own individual audience demographic.

Measuring performance

Posting your content is not the end of the process. A lot of important information can be gained from how well your story performs on social media, "making sure what you’re posting is actually resonating with people."

Sembhi recommends using any analytics tools provided by the social media platform you are posting on. These will help you spot which types of content are performing well, so you can repeat that success. Analytics can provide crucial information such as which groups of people you attract, how long they spend with your content, and if they decide to read more of your posts afterwards. Sembhi adds that comments are a good way to measure engagement without tools as they show that audiences are taking time to respond.

Platform-specific tools to use include Twitter Analytics, Facebook Creator Studio, Instagram Professional Dashboard and TikTok Creator Tools.

Instagram’s analytics tools are particularly helpful as they measure an account’s growth and engagement. However, Sembhi explains that it is more beneficial to look at a longer period of time, rather than checking daily or weekly performances which fluctuate.

Social media platforms are constantly changing to optimise the way they work. This means that what makes successful content changes too. You can keep up to date with the latest developments thanks to newsletters like Matt Navarra’s GeekOut, which tracks the ever-changing algorithms of social media sites.

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