Before Irene McKisson of the Arizona Daily Star began posting on social media, about 30 people in the newsroom were — and in all different styles. After she had decided what the voice was going to sound like, she revoked others’ social posting permissions and tried to make the voice of each post consistent. But she wasn’t afraid to make further changes.

“The audience you’re hoping to attract is a good way to start with what kind of voice you want to use, but it’s going to change as you see what works and what doesn’t work,” she said. “It’s important to stay nimble and flexible. If you shift it even a little based on what people were reacting to, you could do better.”

When implementing a social media voice, our research suggests you should do the following.

Experiment to find what works

Many engagement editors recommend minimizing fear about posting in this new voice.

“The ‘go big or go home’ mentality works a lot better than ‘what if I screw it up,’” said Erica Smith of the Virginian-Pilot.

Erica Palan, audience engagement manager of, the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, recommends thinking of different ways to post content. She tells her reporters to think about four kinds of tweets: one with just the headline, one with a quote from the story, one with an interesting fact or statistic, and one complementing a visual.

“Mixing up the styles of how you tweet the same story gives more entry points into a story,” she said. “Simply tweeting a headline once is not enough.”

Jen Eyer of MLive Media Group, which publishes eight Michigan newspapers, said when writing a Facebook post lead-in, she always encourages thinking about the angle of the story people are most likely going to talk about or share, two valuable forms of engagement on that platform. In other words, “When you’re with a group of people at the bar, how would you start talking about this story?”

If you’ve found a way to share a type of story that resonates with and engages your audience, don’t be afraid to use that way again, said Nathaniel Miller, The Sacramento Bee’s interactivity editor. For example, when sharing stories about proposed bills, he might say something about the bill and include the sentence “Should this bill become a law?”

Evaluate your successes and failures

Once you’ve begun to post content, it’s important to evaluate how posts performed, something Eyer recommends doing daily. One way to do that is quantitatively through analytics.

Facebook and Twitter, among other social media platforms, offer detailed analytics, as well as downloadable spreadsheets with this data from a range of dates from which you can select. Many third-party social media scheduling apps, such as Buffer, offer this, too.

The best metrics to use when determining what “works” will depend on what you are trying to achieve; Joy Mayer, director of community outreach at the Columbia Missourian, has brainstormed a list organized by goals to get you started. If you would like to take what we did in this content analysis and apply it to your newsroom, check out the metrics we used in our methodology.

Although analytics are useful, many engagement editors also recommend looking at the qualitative data available.

The best metrics to use when determining what “works” will depend on what you are trying to achieve.

“On Facebook, that means looking at every single post, reading all of the comments on all of the posts, then taking lessons away from that — making changes about what you post and how you post it and paying attention to how things did when you presented them a certain way,” said McKisson of the Arizona Daily Star.

At the same time, Stephanie Grimes, audience development director at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, emphasizes that “one complaint does not a disaster make.”

“How we overcame (the challenge of rebranding) was just persistence: not caving because one person complained about us,” she said. “We’re not perfect, but we’re doing our best to make sure that everything we post fits that tone that we’re going for, and we’re trying to constantly find new ways to adapt to the community.”

Even if you think you’ve written a great post that will get a lot of traction, it might not. Leia Mendoza, deputy online editor for engagement at the Omaha World-Herald, recommends evaluating not only the headlines, photos and text of each, but also the external factors that might influence the post’s performance, such as time.

“It’s a lot of figuring out the time of day and what people are thinking about at that time of day, week, season — (and) what type of content we are going to give them,” she said.

Many engagement editors also recommended keeping an eye on changes to the Facebook algorithm, which could impact how certain posts are presented, and to whom.

“They’re constantly changing their algorithms, and not just with people — also with pages,” said Sara Grant, social media editor at The Denver Post. “They no longer show you what pages your friends interact with (for example). It’s something we feel that almost every week, we should be changing our strategy.”

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