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Connecting with viewers through Facebook fan pages

While it’s common practice for news stations to have ‘place’ pages on Facebook, an increasing number of local news stations are employing Facebook fan pages to connect with viewers.

The number of fans a station has may be a great way to compare them against their rival stations, but fan pages are useful for more than just popularity contests. Take Austin, Texas’ KXAN-TV for instance, which utilized the fan page during the wildfires that ravaged Texas earlier this year. It was able to keep their audience updated via its Facebook fan page, while also receiving reports from people affected by the fires. This enabled the station to gather and quickly disperse information to all impacted areas. To receive these consistent updates a person just needed to “like” the KXAN fan page, a process that takes only one click. KXAN’s wildfire coverage resulted in the station’s followers doubling from approximately 6,000 to over 12,000 over the course of the crisis.

KXAN isn’t the only station utilizing Facebook fan pages to connect with its audience. KIFI-TV of Idaho Falls, Idaho, uses its page to provide updates on local stories and previews of the news to come. WSPA-TV of Spartanburg, S.C., and WTVM-TV of Columbus, Ga., stream news stories to their fan page. Those are just a few in an increasing number of local news stations now employing Facebook fan pages to update and build trust with viewers.

Receiving updates from a Facebook fan page couldn’t be easier. Everyone that “likes” the station receives the latest news directly in their personal news feed. This enables the station to keep their audience updated continuously through a medium used by almost one billion people.

According to a July 2011 study conducted by Pew Research Center, over a quarter of adults (27 percent) get their news from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and that number rises to 38 percent for adults under 30. In an attempt to connect with that demographic, local news anchors, reporters, and assignment editors have begun creating individual Facebook fan pages so as to develop a personal connection with their audience. This allows each person to interact with their audience on a more personal level. Many journalists, like KXAN assignment editor John Bumgardner, personally post all their stories to their Facebook fan page because it creates a “less cold, more personal one-on-one approach” that is lost when enabling automatic updates, he said.

Bumgardner helped design KXAN’s social media strategy and understands just how important social media is for local news stations. He believes that social media is a resource for stories and getting news tips because it is a “more comfortable approach” for many people and an easy way for people to communicate in times of emergency. This was evidenced by the successful relay of information during this year’s wildfire outbreak.

This personal touch can help reporters build connections with their audience because it shows that they aren’t just “talking heads.” When the audience connects on a personal level with those reporting the news, it builds trust. This is essential in the news business where trust in news reporting has greatly diminished over the past few decades.

According to a recent Pew poll, 66 percent of people in 2011 believe news stories are often inaccurate; this is up from around 52 percent a few years ago and almost double the mistrust felt in 1985 when only 34 percent of people felt stories were often inaccurate. As faith in the media has waned, it is essential that news organizations seek to develop trusting relationships with their audience. Reporters’ Facebook fan pages help to establish and maintain those personal connections. With more and more people using social networks every year, it is essential for local news stations to create social media strategies and adapt them with every change so they don’t fall behind the curve.

–David Geaney

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