For many fans of “Good Morning America,” the stories don’t end when the broadcast is over.
Terry Hurlbutt, the show’s vice president and general manager of digital, has grown its target audience by 70 percent in less than a year through a digital expansion that delivers news and lifestyle stories across social media platforms.
Consider these four tips from the No. 1 morning show to make your own storytelling efforts come alive online—and then learn more from Hurlbutt at our Social Media Conference for PR, Marketing and Corporate Communications Conference at Disney World, on March 6-8.
1. Understand your audience.
“In the digital age, your audiences live everywhere,” Hurlbutt says. “[They’re] on different devices and on different platforms. The first step of adapting is understanding your audience.”
The majority of “Good Morning America’s” digital viewers and readers are female and use mobile devices to consumer news and information. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, along with emails, are the best way to reach them.
Though there is a crossover between fans of “Good Morning America’s” broadcast show and its social media profiles, the way a single viewer interacts with a story can look entirely different, depending on the channel.
The most literal example is the anchor desk. On broadcast, the anchor desk is a signal that someone you trust is going to bring you the news. On social [media] and on mobile, however, you are scrolling through content that feels very intimate and immediate—pictures of your family and your friends. The literal anchor desk in this context doesn’t fit that more intimate environment; instead, we need to think about how we bring the user immediately into the story as though they were experiencing pictures and video from their friends. The goal is to find ways to tell our stories in a context and format that makes sense for their viewing environment.
Your online audience makeup and preferences might look similar or could be completely different. What matters is understanding who they are and where they reside, so you can build an effective social media storytelling strategy.
… [D]evelop a thoughtful and purposeful strategy about how and where you want to connect with your audiences. Since you can’t be everywhere, you need to pick the platforms that are the best match between where your audience spends their days and how you want to tell your story.
A successful social media storytelling strategy not only takes into account your audience and their preferences, but it also considers the platform and general behaviors on it.
“Fit your story to your medium, so that you can best connect with your audiences,” Hurlbutt advises.
For example, Hurlbutt says if you’re “going all in” with Instagram Stories, think about how your images and videos look in a vertical format from the beginning—don’t just edit after to make your content fit. Also remember that many mobile-first consumers won’t have the volume on their devices on, so stories must translate visually or include text to get the messages across.
“Brands that are authentic truly understand and respect how their audiences are interacting with their content and keep their customer’s story needs first,” Hurlbutt says.
2. Keep pace by putting your audience first.
“One of our jobs at GMA Digital and as journalists is to help our audiences make sense of noise,” Hurlbutt says.
As the digital media landscape becomes increasingly more crowded with messages, helping audiences navigate the noise is a task that falls to many communicators, whether you’re a member of the news media or a brand journalist.
It’s important to stay current with news and digital media trends. Doing so can enable you to add additional facts or expert opinions to a journalist’s story—which benefits both the publication’s readers as well as your executive. Staying on top of hot trends can also help you better craft content that garners clicks, as well as pitch interesting and timely trend stories to journalists and internal partners.
It’s not a task that’s without challenges, however.
Hurlbutt says it’s a challenge to stay on top of what’s happening on a global scale while also relaying the key facts to viewers and readers. It also takes an effort to find the stories your online audience cares about the most.
“On digital platforms, we can usually tell more stories and cover a range of issues that matter to our digital audiences,” Hurlbutt says.
Though you might focus on different stories online vs. in print or through a live broadcast, the basic tenements of storytelling are paramount—and you would do well to don a reporter’s cap as you craft and publish your content.
No matter the stories you tell, placing your audience first will help you select the content which can net you the most traffic and engagement. Performing your due diligence as a storyteller and communicator can build trust with consumers and help you avoid the pitfalls of fake news.
At our core, our storytelling doesn’t change – we report on the facts of the story and we try and help audiences make sense of everything going on. That said, our mission is to do that in a way that responsibly keeps people current in the 24/7 pace of news.
… We need to be fast, but always right. We need to find ways to add nuance and context when we know there are character limits on different platforms. We need to find ways to break through the noise while we maintain our audiences’ trust. It requires us to be innovative, to iterate, and to experiment, while always keeping the facts and our audience at the center.
3. Use social media platforms’ features to highlight your stories.
When deciding which digital platforms to use and what types of content to publish think about how each piece ties with your organization’s core brand.
For “Good Morning America,” that identity is “information you can use and inspirational lifestyle stories.”
“Everything we do, from picking graphics packages to greenlighting new series to building our daily story run-down, centers around the core brand ethos,” Hurlbutt says. “What changes is how we execute on those stories.” She elaborates: “Adding more platforms to the mix just increases the stories we can tell.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that every social media platform will be a great fit for your organization’s brand or stories, but keeping your brand identity front-and-center can help you ask how different platforms’ features and tools can add something special to engage audiences.
Those features could include hosting Q&A sessions on Facebook, tweeting polls on Twitter to solicit opinions and reactions, or using stickers on Instagram to further connect and entertain.
“[W]e can take advantage of digital technology to tell those stories differently or interact with our audiences directly,” Hurlbutt says. “In each case, we are finding ways to take elements unique to digital to add to our stories, which in turn promotes engagement.”
4. Be proactive and creative.
Just as PR pros must be driven to pitch journalists as soon as (or before) news breaks, communicators working with social media storytelling must be ahead of the game as well.
“We are really proactive across ABC News in pitching ideas on how we can partner on stories,” Hurlbutt says.
Those ideas include Instagram Stories that complement a broadcasted segment, Q&A with “Good Morning America” guests for the show’s website and social media feeds, and editing a broadcast package to optimize it for a specific social media platform.
No matter the effort, Hurlbutt says the takeaway to remember is: “Showing is better than telling.”
The more proactive and creative you are with using your organization’s existing content or creating new content to highlight existing stories, the better chance you stand to grab internal partners’ attention and forge working relationships that are mutually beneficial. As your success grows, you stand to gain a seat at the decision-making table and can have a hand in storytelling efforts that span departments.Don’t forget to show how your proactive efforts further boost the bottom line, either. Come to partner and executive meetings armed with data and analytics that can show your digital content is helping to reach important goals and objectives.
“By showing our organization that we can and will help expand a story and reach more audiences, we are finding new ways to get involved in all aspects of the storytelling process,” Hurlbutt says.
You can learn more from Hurlbutt at Ragan’s Social Media Conference for PR, Marketing and Corporate Communications Conference at Disney World, on March 6-8. She will present a fireside keynote address to close the event.