Our social media strategy or the lack thereof…and why we think it is important

Matt Pierce 


I often get asked why we don’t have 30,000 followers or likes on Facebook? The reason is because I don’t care. Let me explain this to you and I hope that you’ll come to understand why I feel that way. 

For a long time I worked behind the scenes in the news business making content, producing pieces, editing storylines, managing engagement and finding sources for projects that my journalists were working on. I quickly became the “go-to” content strategist at a well-respected global news media organization and part of how I did that is I just didn’t care what everybody thought. And you can’t. 

When I first got into the news business and started working in front of the stories “image consultants” and “brand managers” started telling me that they needed a pseudonym for me to work under. I absolutely hated that. They rationalize that by promoting security, safety, privacy and anonymity. Some news reporters will use a variation of their name, others will make something up at random, and even more will put much more creative thought into their pseudonym or “stage name.” That always bothered me. For me, the image consultants always said that my name “Matt Pierce” is just too generic. That really bothered me. So they came up with “Matt Briscoe” because they felt it was more identifiable. In Britain, where I started journalism pseudonyms or stage names were common practice. I hate them. 

The first thing that you need to learn is the hardest thing to hear: Likes and follows does not mean that you are good at what you do? YOu can’t value yourself, your work, your product or your service by the amount of social media interaction that you get. I wish I had learned that sooner. Just because people “like” your work really doesn’t mean anything except that a certain demographic is looking at your content. 

You have to be able to see through this. If you came to me and said that you will give me a million followers right this very minute and I could have those one million followers forever or you would take half of my 500 of my regular followers away and I could never grow beyond that I would say give me the second option. Why? Because I am left with people who are engaging with me and not simply just “liking” and reacting to random nothingness. Engagement is genuine response—likes are just generic interactions.

The USS Lexington as seen on a cloudy day from a shoreline gazebo in Corpus Christi, Texas (Matt Pierce/Getty Images)

I also want to explain something about the algorithms on social media. Truth is that we don’t know anything about them and we are all just guessing about how they work. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter would not give us access to their algorithms because they know that we would just manipulate it. Truth is we are just all guessing about how they work and only a very small handful of internal people really understand them. That is for good reason. 

I think you may have heard of the great “adpocolypse” on YouTube recently where advertisers were abandoning YouTube because their adverts were being placed on videos that the advertisers just didn’t want to be on. The very first obligation of Facebook and other social media sites is to their advertisers and not to you and I. These services are free to us because advertisers pay for us to use them. 

The truth is that you can create content, you can post dramatically sensationalized pictures of house fires and car wrecks, you can even have conversations with important people that draw plenty of views. But it doesn’t mean that you are tricking the algorithm into thinking that you are doing something worth it’s time. It just means that you are getting seen by a lot of people at that point in time. It does not mean that you are not creating genuine, meaningful and engaging content that sparks people’s thought processes. It just means for a moment you informed them through entertainment. 

Lastly, I want to deal with trolls. We have a few well known trolls around town here in the media business. Ignore them. These people want to argue with you at all costs and object to everything that you do. They mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. Let me tell you why. 

When I was writing my first book recently I had numerous people tell me what was wrong with it. Everybody from English majors to passive readers. I ignored them and stuck to the advice of my mentor who has written countless best selling books. His interaction and criticism was always constructive and productive without being argumentative. 

Another example might be Tony Romo or Dan Marino, both great NFL quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl. They broke all kinds of records and amassed a great bit of fame and success even though they never reached the pinnacle of their careers, But despite all of their great success there was never a lack of armchair quarterbacks telling them what they were doing wrong or how the disagreement with play calling or strategy or tactics. The truth is that everybody can do anything by sitting at home—it doesn’t make them good at anything. You have to focus on your vision and stick to it. 

My point to all of this is that social media is simply a tool to help me to my job, just like my camera is my tool, just like my editing software is my tool. I don’t put a lot of stock into the worth of what we are doing here at the Southside Light into social media. I put more stock in genuine, respectful and personal feedback from people who actually matter to the conversation and who actually care about what they are reading. For me and my little group here, we are less focused on social media affirmation and more focused on delivering you the content and news that you want and that you demand from us. It really is that simple. 

Don’t let yourself become burdened with social media. It will drive you nuts. The only burden that you should carry is the weight of creating your content and telling your stories in new, creative and innovative ways. Copying and pasting other ideas are not what you should be focused on—being real and genuine are. 

I will leave you with this point. Have you ever noticed why when you travel you can always tell a TEGNA station? It is their corporate branding. The overall philosophy is to have consistency in their product and that is GREAT! But it steals the creative and innovative power away from the local talent. I’m not picking on TEGNA at all, but you can see the similarities between KIII, KVUE, KHOU and others of the same brand. Yes, some local control is given as far as content goes, but the local managers are not given exclusive creative and innovative authority to really make a local impact. You could say. The same thing about Scripps, NEXSTAR or whoever it is. That is why I believe that in the end the innovative platform content creators will end up doing better and why I don’t put a lot of focus on being like everybody else. You have to constantly evolve, constantly report and consistently deliver quality engagement. That will prevail. 

I hope this helps you understand our philosophy and why we don’t put our entire focus on social media and racking up “Likes” and followers. The truth is that you can’t survive off of somebody else’s innovation and certainly never thrive. Our social media strategy is not really a strategy at all because my little team and I are focused on reporting the story that matters. It is why we are selective, deliberate and we have the ability to be flexible in creating new ways to connect with people. Just so you know, 90% of our local content hits don’t even come from Facebook—they come from Reddit and Twitter. Just some points for you to ponder as you lay out your social media strategy and understand why we don’t focus entirely on making Facebook our platform model of choice. But then again, thank you to all of you who do like it and engage—because you are the people that really matter most.

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