Chicago Trib Gets Social Media Right: Increases Readership

The Chicago Tribune has assigned a social media task force to revitalize the brand and prevent the traditional paper from going extinct like so many others. The team, comprised of four people: two coordinators; one managing editor; and one social media strategist, began their work six months ago. Their first step was to develop an avatar that would represent the paper: Colonel Tribune, an old man who slightly resembles Thurston Howell – with a moustache.

Over the past six months, the Colonel has built a strong list of friends and followers on FacebookDigg, YouTubeFlickr and Twitter by sharing relevant news, listening to story ideas, news tips, and site suggestions.

Since its foray into social media, the Trib’s web site has seen increased traffic and an eight percent increase in page views, according to the paper’s Todd Andrlik.

Putting a new spin on the idea that today, your customer is a reporter, Andrlik gave an example of the social media activities: Last week, the Colonel was notified via Twitter about the Daley Center bomb threat and building evacuation. The tip was checked out by the Tribune’s Metro staff. A story went live on and ended up on page three of the Metro section the following day.

I applaud the Trib for not going quietly into that dark night and recognizing that we are living a new world where business moves at the speed of information and that information moves online.

The brilliance of this campaign is that unlike other news outlets who simply slap an RSS feed on aggregates and micro-blogs, creating nothing more than one-way information dissemination, these folks recognized the need for a two-way conversation with their audience. They understood that social media requires the “social” part. They’ve created a means by which Trib readers can personally interact with the brand and as you know, that’s what it’s all about.

As Bill Adee, associate managing editor for innovation and head of the Tribune’s social media task force says, “Social media also helps the Tribune to better understand its readers and stay ahead of Chicago’s emerging trends, issues and breaking news. Essentially, social media gives us a year-round, real-time focus group to monitor conversations and keep us in tune with what consumers are thinking.”

Meanwhile, The Trib is pushing for its traditional journalists to step up their social media engagements: half of the newsroom is now on Facebook and they say it’s a great way to discover hot topics and new sources.

I say, well done. Chicago Tribune; I’m signing up to follow the Colonel on Twitter right now.

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