Listening Post: North Country Silos

Everyone in media these days is looking for the magic beans that will grow their audience in social media. NPR ran an experiment in this area over the last year and reported their findings in this article at the Nieman Journalism Lab website: What kinds of local stories drive engagement? The results of an NPR Facebook experiment. They identified nine types of postings that people love to read and hear and share and talk about. The “silos” include Place Explainers, Crowd Pleasers, Curiosity Stimulators, News Explainers, Major Breaking News, Feel-Good Smilers, Topical Buzzers, Provocative Controversies, and Awe-Inspiring Visuals, according to NPR.

Being a show-me-the-numbers kind of guy, I looked over the last couple of years of traffic stats at ncpr.org to see what kinds of stories went big. All the more because we have had insane traffic this week, with Tuesday being our highest traffic day ever–until Wednesday, which beat it by a mile. And today is running pretty high, too. We must be doing something right. We put a lot of energy into nuanced explorations of the local economy, rural land development, in-depth local politics, the arts and culture of the region. So which of these drives our big traffic?

Uh-none, it seems. Our biggest story today is a Brian Mann post about Bigfoot, and whether or not he or she might be found in the Adirondacks. This fits into our “Mayan UFO Zombie Raptures” silo. Yesterday it was sex scandals surrounding the Jefferson Co. Sheriff Dept., a representative of the “Big Sleezies” silo. The day before that was coverage of a drunken river guide, whose actions led to the drowning of a client, another in our long-running series on “Criminal Idiots.” “Whack Tech” came in a close second, with Sarah Harris reporting about using your smart phone to track road kill.

Looking to the recent past, we have gotten more than our share of action in the “Acts of God” silo, with Sandy and Irene, along with earthquakes and forest fires. Then there are the “Head Exploders,” which for reasons that aren’t always obvious, make somebody well-connected absolutely crazy. A prominent right-wing Dutch commentator drove 12,000 visits via Twitter to a story on Dutch immigrant traditions in Canada. It generated many comments written in all capital letters followed by multiple exclamation points, but fortunately they were mostly in Dutch, and so unintelligible to most folks here.

We also seem to like “Animal Encounters,” particularly when there is some question as to whether the animals actually exist. Reports of cougar sightings are always good for a couple thousand page views. It’s hard to tell just what, if anything, this has to say about the North Country audience, or about social media. I guess I’ll have to file the NPR study in the “Head Scratchers” silo.

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4 Responses to “Listening Post: North Country Silos”

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  1. I must not be your average follower. None of those stories got more than a glance from me.

  2. Kate Myers says:

    Dale, I don’t think that your “silos” are as far off as you think. Bigfoot would have killed on Facebook, and Animal Encounters as well. One of the nights of the presidential debate, we at NPR were watching the live traffic competition between the debate coverage and a story about a softball sized fish eye washing up in Florida: http://n.pr/WXtfBc . From a news perspective, it can be maddening.

    One of the things that is clear from the Digital Services blog is that when we have multiple platforms to drive attention to content, and we are curating what we put into that feed, we try to post stories that will appeal to that audience. Facebook gives us data pretty directly as to which stories drive engagement and traffic from the Facebook feed. The more people who positively engage with Post A on Facebook, the more likely those people will see posts B, C, and D. What you see from the above links, are only post A.

    The Digital Services experiment is one that we at NPR at large support because it goes along with another goal that we have – for each talking dolphin story, story about animal rights with the picture of a monkey riding a dog, or Bigfoot in the Adirondacks – that means that the next great economic story, or chilling report from Kelly McEvers in Syria, gets a greater potential audience. NPR posts 10-12 times per day, and we use editor’s judgment to keep the balance between news that is appealing because it is fodder for the audience, and news that is appealing because it is exceptional news or commentary on an issue that is more serious than a Mayan/Ufo/Rapture/Zombie post.

    So we always try to work within the culture of the community, pick stories that will appeal to them, and also highlight the fantastic content that they don’t automatically know that they will like.

    Kate Myers
    NPR Social Media Team

  3. admin says:

    Hi Kate–

    I do see the same thing with our loopier stories that get a lot of play. Traffic also goes up to meatier and more thoughtful reporting at the same time. I must say, though, that I was so bleeding-from-the-ears tired of political reporting by the time of the debates, that I probably would have gone for the gigantic fish eyeball story myself. At NCPR, most of our spike traffic usually gets launched by local aggregators, whose visitors then pass it on via social media. And it’s a mistake to think that they are not our usual audience. The return visit profiles from those sources are substantially higher than our site average.

    I appreciate NPR’s effort in tracking and quantifying engagement via this experiment. It’s what led me to take a deeper look at our own numbers, and while I have a little fun with it in this post, I have no argument with its conclusions.

    Dale Hobson, NCPR

  4. Sunshine says:

    I believe what Dale discovered is what makes the North Country unique. When someone asks me what people up here are like, I have a difficult time giving a true, non-generalized description. This may be what I like about living here. It is not unlike living in the American west, home of the rugged individual. That doesn’t mean the people are tough although we mostly are. It means that one can be whatever/whomever they want to be in the west or in the north country…as only one can be in a large city where nobody pays attention to ‘weirdness’…just a holding place for the crazy, the curious, the outrageous, the conservative, the farmer, the professor, the idealists, the reactionaries, the full spectrum of humanity as long as they are mostly Anglos, mostly straight, mostly not in anyone else’s face. (And, of course, this is just a generalization.)