Why community engagement editors should be driving technology innovation

By Claire Caulfield

Engagement editors are constantly asking for feedback from their audience. However Shannan Bowen, audience strategy director at the National Journal, said engagement editors often don’t think to give feedback, especially when it comes to tech companies and app designers.

“We really need to experiment with new tools and apps but also express our needs when a tool doesn’t work out,” Bowen said. Bowen sees Facebook’s new Signal product as “something that came out of journalists telling Facebook what they needed and wanted from the company.”

Signal was announced mid-September and Facebook describes it as “a free discovery and curation tool for journalists who want to source, gather, and embed newsworthy content from Facebook and Instagram, across news, culture, entertainment, sports and more — all in one place.”

Bowen said she anticipates Signal will help journalists find the topics their communities care about and introduce them to new ways people are sharing and talking about subjects. Bowen said she plans on using Signal to understand what her audience is gravitating toward and what formats her audience prefers.

Sandra Ordonez, who was Wikipedia’s first director of communications and now works with Engagement Hub, said she’s worked with many tech startups and app designers.

“Getting feedback and making small changes is all part of the process,” Ordonez said. “If the app is not working you need to say why.”

Ordonez said letting app designers and websites know your needs as soon as the app, or beta version of the app, is launched is key, especially as journalists are called to be present on any and all platforms their audience is using.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 11.45.32 AM

Screen capture of a Review-Journal Wedgies poll about transportation in Las Vegas.

Porter Haney, CEO of social polling platform Wedgies.com, said his team seeks out feedback and has partnered with organizations to meet their needs in the past.

Last year, Wedgies.com and the Las Vegas Review-Journal partnered during coverage of Nevada’s ban on Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies.

“The Review-Journal wanted to run community polling about how the constituents locally felt about legalizing Uber and Lyft,” Haney said.

However, Wedgies.com had no way to filter the poll results by location. So Haney said Wedgies.com worked very closely with the Review-Journal and built out features that allowed them to filter the results by county, allowing the newspaper to see how readers in different areas felt about the issue.

Stephanie Grimes, who was the Review-Journal audience development director at the time of the Wedgies.com partnership, said she recommends every newsroom to partner with a tech company.

At the peak of the ride-hailing debate, Grimes said the Review-Journal was running multiple stories about the issues each week. “Having that poll on the bottom of the page meant readers were engaged longer on each page,” she said.

“If we had just relied on the product we were given, we would have never gotten the end product we needed,” Grimes said. “Because the partnership was so successful for both parties, it made us want to partner with other companies to find digital tools that fit our newsroom perfectly.”

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