In this week’s Q&A, we sat down with Jodi Gersh, the Director of Social Media for Strategic Brand Marketing from USA TODAY, to learn her best practices for Social Media, Social Tools, and Product Development.

What is your role at USA Today?
My current role at the company is Director of Social for Strategic Brand Marketing for our national brands. Up until about 8-9 months ago I was Director of Social and Engagement for our local news – so basically I moved from working with all of our local journalists in Gannett [which owns USA TODAY], to working more with our larger national campaigns.
What is the makeup of your social team?
I don’t specifically have a social team, but I work with other teams – so there’s the editorial social team, which is comprised of about 6-7 people, they mostly manage the national social channels – and of course there are all the local folks that manage their own social channels. I work with our editorial staff as well as a social agency, and now I started working with our internal sales, brand marketing and branded content groups to work on when and how to post that content on social. In addition, I work with a social agency on the bigger events – like the Olympics or the Super Bowl.
What social networks do you currently publish on?
So USA TODAY is pretty much everywhere, currently we put the biggest emphasis on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat – but we are pretty much on every social channel that exists. Our most important ones are Facebook; obviously, since it has the largest audience, it has to be an important network. But we’re also putting a lot of attention into Snapchat, just in terms of trying to learn how younger audiences are using Snapchat and how they might want to engage with brands on Snapchat – which I think is somewhat of a mystery to many brands out there.
What are your business objectives for social media?
There are a few – first and foremost I think a lot of it has to do with brand awareness and engagement, so letting people know who we are, what we do, and the kind of content we have. We know that audiences are on social media, so if we want to be part of the conversation we need to be there as well. I think for a long time the industry looked at referrals, but I feel that overall reach is a more important objective because we want to be able to get our great content in front of as many people as we can. If they’re new to USA TODAY then we want to let them begin that relationship with us and see what we have. If they have known USA TODAY forever, then they are already a fan and a follower of ours so we’re just trying to put our great content – and our staff that engages with folks – on social media where the people are. I think in terms of business objectives brand awareness and reaches are my personal biggest objectives. For the business overall, since we are working with branded content and sponsored content, then there’s a certain weight put to how many people are actually reading, clicking or engaging with those stories and content – so that’s obviously important.
How are you currently measuring your objectives?
There are a lot of social media tools out there; we have a few that we work with that basically look at overall impressions, reach and engagement. We’ve got a social analytics team here that pull in data from a variety of different API’s then we sit down and look at that weekly to see how we’re growing on social media and how our engagement is doing – whether it’s increasing or decreasing. So we pretty much measure by how people are viewing and taking action on that content.
What challenges do you face?
I think if you ask any media organization they’ll have a long list that will probably always starts off with Facebook’s algorithms. I understand that Facebook is a business and that they’re also in it to make money, so the years of getting free publicity from Facebook are over. However, you worked very hard to grow your audience over the years and now you can’t even reach the people that are following you, let alone reach new people. So one of the biggest challenges I would say is trying to engage with our existing fans and followers when the technology sometimes gets in the way. So you kind of have to do the pay to play model where you are putting money behind some of your posts and growth campaigns, and I think if large businesses, especially media, are really hoping to reap the benefits of social platforms, they’re going to have to start to increase their social budgets for those networks.
What is one campaign that you are most proud of?
There are a lot of fun campaigns, and a lot of things that you internally know were really great and a lot of fun but didn’t necessarily reach the level or business goals that you wanted. I think one campaign though that everyone here can agree with was last years ‘Back to the Future’ anniversary. USA TODAY had a very prominent role in ‘Back to the Future 2’, where they are holding the paper in a bunch of scenes and it plays a very prominent role in the movie narrative. We ended up doing a huge campaign where our actual newspaper, on the day that the movie had on the paper, we changed the whole front of our paper and made it look like the one from the movie. I think we killed it on those couple days, we were trending on social and engaging with a lot of people who were saying things like “old brands still get it” and “USA TODAY realized that this is a big pop culture event.” We had a lot of fun, I was tweeting with tons of people that day trying to help them figure out how to pick up the paper or order it online because it sold out. Then we had a lot of fun with some social videos of people roaming around different cities dressed as Doc holding the paper – we just had a lot of fun with it and I would say everyone here would agree that it was definitely successful.
What social networks are you most excited to try new things with?
If you asked anyone here, everyone is going to say Snapchat; Snapchat is like the shiny object even though it’s been around for a couple years now. Everyone wants to sort of figure out the best way to work with it, but personally, I think that it’s messaging apps, Snapchat is a messaging app to an extent, but I mean things like WhatsApp, Line, WeChat and even Facebook messenger who recently opened up their API to build chat bots on the platform. I think if brands can figure out a way to not just send out headlines through these things but have a chat bot that’s a really fun and engaging way to get updated on what’s happening in the world. Research shows younger folks are interested in this one-to-one or one-to-group conversation versus just broadcasting everything out on Facebook or Twitter – so they’re heavily using chat apps. I think I saw a stat last week that chat apps have surpassed social networks in terms of that demographic. So I’m most excited to figure out how to play in that space and how USA TODAY can be fun and colorful and give snack bites of news and I think that platform would work really well for that.  
What advice do you have for other social media marketers out there?
You have to have budgets and you have to explain to your managers and executives why it isn’t going to work to just rely on free social platform use anymore. You really have to pay to play which I think is ok if you think about how these other businesses try to do it – like Facebook. We got used to using it [Facebook] for free and I think that we shouldn’t have ever really thought that anything would be free in life; we can’t just use their platforms and expect them to help us grow our businesses. It is important to think about budgets and planning between growth campaigns and promotional campaigns and the best ways to spend that money. But I also think that social media marketers need to think about experimenting more and not necessarily throw everything at a wall and see what sticks, but to pick one or two places and just try some experiments – low cost, low level effort – and just see if there are different places or ways that you want to either use new platforms or maybe break out your brand into more niche sub brands – just play around and not be afraid to fail as long as you haven’t invested millions of dollars.
What predictions do you have for the future of social media?
I think the next couple of years are going to see a lot of changes, probably five years. Every year you read the end of year predictions for the next year and they were almost always the same – video is going to be the next big thing, mobile is going to be the next big thing – and it was that for many, many years. I would laugh that you could pull out your previous years blog post on predictions and use it again because the next year was kind of the same prediction, but I think this year and probably the next couple years are going to be a little different – I think things like Facebook instant articles, Google AMP and Apple news, are new ways that the larger platforms are trying to make the experience better for the users. I think those types of native, on the platform, types of articles or products are going to grow and there’s going to be more people who are utilizing them. Whether or not it gets to a point where everything is on platform and nothing is on your own site – I don’t want to go that far. But one prediction I have is sort of that native content that exists on Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple, we’re going to see more of that, and that’s probably the future of social media.
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Posted by Sheena