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WAFB-TV Among First Local Newsrooms with Messenger Subscription Strategy

Local newsrooms around the country are quickly coming online with Messenger subscription services for their communities. Powered by Social News Desk, this first-ever Messenger technology is made specifically for newsrooms and allows journalists to reach the audience directly, via subscriptions and push alerts. Gray Television station WAFB was among the very first to try it. Here’s Digital Content Producer, Mykal Vincent’s first-hand account of WAFB’s experience with the new Facebook Messenger technology – built by Social News Desk.

GUEST BLOG: My Take on Messenger

By Mykal Vincent, WAFB Digital Content Producer

The SND messenger experience is essentially a bot that engages a user when they send your brand’s Facebook page a direct message. The bot guides the user through a series of prompts and instructions to subscribe to one or more content topics. Daily, the bot will send the desired digests to subscribers through Facebook messenger.

As a member of SND’s Test Drive Team, I was selected to test and provide feedback for a new feature Social News Desk has been developing; a Facebook messenger experience. I was hooked the moment Savannah and the SND team showed me the demonstration. I’m not much of a gambling man, but I’d be willing to bet there are some certified geniuses working behind the scenes there. I wanted my hands in this tech.

I work for a local news station now, but I have a background in website development and graphic design. As part of SND’s Test Drive Team, I was presented an opportunity to influence the backend, the coding, and the user interface. I felt like my unique knowledge of coding and design, coupled with my daily workflow as a digital content news producer would lend a useful hand.

First impressions

At first glance, it was the shiniest new toy I’d gotten since I was a child. Simply knowing that I was looking at something only limited number of eyes could see, and that I was going to be able to use a new feature that wasn’t available to the public gave me heart eyes and a sense of responsibility. I puffed my chest out, pulled open my email, and wrote a letter to my boss.

“I’m going to be working on something BIG,” I penned.

I wanted the news department and the sales department in on this. Ever since I set foot in our newsroom, I noticed that we were drastically behind the ball as far as social media content creation and distribution. Our strategies were (and still are) dated compared to industry-leading content creators and influencers.

This feature was our chance to get in on the ground floor of an emerging platform – direct messaging.

Immediately, I sat down my department heads and our digital sales team to let them know about the new feature.

I’d seen it been done before. I have used a similar service, Cleo, to check my bank account and monitor my budget. I wanted to let my entire station know how big of a deal it was to be developing this feature for our station. Our competitors weren’t there. This would be a homerun win for us. Free push alerts just for linking SND with our RSS feeds.

I’m surprised SND wasn’t charging us an arm AND a leg for the amount of traffic we will undoubtedly be funneling to our website through this feature.

But direct messaging meant one thing for this digital content nerd; notifications.

The Coveted Lock Screen

According to Apple, I spend an average of 4.5 hours a day staring at my cell phone screen. I pick my phone up over 100 times a day and see 60+ notifications come across my lock screen.

One major part of my job is making sure that my station’s content is several of those notifications throughout a day. Traditionally, we do that by sending push alerts through our news app. These can be breaking news, weather, and traffic alerts, to name a few. We strive to be on that lock screen early and often.

The SND messenger feature was going to give us an automated opportunity to be even more present on our viewers’ lock screens and in their DMs.

Keyword: AUTOMATED.

Effort vs. Reward

I stress to my superiors and my coworkers the importance of balancing the amount of effort we’re putting into pieces of content versus the reward we get out of it. How hard are we working on a story or a graphic and what are we going to get in return? Are we putting enough effort into sponsored content and into developing potentially sponsorable content? How much time are our producers spending on projects and why?

This automated Facebook bot was going to give us huge upside for little to no effort. Using RSS feeds to automatically distribute our content to users without even having to write a Facebook post or a tweet was a win-win in my book. Sign me up for more content on more lock screens for no additional effort outside of setting it up.

Sign. Me. Up.

Launch Day

I set up some topics, plugged in some default responses, flipped the switch from red to green and watched our bot, aptly named Rosie, take over our direct messages.

It wasn’t pretty at first. We deliberated before we made it live. The digests sent out of order, at random, and sometimes not at all. Bumps which were somewhat expected because – after all – we were part of the beta test.

Despite that, an unexpected upside to this Facebook messenger bot was noticeable as soon as we turned it on. The bot helped filter out some of the most common questions our social media producers have to field on a daily basis. Now, telling a user to send in their news tips to our newsroom email address happened instantaneously the moment they contacted us. The social media team could focus on replying to the more complicated requests. It was immediately improving our productivity.

But there was work to be done, still, and the Test Drive Team was undaunted.

Feedback & Feedback & Feedback

To be completely fair, I couldn’t see what other test drivers were suggesting to the team. I could only see correspondence between myself and the developers at SND, so I’m not exactly sure how frequently other test drivers were making their hotlines bling.

For the first month or so, looking back at my emails, I rarely went more than 2-3 days without ringing up Social News Desk with something else for them to put on their radar.

Even when I felt like I was bogging the team down with suggestions; anything from the color of a border on iOS in dark mode, to pointing out bugs I noticed while exhausting the features, the team responded quickly. The bugs were identified and remedied. I’m telling you; geniuses.

It’s Aliiiiiive!

I remember the first day all of our digests sent out in order and on time. I celebrated! High fives all around. A few weeks into it and I was elated seeing the digests come across my lock screen every day at the pre-determined times. Thanks to this feature, our brand could wrap around a trio of stories, or a weather event and be present on that coveted lock screen.

One of our goals throughout the day is to have our lead stories on air mirror our top stories on our website and the stories we post to social media. If you watched our Noon, 5:00 or 6:00 show, you should be able to find the story you just watched on a digital platform. This new feature was helping us expand that vision to our viewers’ Facebook inboxes.

Success on all fronts.

In Conclusion

Since our launch in early November, we’ve had nearly 250 people subscribe to over 300 content topics. That’s an extra 250 people receiving our web stories in a personal message at least once a day, every day. This feature will give us a new demographic to look at, a new user base to target, and plenty of opportunity to strategize what gets sent to those inboxes.

Overall, I’m thrilled with new feature, and pleased to be a part of the team developing it. I’m especially excited for the potential of a breaking news element that will allow us to fast track the latest breaking stories directly to our subscribers.

The best part about it all? Bypassing the news feed algorithm! No longer will our reach and potential engagement be dependent on Facebook’s mysterious criteria. You want to read our stories? Subscribe and you shall. You think it’d be that easy for the 300,000+ people who like our Facebook page, but I digress. Thanks to the geniuses at SND, news feed algorithms are a thing of the past!

Once again, hats off to the team – er, our team? – at Social News Desk for developing such a useful tool. I don’t envision us ever turning this feature off moving forward. I can’t wait to see what those geniuses are cooking up next and I hope I get the opportunity to test that feature, too.

This preceding post is a guest blog written by Mykal Vincent, WAFB Digital Content Producer. And no, we didn’t ask him to call us geniuses. But we’ll take it. Thanks Mykal! 😉

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Savannah Cokeroft

Head of Client Success
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