The Philadelphia Inquirer is a daily newspaper that provides essential journalism for the diverse communities of the Philadelphia region. The Inquirer produces journalism that changes lives and leads to lasting reforms. Its platforms — including Inquirer.com, social media, newsletters, and live events — reach a growing audience of more than 10 million people a month.
At The Inquirer, I focus on audience strategy and engagement through our social media accounts. I’m looking at meeting our audience where they are. This is essentially everywhere that isn’t our website, inquirer.com. My job is to help grow our outreach and our audience by talking to groups that we have historically underrepresented in our coverage — especially Black Philadelphians, but also people of color overall, women, and the LGBTQ community.
Using audience strategy and experimentation to create feedback loops
Questions I think about every day for every piece of journalism The Inquirer publishes are: Who is this written for? Who is affected by this event or situation? And what are the impacts people might see in the Philly region? These answers help shape my decisions on what to post to which of our social accounts and when. I use metrics, like shares and social traffic referrals, as data points to help support these decisions and prove or disprove hypotheses.
We have different types of audiences across our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. Knowing who might be most invested in or especially affected by a news event, or the results of an investigation, can tell me where my time and skills are best spent in sharing this information. And narrowing in on the audience that is most invested in the topic at hand means we are likely to get more engagement overall — and more productive and useful engagement too.
Here’s a look at how I adjusted our strategy on Instagram to better reach Philadelphians:
Starting in 2020, I prioritized posting our important pandemic updates to Instagram as well as Twitter. Historically, our Instagram account featured less hard and breaking news, but our Instagram followers are mostly people who live and work in Philadelphia. (As a regional newspaper, we also have plenty of followers outside of the city across our different accounts.) So I hypothesized that our Instagram followers would be especially invested in any updates on restrictions and case counts in their city.
And I was right. Posts that share our very local, high-impact stories get the most consistent engagement for us on Instagram — including likes, shares, views, and productive comments that actually engage with the topic at hand. Many of these comments have helped inform our coverage of the pandemic in Philly, too.
By delivering impactful information to a specific audience, we’re able to begin a cycle of reader feedback and engagement that continues back into our journalism and editorial processes. I am constantly passing back questions from readers to reporters and editors, and they can then write stories that better speak to the audiences they are trying to serve. Readers can then see that we are covering issues that matter to them and affect them directly, so they know they can come to us for help when they need it too. And on and on this cycle goes.
Building trust through audience listening and engagement
I help build trust in the communities we cover every day by making audience strategy decisions like the one outlined in the section above — but the other half of this feedback loop is listening to the audience outside of reactions to a recent story.
Here’s a very poignant example of the kind of impact local news can have when journalists listen to the audience regularly:
In 2021, I found a DM on our Instagram account from Cheryl Edwards, a woman who was born in Philly but had been abandoned as a baby. She was ready to tell her story and reached out to us on Instagram in the hopes that someone would see her message. I did, because I consistently scan through our DMs and comments to stay on top of what our audience is talking about.
I passed her message to reporter Stephanie Farr, who profiles Philadelphians regularly. She wrote a beautiful profile of Cheryl, which was featured in The Inquirer Morning Newsletter. Cheryl hoped that in telling her story, she would be able to find her biological family. She did.
A newsletter reader talked to their family about the profile, which ultimately led to Cheryl meeting her birth mother. Cheryl herself also later wrote an opinion piece about that experience. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t checked our messages, or if our Instagram presence felt like anything other than speaking to and with Philadelphians — and our engagement with our newsletter readers also played a role here too.
This is the kind of impact that audience listening can have if it’s done regularly, and there’s newsroom buy-in from reporters and editors.
Here’s an example of a callout project that I pitched and led in partnership with the video team:
In 2021, the newsroom decided to create a collection of stories across desks that reflected on being “One Year In” to the pandemic. As a part of this collection, I pitched a callout that would allow for residents in the Philly area to share their experiences during an isolating 2020. The video team joined this project after they saw my pitch, and the resulting video used sources from the same group of callout responses.
The ultimate goal was just to give average people a voice, so the resulting story and video are a collection of quotes from residents describing their experiences.
The second part of this project was an Inquirer Live virtual event that connected our readers to four journalists — covering city politics, health, and lifestyle — to answer questions about how to continue navigating the pandemic after a year. I moderated the conversation and helped ensure we had enough questions from the audience to work with before the event began. Though attendees could submit their questions to us directly on the website page too.
Overall, this project was meant to help comfort people in the Philadelphia region in a trying time, and the feedback on this story and live event reflected that. It was very positive, and it really did help folks feel less alone.
2020 (and 2021) were very isolating that without seeing this human element, we can forget there are many others living alone in their apartments just trying to get by. I’m glad our readers were comforted by this project. And in the end, as a Philadelphian myself, after seeing and hearing these stories, I felt a little less alone too.