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Over the past decade, the ubiquitous and overwhelming phenomenon that is social media has rocked the world of traditional journalism to its core. A reporter today who isn’t on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat is something of a dinosaur.

Catherine Badalamente knows better than most about just how profound the changes have been. She’s spent the last six years as the vice president of Digital Media at Graham Media. The company operates seven award-winning television stations and associated online media hubs in Houston, Detroit, San Antonio, Jacksonville (FL) and Orlando. It has been recognized within the industry as a news leader in digital media and technology development.

Badalamente has worked hard to embrace new, interactive technologies in an effort to make Graham Media a prime resource for the local communities it serves. With year-to-year growth of 29% in daily average users over the past five months, it seems that hard work is paying off.

Using Social to Get People off of Social — and onto Graham Media

Badalamente admits that social media engagement is a key piece of the puzzle for Graham Media — but it’s not the only piece. Rather than the final goal, Badalamente sees social media engagement as a tool to drive readers to the company’s own platforms.

“We can’t control our content on social media,” says Badalamente. She explains that tech giants like Facebook or Instagram can change their algorithms on a whim. Media companies, like Graham Media, optimize content to get maximum exposure considering the social network’s algorithms, and when something changes, the content may not be seen by as many viewers.

“It can be dangerous to put too much energy into platforms that make decisions about how our content is exposed,” says Badalamente. “Instead, we’re using social media to direct users back to us.”

An Interactive Plan in Action

Graham Media’s KPRC Channel 2 in Houston recently put this strategy into action while covering the story of missing four-year-old Maleah Davis. A KPRC reporter used a Viafoura live question-and-answer widget to ask the public for questions about the case, and then answered those questions in real time.

“I followed it live from Detroit, and it was so compelling because the audience asked amazing questions,” says Badalamente. The network then advertised through social media that the questions and answers would be reported that night on the evening news.

“It was real and interactive,” Badalamente added.

And most importantly, it directed viewership back to Graham Media’s own platform — the evening news. It’s one part of a larger strategy that Badalamente says is responsible for the 34% increase in digital revenue Graham Media experienced in 2018.

Created by an Algorithm, Driven by the Community

Making the news interactive is another key component of Badalamente’s plan to make Graham Media the first place its communities turn to for hyperlocal coverage — before social media.

“People aren’t satisfied with simply consuming the news,” says Badalamente. “They have an expectation that they will be contributing to the conversation.”

To create a venue for these conversations, Badalamente is targeting what she describes as “communities of interest.” A community of interest could be a geographical location like a neighbourhood, or a local hero – Aretha Franklin in Detroit, for example – or even a simply hobby like fishing. Graham Media uses a specially-designed aggregation tool that monitors internet traffic for topics that are of interest to the local community served by a particular television station.

When the tool finds a topic that is generating traffic in a particular community, it automatically generates a page on the relevant station’s website. It then gathers content on that subject both from within Graham Media’s platforms and from the internet at large and fills the auto-generated page with the latest relevant news on that topic.

The specialized aggregation tool has only been running for a year, but Badalamente is already seeing results. Graham Media app downloads increased by 19.6% over the past month to 131,254 downloads, and auto-generated pages have begun popping up in the networks’ most-viewed sections.

“No one is lifting a finger,” says Badalamente. “It’s very exciting.”

Now that the system is in place, it’s time to take the next step. Graham Media will search for local individuals who are heavily invested in a particular community of interest, and will make them facilitators who can help organize and share a page’s content.

“How can we build a passionate, invested audience?” Asks Badalamente. “By becoming a gateway to information for the community.”

With Badalamente at the helm, Graham Media is doing just that. The user base is growing, and with it, the company’s bottom line – year-to-year revenue is up 39%.

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