Food is a big deal in New Orleans. Two years ago the Times-Picayune re-branded all their food coverage under the "where NOLA eats" umbrella - revamping their social and digital strategies in the process.
As part of that effort they created the "Where NOLA Eats" Facebook group. The group has grown rapidly to nearly 55,000 members, growing at around 500 new members a week and consisting of a largely local audience.
They thought initially about creating just a page, but in the end went with a group as they saw it had more potential. They didn't expect it to grow so rapidly though. And it's evolved into a dynamic community of highly active and engaged local foodies.
The group provides a lot of value for members because of the high engagement. No matter what their question is (as long as it's food related), they'll get all the answers they need, often within minutes.
Todd and his team also use Instagram, SEO, and Facebook live to engage readers.
The group doesn't actually drive much direct
traffic to their main site, but it gives them value in a lot of ways they didn't initially anticipate. The group became a way for Todd to test concepts. For example they could easily post a topic and see how much interest it got, or just monitor the group for member generated topics and discussions that got a lot of traction."Many stories have come from conversations we've seen in the group"
A lot of successful content on their site has essentially been repackaged from the group, and had the advantage of being pre-validated by their most enthusiastic readers. They see a hot topic on the group and know that they can do the journalism to satisfy the members.
It's also a way for Todd's team to get a lot of good tips and some of their homework done for them. For example writing a feature piece on the "best Fried Chicken in New Orleans" became a lot easier with dozens of contenders put forward by group members - including many places that weren't even on their radar.
The posts that drive the most engagement are often the most controversial. But personal posts also do very well - like when the dining team post pictures of dishes they're eating. It provides a very intimate channel for the writers to speak directly to their audience.
With a large group - moderation is key. Todd and his team enforce people staying on topic - but are quite flexible otherwise. They've been helped significantly by new moderation tools built by Facebook in recent years. "You have to demand civility. our rule is you have to be nice"
If people are consistently rude though they'll get removed - and hatefulness or threatening behaviour is an automatic ban.
Solicitation and promoting services are also off limits.
Todd and his team divide the work equally, with Todd estimating 10% of his day spent related to the group.
The group is a hot topic in NOLA - everyone in the city who's vaguely into food knows about it. Todd hears that Uber drivers regularly recommenced it to passengers and he sees it discussed in other parts of social media.
Todd's advice for other journalists and publishers who want to set up something similar:
- Make sure you have buy in from management from the start. It can take time and people need to see the value.
- Take a look at what's already in the space. Pre-existing successful groups can be hard to compete with.
- Build the group secretly before public launch. A group with existing content and posts looks more attractive to newcomers. Friends, colleagues, and enthusiastic fans can make good founding members. This will also give you some good experience running the group. Todd sees this as a key to their success.
- Have fun with it. Todd has had a lot of fun with the group, and has enjoyed having an overwhelmingly positive interaction with an engaged community.
So, are you going to build a group around your brand?
Todd devotes 10% of his day to it - which seems like a great ROI on his time.
Check out the resources below to learn more get some great tips for building your own group.
Thanks for listening and see you next time.