By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Alexandra Nicholson, who handled corporate communications for USA Today. She was writing to tell me that she had been moved over to a newly created Digital Marketing team at USA Today as the manager, social media strategist. She works with Brian Dresher, Manager, Social Media and Digital Partnerships.
This move, said Nicholson, is part of a larger development of social media efforts for USA Today. You can see some of the team’s work at the USA Today Media Lounge blog. Nicholson discussed the development of the social media team and what we can expect to see from them moving forward.
NABJDigital: Why did USA Today decide to create a social media team?
Alexandra Nicholson: USA Today has been active in social media for some time. Our efforts have extended from Facebook and Twitter, to news sharing sites and beyond. This recent announcement just takes what was already being done and gives it new structure and a more clearly defined team with individual roles. Brian Dresher, in his former role of Online Marketing Manager, has been critical to USA Today’s social media efforts already. And in my past role as communications manager, I was seeing the importance of using social media in getting out the corporate message.
ND: How many people are on the team?
AN: Brian Dresher and I are focused primarily on social media, reporting to Wendy Matney, the Director of Online Marketing. However, this position reaches into multiple parts of company, working with several people who touch social media and digital initiatives on the editorial and business side.
ND: What has the company charged you do to?
AN: Brian Dresher is responsible for social media training and will focus on off-site social media initiatives and strategic digital partnerships, cultivating new partnerships and leveraging existing relationships across the company. I am focused on research and development, strategy, social media as a public relations platform and on site efforts, working closely with editorial to integrate social media on-site and leverage social media for their off-site initiatives. We’re also increasing our presence at events to reflect the need to tell our story, engage with other thought leaders, and create new opportunities.
ND: You mentioned that USA Today is looking to work with others on digital or social media projects. How would that work? Give an example of a project that could be done?
AN: I think the best example is a deal we made with Fark.com at the end of last year. This was actually a deal that came about over beers last year at South By Southwest [event]. USAToday.com’s Tech section became the exclusive host and sponsor of the Geek page on Fark.com.
The page is available at fark.usatoday.com. The partnership offered signature features from USAToday.com on the Geek page, including: USA Today Tech section header with USAToday.com navigation; Top News, offering the latest in technology news; and Talking Tech, regular videos from USA Today Tech Reporters Ed Baig and Jefferson Graham. As part of the arrangement USA Today manages advertising placements on the Geek page, extending USA Today’s online impressions to marketers and advertising clients.
We’ve seen wonderful results in terms of traffic and it’s created a new opportunity for advertisers to reach a desirable audience. We’re happy, Fark is happy, we all win.
ND: How will the team fit with the USA Today Social Media Lounge?
AN: Brian Dresher and I author the Social Media Lounge. We see it as a place to offer a look at what USA Today is doing every day through marketing, communications and social media efforts. We post tips, case studies, best practices and general feedback on social media, with an emphasis on what we have been doing in an effort to help people and organizations apply our key learning’s to their own social media programs. We also view this space as a place where we can start conversations with readers about what works best for them.
ND: How will you handle the team’s Twitter and Facebook accounts?
AN: We have been managing @USATMediaLounge for some time now and will continue to do so. Additionally Brian does a great job with @bdresher. It’s a great way to communicate directly, and quickly, with our readers and we love the conversation. Our Facebook presence is managed by a cross-departmental team of people from the business and editorial side. We will remain involved and see no immediate changes to how it is managed.
ND: Why do you think it’s important to have a social media team?
AN: It’s a growth area and as a media company we think it makes sense to put additional talent and resources behind social media. USA Today has long served as a conversation catalyst, and we’ve already seen the tangible benefits of being involved in social media We realize users increasingly turn to social networks as their primary destination for connecting with others and consuming information. For this reason, we need to be where our audience is and understand how to participate in these communities, so that when they go to a news site, USA Today can remain a top of mind news brand.