Whether you love it or love to hate it, the New York Times is the king of digital journalism for a simple reason: it’s always innovating. Beyond making “snowfall” a verb, the so-called Gray Lady has in recent months overhauled its website, introduced new revenue streams, produced a viral video based verbatim on a deposition, bought its own native ads, launched an explainer microsite, and built a suite of apps. And that’s all before last week’s release of the paper’s internal “innovation report,” which has been called “one of the key documents of this media age.”
These bells and whistles aren’t just pretty ornaments for a press release, but enlightening enhancements for the everyday user. Indeed, there’s something for every audience: the designer, the stockholder, the videographer, the advertiser, the reporter, and the reader on the go.
For the social media strategist, the paper’s most significant innovation is a tiny tactic that makes stories easier to tweet. Often overlooked, this trick ought to be standard practice on every major website today. Let’s take a look.
Last year, the Times published an article detailing the auditions of former Saturday Night Live cast members. What made this piece exceptional? Leave aside that the article broke free of the usual constraints of a multiple-column layout. Forget the embedded videos and iconic images.
From a social perspective, the most enriching embellishment was that editors had preselected and prelinked the most tweetable lines. Here’s a screen shot from the interview with actor Tracy Morgan:
See that little blue bird between the second and third sentences? For a digital marketer, this icon represents a golden new arrow in our quiver. Click it, and behold the bullseye:
Instead of your dull default text—typically [the headline] [full link]—we’re treated to a pull quote that’s been hand-tailored to the article at hand.
Two things make this pre-written tweet notable:
- The link is configured for Twitter, not Google: instead of http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/arts/television/the-god-of-snl-will-see-you-now.html, we see http://nyti.ms/17Mabu9. This is what custom URLs are for.
- The call out to Morgan uses his handle (@RealTracyMorgan), not his name. As a result, anytime someone tweets this quote, Morgan will know.
It’s attention to details like these that makes content snackable and thus sharable. Indeed, the technique is so sharable, it’s been copied by the Nieman Journalism Lab, GigaOM, Forbes, and, most recently, the Los Angeles Times. Even ProPublica, that bastion of old-school j-school values, requires its reporters to submit five possible tweets when they file a story. How many tweets do you require of your writers?
It’s no secret that people are lazy. Social media has only exacerbated this tendency. A PR pro uses this insight to his advantage. A PR pro knows that if you want readers to help you, you need to help them first. Their laziness is your opportunity.