WSJ’s Heron Seeks Expanded Audience Through Social Media

This post is part of the Social Media Editor Series, featuring interviews with social media editors from news organizations about what they do and where they see social media in journalism going.

The business world might still be dominated by men but the “world’s leading business publication” doesn’t only want to speak to them. Social Media Editor Liz Heron is trying to broaden The Wall Street Journal‘s readership with content that appeals to a younger, female audience.

That’s a tall order for WSJ, whose audience is predominantly male (82 percent), with an average age of 57. For comparison’s sake, The New York Times, where Heron left her social media position last spring, claims an equal male-female readership with an average age of 51.

“For any print newspaper, we’ve all been looking to find readers and subscribers,” Heron told The Content Strategist. “We’re taking advantage of communities like Pinterest that happen to have a lot of women as an opportunity to highlight our lesser-known coverage.”

One way to reach a broader audience is by showcasing broader viewpoints. In August, WSJ launched Worldstream, which plays video on a wide variety of topics from a wide variety of locations. The social team collaborate on it with Mark Scheffler’s mobile video unit.

The video platform, Heron says, is a way for WSJ to use its journalists from around the world. “It brings readers along with us, where they can’t go,” said Heron, who graduated from Oberlin College, where she focused on Latin American studies.

Already Worldstream has brought WSJ readers on a number of adventures, from the Senkaku Islands to see the dispute between China and Japan, to the streets of Bagdhad for knockoff fastfood. The video stream is one of the broadsheet’s wide variety of social media efforts, which are handled by the six fulltime journalists who comprise WSJ’s social media team.

The team employs social media strategies that are tailored to each platform. For example, to post to Twitter, WSJ uses Socialflow. It can measure audience interest in a certain topic and release tweets — written earlier by the social media team — accordingly.

The strategy for Facebook, on the other hand, is more image-driven.

“Facebook is more of a personal network  it has a lower tolerance for realtime coverage,” Heron, 34, said. “It’s easier to grasp something visual when you’re grazing through your social media news feed. It’s also easier to share with friends: ‘Look at this graph. It will tell you everything you need to know about the Facebook IPO.'”

Heron, said she discovered the true power of social media in 2009, when she was working in her hometown of Washington, DC at The Washington Post. There, at the foreign desk during the Iranian election protests, she worked with a reporter in Iran who couldn’t leave his apartment. From the US she worked with him to find information through YouTube and Twitter.

“It’s like having eyes in different places,” Heron said. “It really woke me up to the possibilites of social media.”

Heron contributed to WSJ’s streaming multimedia and social coverage of the presidential campaigns. The streaming coverage, which she called a “live blog on steroids,” combined traditional news stories, with social media, video, pictures and comments.

The social focus covered the election, but it also covered social media  when social media itself was the news. For Heron, that meant Big Bird and Clint Eastwood’s chair both shared space  and a platform  with traditional election coverage.

Journalism is changing. Perhaps the demographics of WSJ readers might too.

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