Q&A with Mallorie Sullivan, social media manager at The Cincinnati Enquirer

mallorie-sullivan

Mallorie Sullivan is social media manager at The Cincinnati Enquirer. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her job and offers advice to journalism students interested in careers in social media.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?

A. It really depends on the day! I was recently promoted to social media manager from being a digital news and social producer, where I would edit, publish and “pin” our stories on the website and stick them on social. While I’m still doing that on the weekend for The Enquirer/Cincinnati.com and our 10 Gannett Ohio sister sites, my role now is focused largely on social media and community engagement.

I generally begin my day by seeing what people are talking about on Facebook and Twitter, so I can get a feel of what posts I should either write or make a video for that day, or be looking out for on USA TODAY (The Enquirer is part of the USA TODAY Network) or on the wires.

Once I identify what’s trending and schedule it out on Facebook, I generally check out Chartbeat, one of our analytics tools, to identify what’s trending locally on social to see if there’s anything we missed from the day before that we can bring out on Facebook or if there’s anything that is doing well on Facebook that can be brought out on other social platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, for an extra boost. This routine often goes in cycles throughout the day, with daily local content added into the mix on top of trending topics.

In terms of community engagement, I am largely responsible for answering messages from readers – think subscription problems, story tips – on The Enquirer’s branded social accounts and making sure they’re happy and taken care of. When I’m not taking care of the branded accounts, I’m tending to our Facebook community groups, of which we have several for the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. That largely consists of accepting or denying member requests, keeping or deleting reported posts within those groups, and keeping the peace among members.

Q. There’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, among others. What’s your favorite platform on social media?

A. Because I’m a journalist, my favorite social media both for personal and for work use is Twitter. It’s the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I look at before I go to bed.

Twitter is where I consume most news. While I subscribe to and receive news alerts for The Enquirer, USA TODAY, The Washington Post and The New York Times, I admittedly go to Twitter first and scroll through my timeline because it’s easier for me to get a gist of what’s trending so I know immediately what I need to have on deck for our social media that day. I also find following a variety of publications and journalists is a good way not only to get a mix of news but to maintain a semblance of objectivity in a space where you can so easily be seen as biased based on what you’re retweeting, what you’re liking and who you’re following.

Twitter is my favorite to use at work because our audience there is younger, so we’re able to be a little cheekier than we would be on Facebook, where our audience skews a little older. I also use it to test different social chatter with a story to see the reactions I receive — if something doesn’t do that well, then I’ll try it again with another nugget of information in the story. If something does well, I’ll consider expanding upon it and using it for Facebook. It’s a nice little laboratory for all of my creative ideas.

And, while it was already a favorite of mine for personal use, Instagram has become something of a creative outlet for me since the debut of Stories. The Enquirer’s Instagram is run entirely by our photo staff, who has helped build quite a following there showcasing their work.

Now that we have Stories, me and my boss, Katie Vogel, and a few others are testing out how best to use that space to supplement coverage for both breaking news and general interest stories. For example, the other day we broke a story about an umpire filing a racial discrimination suit against Major League Baseball. I put together a few slides on Canva with the basics while it was pulling good numbers on social, and if people wanted to read it, they were able to swipe up on the last slide to read the whole story. The next day, I put together a Story on how to best take photos of fireworks without a fancy camera, and if readers wanted to know specifics, they could swipe up.

Q. On occasion, Cincinnati makes national news. Examples include the death of Harambe the gorilla in 2016 and the president’s visit earlier this year. How does being in the spotlight affect how the Enquirer covers a story?

A. It’s actually really interesting how often Cincinnati finds itself in the middle of news! Despite our size, it sometimes feels like any national news story can be tied back to us any given week on any given beat.

This happened most recently with the release and subsequent death of Otto Warmbier, the college student who spent 17 months imprisoned North Korea who also happened to be from a small suburb of Cincinnati. It also occurred on a different scale during the congressional baseball practice shooting, when Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Cincinnati administered first aid to Rep. Steve Scalise. It also happened in sports, when FC Cincinnati, our USL soccer team, beat the Chicago Fire from MLS on national television. And of course it happened with Harambe, with the trial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing and with presidential visits.

Because this happens quite often, we’re pretty well-adjusted to working under the spotlight and, while we may enlist more people to work different angles of a story, we don’t stray too far from how we typically approach a news story. We have the ability to amplify our work through the USA TODAY Network, and do what we can to tell the story from start to finish. We’re small but very mighty!

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students interested in careers in social media?

A. Diversify your skill set and stay curious! There are so many things I never learned in college because I was either too intimidated by them (shooting and editing video and photos) or they just didn’t exist in my college classes (how to read analytics, for example).

In order to work with social media, you’re going to want to know how to make quick social video (it’s actually really fun!), you’re going to want to know how to take decent photos, you’re going to want to know how to code — even basic HTML/CSS skills are fine — and, even though you’re trying to get away from it by going into journalism, you’re going to want to know basic math and statistics. It helps out a lot when trying to analyze month-over-month and year-over-year analytics to determine audience growth.

Writing up trending social stories may also be part of your job, so don’t let yourself get rusty with your AP style, headline writing or writing in general.

Another thing I recommend, simple as it may sound: Allow yourself to unplug. For a few hours, for a day, for a week. A lot of us already spend so much time on our smartphones, that when we work in journalism — and with social media, especially — it makes it so hard to unplug because we don’t want to miss a thing that happens on the internet.

Go on a run, spend time with your significant other sans smartphone, take up baking. Just don’t allow yourself to be the person who’s always “on,” because an unhealthy relationship with your work can put a strain on the relationship you have with your friends, with your significant other and with yourself.

The last thing I can’t stress enough to journalism students, regardless of whether you want to go into social media: Take as many internships as you can. I took three in the span of a year, and I learned so much more than I ever did in the classroom just by being out in the field, asking a bunch of questions and doing more than what was expected of me.

Doing so allows you to build upon the skills you’ve already learned; to make mistakes and learn how to bounce back from them; to absorb some of the shell shock that comes with the long, unpredictable hours and the weekends in the middle of the week, and to rub elbows with the best in the business so you have recommendations when applying for jobs down the road.

Follow Mallorie Sullivan on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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