WGBH team offers social media tips at SXSW

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AUSTIN, Texas — Public media professionals who work in social media took to the stage at a South by Southwest session Friday to give real-world examples of engaging with audiences while relying on small staffs and little funding.

“What is a problem sometimes is finding the resources to do more on social then the bare minimum,” said Tory Starr, social media producer for PRI’s The World. “We’re working on a shoestring budget.”

Starr led the discussion about how public TV and radio can more effectively reach audiences. Joining her were Olivia Wong, senior account executive at WGBH National Marketing; Molly Jacobs, senior producer for digital content and strategy with American Experience; and Hannah Auerbach, account executive in national marketing with PBS’s Antiques Roadshow.

The panelists advised attendees to do as much as possible to get a realistic view of their audience members and how to give them content that meets their needs and encourages engagement.

“The goal for us is to be our audience,” Jacobs said. “Not just know our audience, but be our audience.”

Sometimes viewers want content that show producers might not expect, Auerbach said, such as video of an Antiques Roadshow shoot being set up.

“People are interested in what you are doing,” she said. “We were surprised at how many people wanted to see us put up our set, which doesn’t sound that exciting. But it is, apparently.”

The panelists also warned social media staffers to think about their audiences before jumping onto news that’s breaking on Twitter and other platforms.

“It’s easy to do if something is trending — to jump on it,” American Experience’s Jacobs said. “But it is an easy trap to fall into. We’re not a news organization. So what can we bring that is new and unique?”

Antique Roadshow’s Auerbach stressed the importance of considering who social media producers are trying to reach when playing off of a trending story.

“It’s a thin line you have when something feels authentic to your audience,” she said. “But it’s also authentic to the outside audience that’s having the conversation that you’re trying to grab.”

When wading into social media, Jacobs said, it’s best to take chances and experiment to see what works.

“Just try it and don’t be afraid to fail,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

When promoting shows like Downton Abbey, Wong said, Masterpiece runs into challenges, such as trying to keep audiences engaged during the long gap between the show’s overseas and U.S. broadcasts. The U.K. broadcasts create buzz, “which is a positive thing for us,” Wong said. “But at the same time we’re trying to keep something unique and special for the fans in the U.S. so it doesn’t seem stale.”

Masterpiece works on getting content that is unique for American audiences, such as specials and interviews. The series also capitalizes on awards season when shows like Downton are in the running.

But “we don’t tweet spoilers — ever,” Wong said.