From the FieldInvestigative Reports

Social media campaign gets new eyes on our work

By July 13, 2011March 29th, 2021No Comments

On June 13th, InvestigateWest launched its first major social media campaign associated with a story. The story, “Breathing Uneasy – The Air Pollution Crisis in South Seattle” was a joint effort by IW’s Robert McClure and Jenny Cunningham of KCTS-9. IW’s objective was to get the story to readers and viewers through social media channels, in addition to publication and broadcast with media partners, which also included Here’s a rundown of what we learned.

Much like a more traditional advertising campaign, the effectiveness of a social media campaign is measured by the extent to which organization goals are met.

However, because the campaign for “BreathingUneasy” was not intended to sell a product or gain customers, we look at success a little differently than does traditional business. When evaluating the success of a story campaign, we exchange measures such as unit sales and new customers for metrics like website traffic, connections/followers on social networks, responses to our messages and content, and whether the audience shares the content within their network. An added dimension is whether the report motivates civic participation.

A challenge for InvestigateWest, a nonprofit investigative center based in Seattle, is that most audiences viewed the report on partner sites, for which we do not closely monitor web traffic.  We have reports from our partners indicating that traffic for the story online and on air was high in comparison to other stories on those sites. However, for purposes of this report, we are closely examining the data from InvestigateWest’s Twitter network (@invw)  as the focus of our “BreathingUneasy” campaign.

During the time of promotion (Monday, June 13 until the evening KCTS9 aired “Breathing Uneasy” on Friday, June 17), we experienced a 6 percent growth in followers on Twitter. Our Twitter messages were replied to or “retweeted” by numerous notable Twitter accounts, from journalists to non-governmental groups. Our Klout score, a measurement of online influence, increased 20.5 percent during the campaign. Network influence increased 18.4 percent. Social media influence is the ability to drive those in a network to action – a reply, a retweet, comment, or click-through. Services such as Klout consider variables such as audience reach, probability of amplification, and prominence in social networks. The service Twitalyzer gave @invw an Impact Score of 2.5%, higher than 82.3 percent of the Twitter community. Impact Score uses criteria like number of followers, update frequency, references on Twitter, and number and frequency of retweets.

This data gives some insight into @invw’s position within the Twitter community, and the extent to which we were able to engage the audience around the “Breathing Uneasy” package. Clearly, some things went well.

Identifying key influencers and target audiences. From subjects in the report to editors at news organizations, much effort went to determining who might be interested in this story, and how to put it on their radar.

Strategic outreach. After identifying target audiences and their character, they were notified of the report publication through a combination of email, telephone, Twitter @ mentions and direct messages. Message timing was scheduled to increase the likelihood that audiences would be receptive to the message and remember to tune in to the broadcast on Friday night. A Nieman Journalism Lab article “TweetLate, emailearly, anddontforgetaboutSaturday” offered helpful advice such as sending emails earlier in the day, repeating important tweets, and rather than fighting for an audience during high “chatter” morning hours, waiting until the afternoon or weekend when it is quieter on Twitter.

Structuring effective messages. Squeezing the subject of a the report, acknowledging the parties involved, referencing relevant #tags (hashtags), and directing the message to target audiences is a lot for 140 characters. But most messages managed to cover all those bases. Some examples:

○     Breathing Uneasy: Air #Pollution Crisis in South #Seattle — story by @invw & @KCTS9 @PortofSeattle

○     @RMcClureIW @invw on @KCTS9 at 7 p.m. re: risks of #air #toxins in #pugetsound & @PortofSeattle attempt to reform

Of course, there is room for improvement, and I have noted these areas I would like to address in future campaigns.

Who did we forget? Were there influencers or #tags that we would have done well to include in our outreach? Were those that we reached out too the most advantageous for our purpose of spreading the report?

Using a common trackable link. There are many URL shortening services available, and some such as Bitly come with the added feature of being able to return metrics of those that clicked on it. I did not think to establish a common link for the team, nor instruct them how to override any automatic URL manipulation that might occur.

Where to direct traffic? A question for any organization working in partnership with other organizations. InvestigateWest, for example, develops content sometimes in partnerships with other news organizations, as in this case, and sometimes for distribution to other news organizations, and always for publication on its own site as well. Should messages lead audiences to the articles hosted at Or should it direct to an introduction to the report? Or in this case, perhaps to the KCTS 9 hosted video? Or perhaps a notice of the upcoming broadcast? Or perhaps a combination. We chose a combination of the articles hosted on and partner sites, as well as the video hosted by KCTS 9.

Real-time conversation. Social media, in particular Twitter, allows conversation in near real-time. Creating a #tag conversation space is a great way to encourage audiences to engage with a subject even more. This is something that Meghann Farnsworth did effectively for CaliforniaWatch’s “On Shaky Ground” feature. The conversation space was made distinct and recognizable by the tag “#quakeready,” but encouraged diverse audience participation with tags such as #earthquake, #water, and #emergency.

Establish concrete goals and key performance indicators. While not as clear cut as “selling X number of products,” we would do well to set goals and key performance indicators for outreach, page visits, community and conversation generation.

Based upon the metrics collected and team perceptions, social media can be advantageous to InvestigateWest. The campaign for “BreathingUneasy” was a great opportunity for the team to experiment with social media technology and learn how to improve the use of digital conversation to engage audiences.  We attribute the strong traffic and positive feedback our content drew on partnering sites in part to our social media campaign for “Breathing Uneasy.”

By reaching out to audiences and cultivating conversation with relevant social media accounts, we helped spread the word about an important public health issue – urban air pollution, solutions for better breathing and an upcoming public meeting —  contained in our report. This information can encourage civic participation, instigate change, and even save lives. But in order for any of this to take place, the report must be seen and shared. Social media proved to be an effective means of connecting audiences and a great way to have our report seen and shared by news consumers, leaders, decision makers and community members.

Leave a Reply