How Guatemala’s Prensa Libre makes the most of its social media strategy

“Social platforms are not the end goal, they are the channels to help fulfill your strategy. Be clear about that,” says 
Doménica Velásquez Navas, editorial director at Prensa Libre in Guatemala.

by Simone Flueckiger | March 19, 2018

Velásquez’s career at the news publisher, which is among the country’s most circulated, has spanned more than two decades. She became editorial director last year, making her the first woman to hold that position.

In this role, she is responsible for newsroom operations, multi-platform content, and the professional growth of Prensa Libre’s journalists.

Given her experience in managing external platforms and her unique position as Prensa Libre’s first female editorial director, she tells us about gender diversity within the newsroom, shares some insight into how they handled Facebook’s Explore Feed experiment, which wreaked havoc with news organisations’ traffic in six countries, and dishes out a healthy dose of advice on working with platforms.

WAN-IFRA: You’re Prensa Libre’s first female editorial director. How would you characterise the state of gender representation in your newsroom?

Doménica Velásquez: It is very balanced in the decision-making positions of the Editorial Board, but there is still room for growth at the level of journalists in the different beats.

Out of the total number of people directly related to editorial decisions and team management, 50 percent are men and 50 percent are women.

At the moment, all the management positions for specific audiences, such as National, Sports, Lifestyle or Community, are directed by very capable women. Promotions are based on the capacity and capability of each candidate, whether you are a man or a woman.

At the level of journalists, designers, graphic designers, photographers and others, there is still room for improvement. Here, close to 20 percent are women, but we expect that to grow according to the capacities and new skills that are necessary in the newsroom, especially those that are related to engaging with the audiences.

How would you describe Prensa Libre’s approach to social media platforms, Facebook in particular?

Our Facebook content distribution strategy is designed to generate traffic, to listen to the audience and to generate interaction with our content. Depending on schedules, the content may vary between news, analysis or entertainment.

On all social platforms, we maintain the objective of staying connected with the audience and to get to know them better through content distribution and the way they consume it.

At every step, we keep in mind the unique characteristics of each social platform. For example, our strategy on Twitter, where we have 1.1 million followers, differs from the one on Facebook where we have 2.97 millIon likes. On other platforms, we are getting to know the audience, especially on those that are used more by young people.

On channels like YouTube, we know that many of our more than 120,000 subscribers are based outside of Guatemala, and we want serve them with relevant information they are interested in.

Guatemala was one of the six countries in which Facebook launched the Explore Feed experiment. How did this affect engagement and traffic, and how did the situation evolve? What measures did you take to address it?

October 17th was the day that Facebook implemented the Explore function. Immediately, the effect was a drastic fall in traffic: to Prensa Libre it fell by approximately 30 percent.

Although this seems like a lot, we believe that other media outlets in Guatemala were affected even worse.

A year and a half before that “black October,” Prensa Libre had started an intense SEO strategy, pushing direct traffic, simply because we always believed that the day would arrive when Facebook would control the community. And it did.

Prensa Libre does not believe in clickbait, so the effect of the experiment was lower than for some media organisations that had become addicted to generating traffic with sensational content.

In Guatemala, some publishers paid for their posts during those days, because the fall in traffic would have been too dramatic otherwise.

Even though traffic and unique users fell, we began to notice that the quality of traffic improved. By that I mean that KPIs such as loyal users, engagement time, page views, and bounce rate improved. It was easy to explain: although Facebook generates a significant amount of traffic, sometimes the way its interface is designed affects how the audience consumes or is exposed to your content.

At the beginning of this year, we started to recover traffic because we accelerated the implementation of other ways to reach the audience, and as journalists forced ourselves to think more about how to improve engagement with our audience, one by one, and not massively as we sometimes do on Facebook.

The Facebook experiment is over. With this, traffic rises again and the other metrics fall. We have decided to keep two panels with statistics, one with Facebook and one without it, so that we never forget that the main strategy is geared towards increasing our loyal audience.

Given your experience, what advice do you have for other publishers with regards to external platforms?

  • Although it is important to form your own community on relevant external platforms, and attract them to your own brands and destinations, never bet your entire editorial and business strategy on them. Your audience who believes in you and your content is the main strategy. Social platforms should help you meet new users and learn from the way they consume your content, so take the opportunity to learn from them there, but always remember that this can be a fleeting relationship. Social platforms are not the end goal, they are the channels to help fulfill your strategy. Be clear about that.
  • You have to do your homework. Work hard on SEO, and strengthen direct traffic with other tools to bring users to your sites and your content. Newsletters, push notifications, all of that can be used for this purpose, depending on your strategy and your audience.
  • Look at your organisation without Facebook. You must know your traffic without the page views and users that Facebook generates. That will be scary, sure, but look at the other metrics. When the panel of statistics without Facebook shows you that engagement time, page views, and loyal users are superior, you’ll see that you have to build on that audience and figure out how you can grow it.
  • Do not bet on viral content without added value on Facebook. They themselves have decided to prioritise information that is relevant and important to their communities.
  • The most important thing is that Facebook has shown the media industry the power and influence it has on freedom of expression and the right to information. I think we have always known that, but now it has become clear that it is necessary to improve the audience’s information to help them make their decisions, and that anyone who wants truthful, correct and supported information looks for serious and committed media organisations and brands that respect their audience.
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