We’re rounding out our last blog post in the top-of-the funnel blog series for publishers with organic social. The other pieces in this series are linked in the content below. In a few weeks we’ll circle back to this series on the marketing funnel with a focus on middle-of-funnel efforts like why you should be focusing on keeping a clean email database, how to effectively capture your visitors into your database, and how to retarget and bring back visitors who are already familiar with your brand. Stay tuned. 

For publishers, organic social has had its ups and downs (putting this lightly). The publishing industry fell victim to those damn algorithm changes and publishers have been trying to figure out how to use Facebook “properly” ever since. 

Recently, at HubSpot INBOUND, we heard Mari Smith say, “organic social posts are only reaching 1-6% of your followers.” This quote tells us two things. 1. Gone are the days when the total number of followers helped you reach your audience, and 2. You should probably be budgeting for paid social in 2020.   

Your audience development team should work in tandem with your editorial team on content SEO, your dev team on technical SEO, your ad sales department on sponsored content and digital ad sales strategy, and your social team on posting organically. The days when you could sell sponsored content by your follower count are long gone. Users, advertisers, and the algorithm favor posts with engagement, which, as you might know, takes work.  

As a publisher on the internet, you’re competing with so much noise. This blog is focused solely on social media, and not everything else on the internet you have to compete with for your audience’s attention. On social, it’s your goal need to capture your audience’s attention and their time, at least long enough to read an article. You are reaching out to your audience to take them out of a mindless scroll session where you are competing with big brand budgets behind 1-minute videos, well designed images with quippy captions, gossipy click bait, live videos, influencers (!!!), and family & friends musings… both on Facebook and Instagram.  

Let’s ground ourselves in the purpose of Facebook for publishers. Your team should be thinking about how to use social media to: 

  • Drive traffic to your website

  • Create an opportunity to engage with your audience

  • Increase brand recognition and loyalty in the market

  • Increase your search ranking by driving traffic back to your site

I’m going to say this again: Your primary goal for a majority of your posts should be to get traffic back to your website. You should be composing your article, image, or video caption with the intention that it will be shared far and wide. You can increase your own “viral reach” and “organic reach” by tagging brands, organizations, or locations you’re writing about. Chances are they’ll be happy for the “free press” and share your article. This gives you an opportunity to leverage audiences other than your own … the organic way. 

The second thing to consider when curating a social post: Engagement. The second you ask for engagement, you’ll get it. Make sure you have the staff to respond to comments. If you need to make the case for extra hands on deck to tackle this, tell your boss that you can retarget anyone that has engaged with you on social media with revenue driving ads. By increasing the engagement on your post, you’re filling the top part of your funnel and driving traffic to your site. Get the user interested in your content, engage with them so they remember you, then follow up with a paid ad with an offer tied directly to revenue. Moral of the story: When a user engages with you, engage back.

Several tried-and-true types of posts to generate engagement on social are:

  • Ask a question: “What do you think about the changes happening @Unnamed City Monument?”

  • Fill-in-the-blank statements. Posting a statement asking for a specific response such as, “My favorite memory at the @City Aquarium is ________.”

  • Ask your users to caption your photo for you. Posting a photo (or video) and asking for a funny (or relevant) caption is a great way to get user engagement. (#captionthis #photocaption) 

  • A, B, or C options. Posting a statement or photo and asking people which option they agree with. 

  • Tag a friend. “Tag someone you think deserves a night out for a chance to win a free ticket to our Best Of event to experience your city all in one night”

Don’t just copy and paste these things into your caption. Ask yourself: What is the median age of your engagers on social? What other publishers, influencers, or brands fit into that market? Post relevant things to your social media for the demographics of that specific audience. It’s not a one size fits all for all channels. And definitely don’t just copy and paste the same thing from Facebook onto Instagram. Another thing. Posting a link to your Instagram post on Twitter is just plain annoying to the user. Upload the photo, no one wants that extra step to click on a link to a different app. 

A crucial metric you should be paying attention to is post shares. Have you ever seen that part of your feed come up that says, “Natalie Paschall likes this” at the top? If your audience is sharing your posts to your friend, you’re increasing your reach but you’re also instilling brand trust in people that don’t already follow you. Read: “If Natalie Paschall likes this, and I like her, then maybe I should be paying attention to this, too.” Your goal is to get those users to engage with your post, they now fall into your Facebook engagers audience that you can use in Facebook Ads Manager, and you can target them with other things, like lead gen ads to grow your newsletter list, traffic driving ads to sponsored content, and even special offer subscription ads. Make sure you have auto-renew on your subscription pages, if you’re investing in subscription ads make sure they’ll generate revenue for more than one year.

On Instagram, there are many opportunities to reach an audience beyond your just your followers. The right post anatomy really helps you with that. Most of that is heavily weighted in the caption, but if you use the right mix of hashtags, account tags, and location tags, you can expand your reach there, too. The instagram stories of publishers can be featured on the popular #hashtag page, location page, or even explore page of both stories and feed ads. 

When I get preachy, I use the phrase “not all hashtags are created equal.” For Instagram accounts with smaller followings, avoid over-popular hashtags and use more specific hashtags that can provide more reach. Consider utilizing related hashtags. Right above the “Top” and “Recent” tab, you’ll find a list of related hashtags that you can scroll through by swiping left. This is a great way to find relevant hashtags that might be a bit more niche, and less competitive. Posts with a location generate 79% more engagement, so be sure to include that location tag, even if it just “Dallas, TX”. Oh and by the way, recent analysis shows that 9 hashtags is the magic number.

I know for city and regional pubs, pumping a bunch of money into creating images is not on the top of anyone’s priority list. Let me just say, that with the new iPhone that just released, no one can say they don’t have the tools to get a good photo or video. Invest in your people to create quality content, the machines that do that are getting cheaper over time.  

One way to get around having to invest a lot of labor into your social feed, utilize user generated content. Be courteous, ask for permission, and definitely tag the photographer/artist your featuring in the caption, after all, you’d want someone to source your publication if they used your material. Chances are they’ll at least share your brand on their stories, which is another way to increase your reach. 

You want your feed to look cohesive. Settle on a color scheme you want to highlight with your filters, choose a few filters in the same theme that you use on every photo. Boom, now your feed looks cohesive. #Flow.

An example I like to give publishers is @dallasnews on Instagram. Publishers have access to content that can be segmented for each audience. Dallas Morning News visualizes their email newsletter on Fridays for a weekly recap of stories. They have over 10,000 followers and have the ability to use the swipe up link on Instagram stories. They are able to drive traffic to specific articles from this “Instagram Newsletter” every week. Recently they added in a series on Thursdays where they link to upcoming weekend events. Do you think they’d invest in the labor required to post an Instagram story (sometimes it takes us 45 minutes to make a series of Instagram story posts!), if it wasn’t driving traffic? I love using Dallas Morning News as an example on Instagram, because it is clear their social and editorial teams are collaborating on upcoming content and series that can be utilized over time.

Organic social is a beast. It takes an investment in human ability, labor, equipment, and strategy. Your teams should be cross pollinating ideas, sharing data, exploring the insights provided by Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Everyone should have a basic understanding of the platforms, algorithm changes, and how users interact with content and where they spend most of their time. Despite the changes for publishers, organic social is still completely worth your investment. If you want to talk about how to integrate your teams and get everyone on the same page, email me at