Behind the Scenes: Social Media at Vox.com
Vox.com is the first publication that I solely consume via social media. I had been following Ezra Klein on Facebook when he launched Vox.com in the spring of 2014, and I soon read at least three or four of their articles a day. Then, this summer I realized that I didn’t know what Vox.com’s homepage looked like.
All the articles I read are pre-selected for me by some obscure social media team that I imagined to be a small army of minions sitting in front of their computers. Turns out, I was wrong: Vox.com’s engagement team isn’t manned by an army of yellow-skinned banana-lovers, but instead consists of (only) three women: Director of Programming, Allison Rockey, Audience Engagement Manager, Agnes Mazur, and Social Media Manager, Lauren Katz.
To find out more about Vox.com’s social media strategy, I talked on the phone with Katz, who has been with the online news site for almost a year, after working in similar positions at NPR and Google Glass.
“It’s really, really great that everybody here is in a social first mindset.”
On a normal day, Katz spends half of her time posting on various social media platforms and the other half working with writers to make sure that their content is more sharable.
“A thing I love about my job at Vox is just how closely the editorial and the social team work together,” the Brandeis-alumna explained.
“Social is part of the conversation” — on the small scale when Katz helps writers to make sure their headlines are the best they can be, and on the larger scale when she meets with other departments to plan for debate or award-show coverage.
“It’s really, really great that everybody here is in a social first mindset,” Katz said. “ It just makes everyone’s job easier.” The native Massachusettsan atributes this to the fact that Vox.com is a pure online publication. “That is the huge difference between working at NPR and Vox Media,” she said.
“People on Facebook really like to talk about Facebook.”
Vox.com has a social media account on Facebook (409,512 likes in October), Twitter (299,128 followers), Instagram (9,171 followers), LinkedIn (2,757 followers) and Tumblr. They also just joined the new “The List App.”
Generally, most of Vox.com’s articles are shared on all of these accounts, but for Katz it’s all about knowing how to share content for that specific platform.
“If we have something that has a lot of great photos, I will definitely wanna share that on Tumblr and Instagram,” Katz explained.
She also makes gifs out of Vox-produced videos to put on Tumblr, or searches for great quotes that she can turn into memes to promote an article.
Katz uses the same conversational voice that has become Vox.com’s trademark for all of the social media posts. What changes according to each platform is the length of a post.
For Instagram a teaser has to be longer, because the picture or graphic might not make sense by itself without extra context. On Facebook the headline and a promo-text will automatically show up with the link, so you can give the same information with fewer words (as shown below).
Vox.com gets most of its social traffic from Facebook, but it always depends on what kind of a news situation it is. “If it’s breaking news, Twitter is definitely where everybody goes,” Katz said.
The social media manager also made another observation: “People on Facebook really like to talk about Facebook.”
Every time there is news about the Silicon Valley company — like the new reaction button — Katz makes sure to post it on Facebook first, because the audience there appreciates it the most.
“There have been so many job opportunities for social positions that just didn’t exist before.”
According to Katz, I am not the only person who comes to Vox.com solely through social media channels, but their homepage still performs well traffic-wise.
Nevertheless, social is becoming increasingly important — not just for Vox.com, but for the whole industry.
“I think you can see that by how many job opportunities there have been in the past couple of years for engagement teams and social positions that just didn’t exist before,” Katz said.
The 24 year old initially started out in journalism. She studied it at Brandeis University and had some internships, including one at Hot English Magazine, an educational magazine published in Spain.
Then, at the beginning of last year, Katz applied for an internship at NPR doing social media and from there, she “never looked back.”
“Journalism is such a bubble.”
While Katz has found her calling as a social media manager, she finds her journalism experience invaluable for her current work.
“You need to have a really good editorial background to do social media in the news,” she said.
A social media editor needs clear and concise writing and good copy editing skills, as well as an immediate understanding of what makes a good story. With the amount of copy she writes daily, she feels that it’s also important to have a journalistic ethics background.
But it’s not only experience outside of social media that Katz finds invaluable, it’s also experience outside of media.
Brandeis only offered a minor in journalism, so Katz majored in sociology. “I think it really helps to have worked outside of journalism,” the social media manager said. “Because sometimes it feels like journalism is such a bubble, and you forget what the average consumer of news is.”
“News is always happening.”
Vox.com doesn’t have a round-the-clock social media team, so Katz schedules tweets for the night and for the weekend. Of course, the news doesn’t always follow that pattern.
Katz gave the Amtrak train derailment as an example for a breaking news story that happened in the middle of the night. She logged in from her phone at home and started posting.
“The most stressful part of my job is probably that news is always happening,” Katz said towards the end of our phone call. “So for social you want to look like you are always there, and that basically never stops.”