The head of social media at ABC News is from West Virginia. We talked with him about Twitter, journalism, marketing, and the way they all work together.
Andrew Springer could predict how this story would begin even during the interview for it. “When you sit down to write this story about me, you’ll pick out the most interesting thing we talked about to start with,” he says. “And while you’re doing that you’re thinking about how to make people curious about the rest of the story. That’s what we do as journalists—we think about how to make people curious about something so they’ll pay attention to it. And what sets us apart from people on Madison Avenue is that we need to get across important stories.” Are you hooked yet?
Springer is the senior social media editor at ABC News. He lives in New York and works in an interesting space, somewhere around the intersection of marketing and journalism—he’s concerned both with gathering news and building his company’s brand, because social media is supposed to do both.
The Fairmont native started working at ABC while he was still in journalism school at Columbia University. He got hired to work on social media at Good Morning America when a new producer took the helm there—James Goldston, now the president of ABC News—and set about reinvigorating the program, including its social media presence. “I pitched a social media plan and he liked it,” Springer says. He quickly became the first associate producer of social media at GMA and has been promoted enough times since then that, at the age of 27, his job title sounds pretty lofty. But Springer isn’t surprised by this. “When you’re young you’re a good fit for this because you don’t have this built-in idea that things always have to be one way,” he says. “You’re willing to try anything.”
The staff at ABC News is trying to accomplish a few things with social media—things that are inherently different, but complementary. On one side the goal is strictly journalistic—the team uses social media to gather information and find sources, then vets that information for reliability and uses it to improve its newscasts. To that end, Andrew came up with idea for the first “social media desk” at ABC News, which they used to gather news on social media during Hurricane Sandy. The ABC News team eventually won a Peabody Award for their coverage of that storm.
But there’s also a marketing element. “Our challenge as broadcasters is to build the brand of the show when our competition is everywhere,” Springer says. “When GMA started in 1975 there were three channels, maybe four if you got PBS. That’s no longer the case—so that’s been a seismic shift not only for our viewership but also for our business. We need to build out these brands, and if we can get you to think about Good Morning America after 9 in the morning that’s a win for us. If we can get you to think about Nightline before 9:30 p.m. that’s a win for us.”
Springer and his team at ABC News do that by engaging with the viewership regularly, often, and with personality, in ways that wouldn’t be possible without the Internet and social media. The central ABC News Twitter account, for example, responds to its followers, retweets them, and favorites their tweets. “It’s really more about community and engaging with people one on one,” Springer says. Plus, anchors are on their phones constantly, Springer says, tweeting from their own accounts.
The result is a more relatable, approachable show that viewers can really connect with—and that connection shows up in the ratings. The year Springer started developing Good Morning America’s social media strategy was the same year it overtook The Today Show as the top morning show for the first time in 16 years. That wasn’t all because of social media, of course—Goldston revamped the show in myriad ways during that period—but it’s safe to say it played a significant role. When people see their favorite morning show anchors on Twitter, quipping back and forth, they want to tune in to see what they’ll do on air. “I think what we did on social media was an extension of the GMA brand, and the GMA brand is fun and informative,” Springer says. “I think that came through and people felt a stronger connection with the show.”
@Springer talks social media, in 140 characters or less.
You can’t ignore social media. Saying that social media is ruining journalism—that’s like somebody in the 1920s saying telephones are ruining journalism.
I don’t know how essential social media is, but I do know it’s necessary. If Good Morning America didn’t have Twitter you’d be like, “What?”
There are no experts on social media. There are only people who are willing to try and people who are willing to experiment.
The real power of Twitter is that you can see what people are talking about in real time en masse. To me that’s very, very interesting.
The great thing about social media is that it’s added this whole layer of engagement and interactivity to the Internet.
Written by Shay Maunz