Insights on Social Media from John Conway

Insights on Social Media from John Conway

Social Media has changed everything about the news business, but John Conway knows how to keep up. He shared his strategies in a recent presentation to UNC Journalism students.

John Conway has had a long career in digital media. Since graduating from UNC in 1985, he’s worked on the front lines of a changing industry.

“Social media has really changed the way we approach information, how it’s available to them, who is in control of it. It is a really big shift,” Conway said.

Conway has seen these changes in real time, and has had to adapt alongside the rest of the industry. He helped WRAL establish their first website in 1966, and continues to work for the station as their OnLine service manager. Part of his job is trying to capture attention in an increasingly crowded environment.

“People’s time is our biggest competitor in media,” he said. “There are only 24 hours in a day and no one can get any more than that. We spend a good chunk of that time sleeping or working. We really limited amount of free time where we can do the things we want. I’m always battling with Spotify or Facebook, anyone else who takes your time.”

One of the ways Conway hopes to capture the attention of consumers is to expand into alternative formats. In particular, Conway finds podcasts promising.

“I have to figure out ways to get your attention and podcast really hit on that,” he said. “It allows for you multitask, you can walk the dog, make dinner while listening to a podcast. It’s a really good medium where I get a lot of value in a fairly short amount of time”

In the constant battle for consumer attention spans, analytics are key to keeping up. “We’re overlaying analytics on pretty much every piece of content on the site,” he said. “These cues help us understand how to get people to click our stories. We use Chart Beat [a software tool] that tracks every piece of content. If we can get someone to look at a story for 3 to 4 minutes they are most likely to come back to our site.”

Ultimately, Conway knows that the news business is not done changing yet, and it’s going to take a lot of different skillsets to keep up. “As media changes and grows we need people who can take videos and pictures to combine video packages,” he said. “We need people who follow deadlines, knowledge of AP style, and understanding grammar and punctuation.”

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