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NPR identifies story types that drive local engagement

by: Amy Gahran |

Today NPR Digital Services published the results of a study to gauge which kinds of local stories drive online engagement. The results, and the way NPR conducted this research, can be instructive for any community publisher.

For this research, NPR Digital gauged for three months (July-September 2012) traffic and response to geotargeted stories posted to the NPR Facebook page about six major markets: Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, and southern California. From this, they identified nine types of stories that seemed most likely to gain traction with local Facebook users in these markets:

  1. Place explainers. Stories that investigate, answer and explain local quirks, habits, paradoxes and other nuances that area dwellers know well.
  2. Crowd pleasers. Celebratory stories which capitalize on or amplify topics or events of local pride.
  3. Curiosity stimulators. Stories with compelling headlines that "capture the geeky and quirky side of a city."
  4. News explainers. Stories that dissect why or how certain local news events happened, or clarify their potential impact.
  5. Major breaking news. Such stories (such as Hurricane Sandy) don't happen often at the local level, but when they do this coverage can drive considerable traffic.
  6. Feelgood smilers. More generic happy or cute stories, such as local kids spearheading charity projects.
  7. Topical buzzers. "The story of the moment that everyone's talking about locally." This could be either a local story, or a local angle on a larger story.
  8. Provocative controversies. Hot-button topics that make locals' blood boil and that often attract heated comments.
  9. Awe-inspiring visuals. Photos or video of local wildlife, sunsets, weather, sporting achievements, and more.

How community news publishers can use this research:

As you create new stories, consider which of these categories they might fit into and see if you can play those angles up, especially in the headlines and summaries. You might also want to tag some stories according to these categories in your CMS to aid data collection and analysis.

Also, every community is unique -- so rather than simply adopt the categories NPR's research spotted, you might want to gauge the most engaging types of local stories in your community. If your venue has an active Facebook page, it's straightforward to replicate NPR's methodology to get your own data.

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Amy Gahran

Amy Gahran is a journalist, editor, trainer, entrepreneur, strategist, and media consultant based in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to writing
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