Forsyth's Facebook focus group
Georgia paper created a separate group for subscribers only
About 120 subscribers to the Forsyth County News in Georgia are getting more engagement with the paper via a closed Facebook group just for them.
And the paper, which circulates 7,000 copies on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, is getting valuable input into its news coverage.
"We can have a direct relationship with the people who are paying us to do this work," said Editor Brian Paglia.
The Facebook group, Forsyth County News Subscribers, has only been in existence for several months but has already made an impact on what gets covered. Paglia said he put together a poll asking members what they would like to see in the newspaper, and left it up for one day.
"We found that the No. 1 thing people would like to see us cover more was development. Forsyth County has just exploded in growth."
Forsyth County is located just north of Atlanta. "Our subscribers were right. We've gotten excellent feedback and traffic to our website on stories related to development," Paglia said.
The group is apart from the paper's regular Facebook page that has some 29,000 followers. Paglia said the idea evolved from a similar focus group created by its sister paper in Georgia, the Gainesville Times, as well as from a Poynter Institute presentation by a representative of The Dallas Morning News. Both Georgia papers are owned by Metro Market Media.
The News recruited members through a print story, as well as through posts on its regular Facebook page and emailed newsletters on various topics. "I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it grew," Paglia said.
To ensure that the group consists of subscribers only, the News set up a system of prompts. Each prospective new member is asked whether he or she is a subscriber, for how long, the reason for subscribing and what topics interest them.
When one member asked for a story about local road projects and their status, the newsroom reaction was, why not? When the article was done, Paglia posted it back to the group. "It was more of a connection to our readers," he said. "That was the No. 2 topic in that survey I talked about, transportation."
The group seems to represent a cross section of subscribers. About a dozen of them also responded to an invitation from the paper to meet at a coffee shop, where they spent two hours talking about the county, how the newspaper is put together, who they were and what they did. Another meeting is planned for September.
Paglia said he occasionally makes posts thanking the subscribers for their contributions. That's another way of keeping them engaged, he said.
For publishers who may want to set up a similar focus group, Paglia offers these suggestions:
- Have someone in the newsroom take ownership of the project.
- Create a system to confirm that the members are also subscribers.
- Market the group so readers will want to join it.
- Be consistent about posting items that are different from what appears on the regular Facebook page, so the members feel they are getting something out of their membership. Preview a new feature for the group, for example.
For more information, reach Brian Paglia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane Nicholes is a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin and is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at email@example.com.