The keys to successful social media presence usually include showing some personality, being conversational, and having at least a hint of a sense of humor. So how does a newspaper, whose content does not normally lend itself to the above, join in?
They create a mascot.
Bring in The Chicago Tribune’s @ColonelTribune, the humanized (or at least, cartoon-ized) historical face of the prominent media outlet. Below, we break down what makes the Colonel such a Twitter star, and where we think *he could do even more. (And no, fried chicken is not involved, sorry.)
*Note: though the actual identity behind the account is unknown, the character itself, is a he, so that's what we're going with.
Broadcast news has anchors; the face of the their news outlet that looks viewers in the eye when they tell a story. It's the personal touch that (ideally) earns the public's trust.
Newspapers don't have that same ability to connect, and for a while, that was fine. But as journalism moves into the social media sphere, people look for and expect that personal connection even more. @ColonelTribune is a way in which the Chicago newspaper can create that connection without the risk of their official news accounts getting too casual.
Beyond just putting an actual name and face to the paper, the Colonel is highly engaged with followers; discussing news, popping in on conversations, adding his own brand of humor to the stories, and even recommending local food places. The account actually served as a point contact for those in need of assistance during the blizzard this past February.
Ultimately, @ColonelTribune is more than just a cartoon of Robert McCormick in a paper hat; he is an engaging, Chicago character that loves nothing more than to chat about the city with the city.
I can't say much on the negative side of @ColonelTribune. I wouldn't mind seeing more interaction with official Tribune feeds and conversation starting around them. Perhaps the Colonel can start some "town hall" circles on Google +.
I love how the Colonel portrays the brand; we usually think of the print newspapers as old media. Giving a persona a digital life helps relate the paper to current new media audiences. I like his personality too, he doesn't just tweet out the headlines, he has a witty reaction, retweets and talks with fans.
I only see one opportunity being missed here: I have seen the pictures of the colonel tweet-ups of people wearing the hat and getting together offline, maybe we need to have a IRL colonel sighting! It would be fun to have a "where's the colonel contest" tasking Chicagoans to seek out the character and maybe win a subscription.
The Verdict ####
For bringing some personality and conversation to the social journalism world, we give the scotch-loving and "gentlemanly" @ColonelTribune four hashtags. We would love to see the digital side of the Tribune Company really utilize the connections the Colonel has made to further integrate the print and online world.
Jen Healy is a Global Social Media Specialist for a really big international (go figure) company on the Northside of Chicago. Her claim to social media fame involves a stint as the social media intern for the RedEye, America's Test Kitchen, the title 2011 Downtown Dash Champion and “Top 10 World's Coolest Interns.” (Yes, it's real, and it's spectacular.)
Katie Holland is a Social Media Supervisor for a really big international (different from Jen's) company out in the west suburbs of Chicago. Her claim to social media fame involves a mention in the bestseller Groundswell for a Twitter interaction in 2010, and serving as co-chair of the Social Customer Care subcommittee for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. She is also featured in Rebecca Black's video for Friday. (Okay, not really)