Introduction to the Interview
Last month, I launched a new series here on Biznology, interviewing leaders in social media strategy. These folks are paving the way for marketing on these evolving channels. They’re also defining a new role at organizations at the same time. This month we speak with Tory Starr, Director of Social Media at WGBH.
Tory Starr has been involved in media of all sorts for most of her adult life, including working on an Academy Award-winning documentary. Her work with WGBH, the Boston-area PBS affiliate and their largest prime-time producer, includes social media consulting and support for the station’s television and radio productions. From web producer for American Experience to an editorial and social media lead on The Takeaway, she’s also coached Public Radio International journalists and WGBH employees on how to use social media in their research and reporting. Very cool work history for this young woman who is now Director of Social Media for WGBH! Let’s get to the interview, shall we?
Welcome Tory! I’ve written some highlights of your professional background above. Is there any particular project you’d like to share in more detail? Something that inspired you to move forward in the direction of social media?
My “aha” career moment happened in 2011 when I was at American Experience, working as a digital production assistant. I was heavily involved in the outreach around a fantastic program recounting the journey of the 1961 Freedom Riders, which culminated in 40 college students from around the country reliving the bus ride from Washington DC to New Orleans. At this point, American Experience was just starting to understand the power of social media, and I asked if I could use the series’ Twitter and Facebook channels as a way to document the ride. By the end of the ten-day journey, thousands were following the students’ progress through live tweets and posts. The day we rolled into New Orleans, I realized that social media was not only a promotional vehicle, but a powerful storytelling tool in itself. The next week I enrolled in a Master’s program in Journalism, as I wanted the education to approach this new storytelling platform with a strong editorial experience.
Overall, how has your education and workplace learning brought you to where you are now, a leader in social media strategy?
I think my background in documentary film and journalism gives me an unusual perspective and focus when it comes to my work. I caught on to the idea of “social journalism” early, following the work of Andy Carvin and other social-first reporters, and it’s been fascinating to watch that industry grow.
I am also fortunate that I have been able to stay at WGBH throughout my entire career, even while figuring out exactly where I fit in the media landscape. WGBH is such a powerhouse of both content and talent; people are able to move around within the building and really figure out where they fit. I always love grabbing a coffee with people from outside and showing people around the building, and seeing their eyes pop out of their head when they realize that Masterpiece and NOVA and Antiques Roadshow and Frontline and Arthur are all here. Oh, and your favorites like Julia Child and Zoom and Downton Abbey? Here, too.
I’ve also been extremely lucky to have had a set of mentors that helped me get to where I am today. My first boss, Molly Jacobs, gave me room to develop my passion for storytelling through social media; The World’s Steven Davy challenged me creatively to experiment on new platforms; and WGBH’s former Vice President of Digital, Alexis Rapo, advocated for me to move into a larger role within the Foundation.
In terms of workplace learning, frankly the learning curve starts again every day. I publish a list of social media platform changes every Friday, and that list is never shorter than eight or ten items long. I spend about an hour each morning before work going through RSS feeds and newsletters, reading up on trends and trying to understand the latest platform features and algorithm shifts. It’s an extremely fast-moving industry.
You have led years of professional development programs for WGBH employees. How have these programs changed over the years? What’s been your greatest accomplishment in this area?
Working with employees is my favorite part of the job. When I was in The World’s newsroom, I ran a weekly social media challenge that taught reporters a new skill. One week it would be location sourcing using Tweetdeck; another week it could be using LinkedIn for finding new story leads. Now, I run a biweekly meeting where social media professionals from across the building can come together informally to talk about social media trends and challenges. Recently it has been very focused on Facebook Live production techniques and tips; we’re working on a mobile production kit for teams to use.
ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
What is the unique role social media plays in the viewer/listener journey at WGBH?
The great thing about social media is how dynamic it is. The definition of social media keeps expanding as more platforms gain permanence, and the lines between social media and other distribution channels blur.
When I work with a new team, I always try to match their efforts on social media with two questions: What are your overall production goals? And: Who is your audience? There is so much nuance to both of these questions: A series might have multiple goals, such as high TV ratings and deep engagement and educational impact. And a series might also (and should!) have many audiences they want to engage, both current and in the future. The social media strategies for these teams should be completely tailored from these two questions, and questions like “what social platforms should I focus on?” will suddenly seem simple and straightforward.
IMPACT OF SOCIAL MEDIA
What sort of an impact has social media had on the WGBH organization? What kind of an impact has it had on you?
It’s been fascinating to watch the role of social media grow for all of our productions and even our internal teams. The trajectory has been one where social media went as a promotional vehicle, driving both tune-in and referrals to a website, to one where social media content is valued as an important impact opportunity in itself. That transformation has been led by teams such as Frontline, a series that long ago demonstrated a commitment to audience and has since enjoyed extreme success because of it.
My colleagues at WGBH are incredibly open minded and thoughtful about how media is changing, and are always enthusiastic to understand and adapt their approach with how new generations are shifting how (and where) they consume content. I am fiercely dedicated to public media and its mission, and to the idea that new platforms of distribution can help public media reach and impact a wider and more diverse audience.
Many thanks to Tory for sharing her amazing work at WGBH. Follow her on Twitter: @torystarr3. Now that you know about the strategist behind them, check out the WGBH social channels. If you’ve got some questions for me or for Tory, please share them in the comments below. We’ll get back to you!