By Nicolas Kuster

Katy Wade is the new community media specialist at Montana Public Radio. She’s a 2019 graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism. Her radio station has 2,806 followers on Instagram, 18,500 followers on Twitter, and 13,432 likes on Facebook. Wade’s “Big Why” podcast is one of the featured elements of the Montana Public Radio social media page.

UM student Nicolas Kuster interviewed Wade over Zoom about her work and her approach to social media. Below is a transcript of their conversation, edited slightly for brevity.

Q: What is the most fun part of your job? What do you do on a daily basis?

A: So, the most fun part of my job is that every day looks kind of different. I work on a lot of little projects but mostly I’ve been working with our news team and our development team to kind of bring in new listeners. And kind of see which listeners we’re talking to and which listeners we aren’t talking to and how to get those people more engaged with the station.

So, that can look like doing some social media work. That can also look like starting a podcast. I helped start a listener engagement podcast called “The Big Why,” and I have also been working on different ways to get sponsorship to kind of help bring in some more money to get those listeners.

Q: What is your biggest and smallest demographic?

A: It’s kind of hard to get a record of who we are listened to most, but I do think we have quite a lot of older listeners. We’ve got quite a variety of listeners as well, which is cool. But we did do a source audit where we looked at everybody over a 3-month period from last summer that we use as the source in a story and kind of broke down the demographics of that. It seems like the people that we talked to the most are older and more white and everything else is pretty matched with the Montana census. It does seem like people we were kind of missing out on, our smallest demographic that we were missing, were younger voices and rural places. So, people in Montana who live kind of off-the-grid, or, you know, not in big cities.

Q: What demographics did you look at in the study?

A: We looked at race, gender. We looked at level of education, level of expertise. We looked at age range and we looked at where they were located, so if they were located in kind of a big city.

Q: How do you hold people’s attention in this social media world?

A: That’s kind of why we started up this new podcast called “The Big Why,” and basically, it’s a listener engagement podcast where anybody from anywhere can write in any Q and we’re going to answer it for them. So, that’s kind of the way we’re trying to make our stories more listener-focused so that they’ll engage better. We’re kind of thinking that if we report on the stuff that they want us to report on that’ll increase the engagement as well, and we’ve been using a lot of social media posts that are discussion-based, instead of telling you about something, to get people to engage with us.

Q: Is there stuff that you wouldn’t post on your website that you would post on social media or vice versa?

A: That’s a good question. Yeah, there is some stuff that we post on social media that wouldn’t go onto the webpage. Like, last week we had our pledge drive which was where we’re kind of fundraising for the station, and I took some videos from behind the scenes … That was just kind of fun background stuff that people who follow our social media can feel a part of the behind the scenes but that wouldn’t get posted to our meeting pages.

Q: What social media platform do you guys use most often?

A: I think that Twitter is our most frequent because it’s easiest to post stories there and then it probably goes to Facebook and then Instagram, although Facebook and Instagram kind of compete a little bit but we put different content on each platform. Twitter is usually news stories, Instagram is usually more of our production stuff, and then Facebook can be a little bit of everything.

Q: How often do you post a day?

A: I work 8 hours a day pretty much, but I probably spend only an hour or two a day on social media stuff.

Q: What is your favorite subject to cover?

A: I think that my favorite genre is fun stuff that makes people smile, instead of stuff that is kind of heavy or political stuff. I think that I tend to lean towards fun stuff like “The Big Why,” but that’s just my own personal wants.

Q: What is your favorite platform and why?

A: That’s a good question. I think that I like Instagram. I like photos because I think that people engage with photos better than tweets. I think that tweets can kind of get lost in the mix.

Q: How does MTPR stay current?

A: We do a lot of discussion posts, so for example next week is Public Radio Music Day on next Wednesday and so leading up to that we’re going to do a couple of posts on social media that are music Qs, that are starting a discussion so that we can get people talking. That’s kind of one way that we do that.

Q: What are common misconceptions about social media?

A: Some common misconceptions I’ve seen are that we only do news, or we only do radio, or we only do this or that, and we do a little bit of everything so that’s kind of cool. And I don’t think a lot of people know what my title exactly means yet, so there’s a lot of misconceptions about what I’m doing at the station because I’ll say I’m the community engagement specialist, and they’ll be like “What does that mean?”, and I’m like “I don’t even really know myself yet.” We’re still kind of figuring it out but that’s also the best part of my job is that we can figure it out.

Q: How would you regulate social media as a news organization if you were in charge of that since it’s a new thing? Or how does MTPR do that?

A: Since MTPR is public radio, we regulate social media a little differently than most news organizations. We have a digital director (Josh Burnham) who posts most of our social media. He posts almost daily on Twitter, and every couple of days on Instagram and Facebook. He has free range on our social media as our digital director, whereas me (and a couple other staff members who help post) usually check stuff off with him before we go ahead and post it. We post hard news stories most often, but we also post arts and culture and general MTPR content as well. We don’t really regulate who can comment, but if there are any particularly nasty comments, we will delete them. We do like to start discussions though, so we’ll try to post minorly controversial things sometimes just to get people talking as that brings up our engagement.

Nicolas Kuster is a student in the UM School of Journalism’s Social Media and Engagement class, which conducted Q&As this semester with journalists as part of a research project on best practices for journalists on social media. See more of the Q&As here.

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