Engagement editor Ben Dreyfuss joined the team last July to oversee our burgeoning social-media empire of more than 2 million followers. When Ben isn’t busy finding the perfect 140 characters to promote our content on Twitter, he’s uncovering internet gold before it becomes viral and vigorously defending the merits of Love Actually against untoward attacks. We sat down with Ben to talk about what sort of stories engage and inspire our social media community.
Mother Jones: What attracted you to Mother Jones and to the role of engagement editor, specifically?
Ben Dreyfuss: I came to work for Mother Jones because I wanted to work for a place that made a difference, and I really admired Clara, Monika, and Kevin. I also saw a huge opportunity to help grow our social-media presence, and in turn, reach an audience of new and diverse readers. It’s been a whirlwind, but I haven’t been disappointed.
MJ: Since you’ve been shepherding our social-media platforms, Facebook likes have increased 310 percent and Twitter followers are up 42 percent. What’s your secret?
BD: Having great content to promote certainly helps! Each day, there’s such an overabundance of shareable articles that it can be difficult to give each one its proper time in the social spotlight. At the same time, it’s important not to inundate your audience with content, especially on Facebook, and to make sure you’re giving each item you share enough room to take off. One thing about the folks here at Mother Jones is we’re a bunch of social animals. We send out morning tweet memos with all of the day’s top stories and suggested language that people can use to share them with their own followers. (Of course, I recommend that each person customizes the language some to avoid us looking overly robotic.) Having everyone have a hand in promotion really helps us spread the love for all of our stories and reach different audiences. (For example, there are nearly 250,000 Twitter followers among Clara Jeffery, Monika Bauerlein, David Corn, Kevin Drum, and Tom Philpott.)
The other thing I would say is—regardless of the specific platform—it’s important to strike a conversational tone and to write the way people talk. People will see through language that comes off as too affected, insincere, or appears to be trying to hard. It’s better to be really direct and descriptive about what you’re sharing as opposed to being pithy. Stats and quotes are great—as are images. Luckily, at Mother Jones our pieces are often accompanied by amazing visuals, charts, and graphs that really draw an audience in and make great fodder for sharing.
Building a social-media presence takes time and persistence. Develop your own social voice and have what you share reflect your own unique interests and personality. It’s also important to engage others as much as possible. I try to share great content from other news organizations when I find it. Not only does this prevent our followers from feeling like we’re shoving our stuff down their throats, but it also helps build goodwill with others, who in turn will then share our content with their followers. Engage relevant experts, organizations, celebrities, and others, with your messaging. They may not always respond, but who knows—they just might! We have quite a wide array of "celebrities" who are following us and sharing our stuff—it helps!
MJ: How would you describe the Mother Jones social voice and how do you do so much with 140 characters?
BD: Brevity is the soul of wit—or so I’m told—but the truth is our success has come from staying true to the magazine’s voice. No matter the medium, people always respond to rich content.
MJ: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Reddit: What’s the next big thing? Is MoJo getting on Snapchat?
BD: Facebook has grown to the point where it is basically an infrastructure and a public utility more so than just a website. Everyone is on Facebook. Not being on it is basically an act of protest. But it’s stale and stodgy, according to many trend pieces. Still, stale and stodgy is how people have been describing AT&T for 80 years. Twitter is fun and neat and cool and jazzy, and not many people are on it. The vast overstatement of Twitter’s importance in discussions on Twitter and among its power users is the definition of epistemic closure. Google+ is a ghost town, but Google is not going anywhere and it’s going to slowly but surely force everyone to populate it. Reddit contains myriads. It has the best of the web and the worst. Snapchat and the entire ephemeral messaging wave seem to be a wave on the verge of breaking. As Snapchat at the moment is more geared toward sharing images with personal contacts, it hasn’t made sense for us to focus there. Although, who knows where it—or we—will go. That’s what makes my job—and the internet in general—so exciting!
MJ: Are you ever offline? Imagine the internet were down for 24 hours: What would you do?
BD: If the internet were down for 24 hours, I would freak out for 24 hours straight. However, I suspect my therapist would say that it would be the most emotionally maturing 24 hours of my life.
Follow Ben on Twitter @BenDreyfuss and, of course, @MotherJones.