The New Zealand Herald now has more than 100,000 likes on its Facebook page (facebook.com/nzherald.co.nz not facebook.com/nzherald, which is currently being squatted on by a West Aucklander). The impressive feat makes NZ Herald the most popular news brand in New Zealand on the social network.
Facebook likes do not automatically indicate success. It's just a figure on the board until a news organisation utilises the audience for something greater such as content creation, ad revenue or traffic. NZ Herald's social media editor Troy Rawhiti-Forbes agrees, but says the Herald avoids the ad revenue and traffic generation route when possible.
"It's never been about driving traffic or ad revenue, instead it's about concentrating on news conversations and making our page the centre of it for our readers," he says.
"We want it if people are talking about news, they're doing so under the New Zealand Herald banner."
Rawhiti-Forbes has held the social media editor role at the NZ Herald for three years, coming in at time when the NZ Herald page had 34,000 likes. He says the Herald's Facebook page was seen as a marketing tool back then and he's been working to turn it into an editorial tool instead.
"For us it's an active forum we often use to help generate content for the paper and main news site. Every morning I sit with the editors and talk about what's been talked about online which helps inform us about what our readers think is important ... It's been invaluable," says Rawhiti-Forbes.
Newsrooms around New Zealand are facing constricting budgets along with dropping ad revenues. NZ Herald's parent company APN posted a loss of AUD$455.8 million earlier this year, across Australia and New Zealand. Asked if commercial realities means pushback from the sales team to commercialise the Herald's social media channels, Rawhiti-Forbes simply says "there have been recurring discussions".
"As long as I have my hands on it I want to steer it away from that," he says.
NZ Herald's increasing presence on social media has allowed it to explore and experiment with how it tells the news. Rawhiti-Forbes' On the Ground in Christchurch project, which saw him liveblogging from Christchurch's eastern suburbs following the 2011 earthquakes, won a Canon Media Award for best website community interaction.
" ... I’m pleased that the work was recognised because it meant that it wasn’t just the digital readers (who already [spend] so much time in social media) [who] understood what I was trying to accomplish out there. The industry understood too," he says.
NZ Herald - 100,200
Stuff.co.nz - 96,900
3 News - 64,800
One News - 18,700