The following is a guest post from Thomas Celona, digital content director at Montgomery Media, a group of 14 Digital First Media publications that cover Montgomery and Bucks counties.
As the digital content director for Montgomery Media, I often find myself encouraging my team to take advantage of all the new storytelling tools we have. It’s easy to fall back on simply using pen and paper to report a story instead of using all the digital tools we have at our fingertips.
With our recent ’24 Hours in Ambler’ project, we took that emphasis on using digital tools to a whole new level. We recorded 24 hours in one of our local communities with no pens, no paper — only social media tools.
The idea for this project came from two members of our staff who did a similar project, but in a very different form, more than a decade ago. Cary Beavers and Scott Roman spent 24 hours straight, out in the community in an effort to capture what the town was like and what went on while everyone was asleep. Given the print-only platform at the time, the project manifested itself into a very lengthy print piece that published after the fact. I decided to take this concept and update it with the digital tools we now have, making it more engaging and open to the community.
The project coincided with the 125th anniversary of Ambler, Penn., one of the main communities we cover. I struggled with how we should recognize the town’s anniversary, not wanting to do another typical story on the history everyone already knows. So we thought, “What better way to celebrate a community and capture what defines it than by spending an entire day there?”
With that, 24 Hours in Ambler was born, and five of our staff members decided to spend an entire day out in the streets of Ambler, using any and all social media tools we had to document a day in the life of the community.
How we did it
Before we started the project, we designed T-shirts that we wore throughout the 24 Hours, promoting the project and encouraging people who saw us to get involved via Twitter.
From there, we spent the next 24 hours interviewing residents and shop owners, spending time with people out at restaurants, watching the employees at the local doughnut shop make the first batch at 4 a.m. and wrapping up the day with Ambler’s annual Oktoberfest celebration.
We covered everything through the hashtag #24hrsinAmbler:
We pulled it all together through a ScribbleLive blog on our website (which allowed readers to join the conversation through the hashtag).
We also published:
- This embeddable widget of all the Touts
- This Google map pin-pointing all the places we visited in town
- This “Faces of Ambler” photo gallery on our Facebook page
- And a RebelMouse page that includes everything
What did the project achieve?
The 24 Hours in Ambler project was definitely a success for us as a news team, as it got us all thinking differently about how we tackle assignments and how we can integrate these digital tools into our daily workflow. But perhaps the biggest success of the project came in terms of community engagement.
By the end of the 24 hours, people were coming up to us, recognizing our T-shirts and telling us they’d been following along online and on Facebook. We’ve had tremendous response from the local business organization and our readers. And the numbers show it, as well. Our Facebook engagement increased by 554.8 percent from the previous week, while during that 24 hours, we saw a 76 percent increase in visits to the website from social sites, as Facebook drove readers to the website.
So, while spending 24 hours out of the office and exploring our community was a big step out of our norm — and it required a lot of coffee and napping to recover from — it helped push our staff into a digital storytelling mindset and helped create an even stronger connection with our readers and the community we cover.
Let’s talk about this
What are some other non-traditional ways we can cover town and event anniversaries? What are some other digital tools that could come in handy? Share your ideas and suggestions in the comments.