How to Make Evergreen Content Work for Your Newsroom
Track and recycle your content to save time and increase audience engagement
Last month, we learned that Nola.com | Times-Picayune was bought by The Advocate. As news organizations make transitions or close their doors, it’s important to remember that team processes and innovations can vanish, too. We’re proud that we can archive and share some best practices around evergreen content, developed by Haley Correll. —Ed.
Time: it’s the thing we need to create good journalism, and it’s the thing we never seem to have enough of.
It takes time to write a good profile. It takes time to investigate. It takes time to interview, write, edit and publish.
Yet in many newsrooms, content is published, shared, and forgotten. It lives on through Google searches and site archives, but it’s rarely actively shared again by the news organization. The initial push of homepage promotion and social media posts is the end of the content cycle.
After spending so much time working on something, doesn’t it deserve to stick around for a while? Readers, especially on social media, aren’t always going to see or have time to consume a piece of content when it’s first published, but may if it’s presented again later.
As Audience Engagement Editor at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, I’ve thought a lot about how my newsroom shares content, particularly evergreen content. Evergreen content is exactly what it sounds like: articles, videos and photo galleries that can be shared one day from now or one year from now and still be interesting. Its relevance doesn’t expire. Many profiles, features, and long-form journalism pieces fall into this category.
Re-sharing evergreen content is a good strategy to drive traffic and engagement. It requires little effort, and the payoff can be big. But surprisingly, many newsrooms don’t have a clear, organized method for doing so.
In 2017, I noticed my newsroom had a wealth of evergreen content, but we were relying mostly on memory to resurface it. For example, our entertainment team was writing great pieces around Mardi Gras. Articles like The history of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indians tradition have been relevant and popular every year, but they weren’t always getting re-shared, depending on what staff members could recall.
To help solve this problem, the social media team created a shared evergreen document, and it’s had a big impact not only on how we recycle content, but on the amount of engagement and page views we receive on social media and our website.
It’s also easily replicable for any size newsroom. All you need is a basic understanding of Excel and a staff member willing to take ownership.
Step One: Create the shared spreadsheet.
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune uses Sharepoint, so we utilized it to create a shared Excel sheet titled “Evergreen Content.” Everyone in the newsroom has access to this spreadsheet, though it’s mostly used and curated by our social media team.
You can also use Google Docs or any other platform your newsroom is comfortable with. The key is that everyone has access and can update it in real time.
Step Two: Decide what you’re tracking.
At the bottom of the document is a series of tabs that breaks up the evergreen content into categories so it’s more easily findable. A few of the tabs that have been the most helpful are:
Projects-Series: In this tab, we save links to important projects and series that we want to periodically share with our audience. For example, The Children of Central City, A Fragile State, and our 300 for 300 series are listed in this tab.
Galleries: Photo galleries of popular neighborhoods, people, and homes around New Orleans are listed.
Videos: We list feature-length videos made for big content initiatives, as well as short produced videos and video clips that performed well on social media.
Mardi Gras: Mardi Gras is arguably the biggest holiday of the year in New Orleans, so we have a wealth of content created around it. Every year, we check this tab to see what’s already been done and can be re-shared.
Food-drink: Our dining reporters and critics help us keep this tab updated with their best evergreen content. There’s an understanding that anything in this tab may only be evergreen for a year, like the annual lists of best restaurants and bars.
Holidays: This tab tracks content created around standard holidays, like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
What teams create the most evergreen content in your newsroom? Should every team have a tab, or can you use one general tab? This will differ depending on newsroom type and size. Find what works for you. You may have to make adjustments as you start filling out your spreadsheet.
Step Three: Organize.
After deciding which categories would be best for tracking, we had to come up with a way to organize the information that made the most sense for us. We knew we wanted to track the URL and headline of each piece, but that only took us so far.
There is such a thing as oversharing content. We wanted to be sure we weren’t picking the same pieces to put out again and again, so we added three columns in every tab:
Last Shared/Scheduled: The date of the last time a piece of content was shared, or when it’s next scheduled, on social media or the homepage.
Last Platform(s) shared to: The platform the content was most recently shared to. Was it only shared on Facebook, or was it shared to Twitter and Reddit, too? What about the homepage?
Notes: Did this piece of content perform well on Facebook, but tank on Twitter? Is there any information in the article that will eventually need to be updated to keep it fresh? Is this a video or photo gallery, or does it include one? This is the type of information we include in the Notes column.
Step Four: Assign ownership and find your content.
The key to a shared evergreen doc working for a newsroom is assigning someone to take ownership of it. In our newsroom, that person is a social media producer, since the social team uses the document the most. She has been responsible for updating the document each month, including adding new links, reviewing old ones, and scheduling content to go out again.
If you work in a large newsroom with a lot of content, consider tapping reporters or editors to update the document with each team’s most popular evergreen content every month.
To determine what content gets put in the shared document, our newsrooms looks at analytics in Parse.ly and Simply Measured. You could also use Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Buffer, or other platforms your newsroom may use to look at analytics.
As we’re going through reports, we look for content that either performed well in terms of page views, social media engagement, or preferably, both. When we see something that has performed well and can be classified as evergreen content, we add it to the appropriate tab in our evergreen document.
And don’t forget about YouTube. When we first started this project, we took the time to comb through our YouTube channels for evergreen videos. We discovered content that was created by staff years ago that no one remembered, but was still worth sharing, especially on social media.
The initial search for evergreen content can be time consuming. It requires staff to set aside dedicated time to look through the analytics and be thoughtful about what should be shared again. But the more time you put into this initial step, the more useful this document will become.
Step five: Track your results.
Creating a shared evergreen document gets results. Since our newsroom has implemented this strategy two years ago, we have seen a noticeable uptick in pageviews and social media engagement, particularly on nights and weekends when this type of content tends to perform best.
After our deep dive into our YouTube channels, we discovered a forgotten 2015 video clip of Matthew McConaughey expressing his love of New Orleans. We shared the video on our Facebook page, where it received 519,000 views and 6,600 shares. We were able to reach 775,000 people with a single post .
We regularly see our evergreen content appear at the top of Parse.ly or trending in Crowdtangle after it’s shared by the social team. Recently, an article that one of our environmental reporters published in May 2018 showed as overperforming in CrowdTangle after our team re-shared it on Earth Day—a full year after original publication. All we had to do was re-share a link with a relevant caption.
Homepage producers have found the evergreen document to be particularly helpful on nights and weekends, when content production slows down. If your homepage has a photo gallery or video module that needs to be updated, but there aren’t many content choices that day, evergreen content can be a good option until something newer is produced.
This strategy has also helped us increase social media engagement during months that are traditionally less active for staff and readers. In November 2018, we shared 10 Thanksgiving-related videos created in previous years to our social channels, which directly contributed to us making our social engagement goal that month. The engagement we received from those videos gave us a needed boost when we had less staff to create original content.
Take time to regularly review what’s in your document. Something may seem evergreen when you add it, but lose its relevancy over time. It’s OK to take something out of the document if it’s no longer working for your team.
Don’t schedule evergreen content too far in advance. There is also a risk of forgetting what you’ve scheduled, and something could publish on your social feeds during breaking news that will make your news organization seem tone deaf. My team schedules out one month’s worth of content at a time.
Creating a document like this initially takes time. Don’t give up. Once you start rolling, it’s easy to maintain. Just schedule an hour on the calendar once a month for maintenance. It will become part of your routine.
If you’d like a template to get started, I’ve created one for anyone to use.
Haley Correll is a storyteller and an audience builder. She has been the Audience Engagement Editor at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, Engagement Producer for The Washington Post, and Director of Editorial Engagement and Tools for American City Business Journals. Outside of journalism, she has three great loves: Her husband, her daughter and a dog named Daisy.