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Social Innovator Series: Kirsten O’Brien

In our Social Innovators series, we highlight leaders who use data and creativity to build world-class social marketing organizations. Let’s meet Kirsten O’Brien.

Kirsten O'Brien HS
Kirsten O’Brien Homepage Editor,

Kirsten O’Brien serves as the homepage editor for, which is part of one of the world’s largest diversified communications companies, The Hearst Corp. In addition to ensuring the homepage is up-to-date with the latest news, O’Brien also writes and manages content for all social media channels. has a readership of more than 4 million and is responsible for delivering local, national, and global news in a timely manner. O’Brien mentioned that while people still do visit their homepage, is putting a heavier focus on their Facebook and Twitter strategies to meet people in the channels where they consume news.

More People Get News From Social Media

An increasing number of people consume news through social media, and often their first exposure to news is through social channels. Two-thirds (67%) of Americans report that they get at least some of their news on social media – with two in ten doing so often, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

As a news source, is under even higher pressure to make sure the content they share is both timely and relevant to their audience. This brings up the question to which social channels are best suited to meet these demands.

O’Brien said Twitter and Facebook have historically been their two most-used social channels, and are used strategically for specific types of content and news. Twitter, for instance, has high click-through rates for sports-related news and referrals to podcasts. When you visit on Twitter, you can also see a slew of unique images and odd news stories, with multiple tweets being shared each hour. Twitter

Facebook, on the other hand, is the network they use to maintain a constant stream of shared content throughout each day. O’Brien said that the key to successful content, despite which channel it’s shared on, is to localize content and make it meaningful for the audience. Facebook

For example, a news story in Houston might not be relevant for those living in Seattle, unless the story is told in a way that resonates with the Seattle audience through images, new headlines, or additional information.

“The trick is to look for patterns and determine which types of stories do well on each network and which format drives the most engagement and interaction.”

~Kirsten O’Brien

O’Brien is also excited to experiment more with Instagram—specifically Stories. With the new ability to embed links within stories, Instagram has been an effective way for to tease content and increase referral rates with fun clips and captions. Instagram

With various social channels now integrated into their social strategy, O’Brien said that changes the way they define success for each of their social channels.

“There’s a lot of conversation around which metrics matter most—is reaching a larger audience more important than engagement and high numbers of comments and interactions? Right now, we are focused on growing our footprint, so we look for week-over-week growth on all platforms and then try our best to produce content that engages our readers and urges them to share. Shared content shows your audience trusts you.”

O’Brien is very determined to establish as a trustworthy news source, and is focusing on building that trust through engagement with her audience.

“I recognize the importance of speaking back to your readers—especially in news, where I feel communication can be very top down as if we’re going to tell you what should be important to you and what you should focus on for the day. Our readers have a lot to say, and it’s important for us to respond when we can, not only to humanize our brand a bit, but just to make those connections more meaningful.”

For, having a strong presence on social is a way to continuously build readership. Social media, according to O’Brien, evens the playing field between competitors because everyone’s content is going out to the same place, and likely reaching the same people. Only the strongest content will survive on social, but a stronger social presence will drive more people to your site and increase readership, says O’Brien.

Interested in learning more from our social innovators? Jeremy Bertrand, Digital Strategist for the Washington State Department of Transportation, provides some actionable tips for digital marketers looking to take their strategies to the next level.

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Bryan Blackburn

Bryan is the Content Marketing Manager at Simply Measured. He spoils his dog, is a fitness fanatic, and loves research and writing.

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