Social media here to stay

| Julie Pfitzinger | January 4, 2011 | 0 Comments

Facebook, Twitter, iPhone app help The Catholic Spirit reach out to new audiences

Catholic Spirit iPhone users can stay updated on the news thanks to the newspaper’s new iPhone app. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Do you “like” The Catholic Spirit in the Facebook sense of the word? If so, you are one of more than 1,100 “friends” who regularly visit The Catholic Spirit’s Facebook page.

Or maybe you are a follower of The Catholic Spirit on Twitter, joining 18,000-plus others who are watching for 140-character “tweets” several times a day from its web department and other staff members.

In this fast-paced world of expanding social media and changing technology, the staff at The Catholic Spirit is doing much more than just keeping up with the challenges — they actually seem to be enjoying it at the same time.

During a recent visit with associate publisher Bob Zyskowski and web coordinator Craig Berry, the pair enthusiastically showed off the brand new Catholic Spirit iPhone app that complements the publication’s website. The site is also adaptable for viewing on a mobile phone.

The iPhone app can also be used with the increasingly popular touchscreen iPads.

“You really can’t underestimate the significance of iPads,” said Berry. “Over 15 million have already been sold and once the price starts to come down, they will be even more appealing to consumers.”

New ways to reach out

With an award winning website (TheCatholicSpirit.com was awarded first place by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada in June) in addition to the aforementioned social media sources, Zyskowski said the publication’s goal is “to always find ways to reach out to audiences who are not likely to read the print version of The Catholic Spirit.”

According to Berry, who regularly tracks the website traffic, there is also a surprisingly large number of TheCatholicSpirit.com readers who do not even live in the archdiocese.

“About half the traffic we get is from Google, which means visitors might just happen upon our site,” he said.

Nothing causes a spike in online readership more than a little controversy, said Zyskowski, when numbers can “go through the roof.”

“On the Saturday afternoon in October when the archdiocese released its strategic plan [for parishes and schools], we had somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 web hits at 4 o’clock,” he said, adding that the site crashed very briefly about a half hour later.

Broader topics also tend to bring web visitors — anytime there is an announcement of a new bishop or when Pope Benedict is in the news, readership increases. Searches for answers to questions like, “Why do Catholics eat fish on Fridays during Lent?” also bring visitors to the site.

Putting a face on news

The Catholic Spirit Facebook page is another key element to increasing readership.

“Every Facebook person is connected to someone else,” said Zyskowski, adding that statistics show the fastest growing demographic of Facebook users is women over the age of 40.

Even with the large number of online Catholic Spirit readers, Zyskowski said there truly is “a 50/50 split” between those who regularly read the print version and the ones who exclusively read online.

“The whole idea that someday everything will just be on the web is a fallacy,” he said. “People still like holding a paper in their hands and reading it that way. If it’s sitting on the coffee table and doesn’t get looked at until Tuesday, it’s still there. It has a shelf life.”

Nevertheless, it remains vital for The Catholic Spirit to be up to speed on the changes in new media. To that end, the newspaper doubled the size of its web team two years ago — from one to two. In addition to Berry, Michael Pytleski also works in the web production department.

Although there is an extensive amount of daily upkeep required for TheCatholicSpirit.com, the Facebook page and the apps, part of Berry’s job is to be looking toward the future.

“Every two or three years, you really need to roll over your website to keep it fresh,” he said. “You want to change the look and make sure you’re keeping up with the trends.”

Looking beyond laurels

Zyskowski recalled returning to the Catholic Spirit offices last June after the Catholic Press Association convention and talking to Berry about the website award.

“The first thing he said to me was that he was already thinking about changing the website,” said Zyskowski with a laugh.

Another challenge inherent in keeping up with social media trends is to find the resources needed to do that, which leads Zyskowski to another fallacy — the fact that many people remain convinced the Internet is “free.”

“Someone still has to produce content. There is writing, video and production work that all need to be done,” he said. “The fact is, all of that will get more expensive because the demand for more content will increase.”

Berry points to another key element in the role of a publication like The Catholic Spirit, both in print and online.

“At the end of the day, it’s still about writing. I think that gets lost in the glamour of photos and videos,” he said. “You still need to have someone report the story.”

Zyskowski, who started working for a Catholic newspaper in 1973 (his first day coincided with the day Catholic News Service launched its wire service), agrees about the importance of recognizing a good story, no matter what form it takes.

“The idea of serendipity in what you read is really important,” he said. “Many times, I’ll be reading a newspaper and find a story I didn’t know I was interested in until I started reading. There are so many stories out there that give us the potential to lead richer lives.”

FRIENDS & FOLLOWERS

1,127
Catholic Spirit Facebook friends/fans as of Dec. 30.

18,125
Twitter followers @catholicspirit as of Dec. 30.

2,534
E-newsletter subscribers. Sign up HERE.

7
Number of Catholic Spirit blogs. Topics include book reviews, the outdoors, science, photography and catechesis. Visit them at http://BLOGS.TheCatholicSpirit.com.

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