Michael Hardy | August 5, 2019
The internet giveth and the internet taketh away. For journalism, the transition from print to digital has been particularly rocky. Newspapers lost their classified advertisements to Craigslist, their online advertisements to Facebook and Google, and their paying subscribers to free news websites like HuffPo, Buzzfeed and the Daily Beast. Declining revenue has prompted media companies to lay off journalists in round after round of job cuts.
But for all the journalism jobs the internet killed, it also created a few novel ones, foremost among them the position of social media manager. A decade ago, no such job existed; today, it’s one of the profession’s hottest fields. A social media manager is in charge of promoting a media organization’s stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media. Every time you see a tweet from The New York Times or CNN, you’re seeing something written and posted by a social media manager.
Because it’s such a new field, most social media managers decide when, where and how often to promote stories based on instinct and a few rules of thumb. But in an industry as competitive as journalism, where every click counts, social media managers have long sought ways to optimize their posting strategy. In 2016, the social media team at a major West Coast newspaper approached Vamsi Kanuri, assistant professor of marketing, in hopes that he could deliver just such a solution.
The social media managers had good reason to trust Kanuri. For his doctoral dissertation at the University of Missouri, Kanuri had developed an algorithm that optimized online subscription revenue for the same West Coast newspaper. In the months after the newspaper implemented the algorithm, its revenue shot up by more than $1 million. News of his success spread across the paper, attracting the interest of the social media team. Could Kanuri develop another algorithm to optimize the paper’s promotional efforts?
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