Tweets from the streets: how social media can benefit street papers

By Linnea Uyeno

The Roman Empire once used pigeons to carry information around. Nowadays, we use a little bird called Twitter to broadcast our news.

During the #INSP2015 summit, Cole Merkel, vendor coordinator from Portland’s Street Roots and Brooke Olson, founder of Seattlish, spoke to delegates about how street papers can take advantage of social media platforms to expand their influence.

“It’s all about inbound marketing, the idea that you are drawing people into your brand and mission,” said Cole. “At the core, all these social media platforms are moving people back into our website… and hopefully from there getting people to buy in.”

“We are not a traditional daily newspaper, but we still have really hard hitting core content that has a great following. So our social media platforms are great places to see that,” Cole added.

As an example, he recalled a story about homeless woman in Portland who was charged with third-degree theft when she plugged her cellphone charger into an outdoor electrical outlet. After Street Roots shared the news on their social media accounts, the story went viral and spread like wildfire around the U.S.. Not only was it shared and retweeted thousands of times, but it also provided kindling for some passionate discussions about homelessness.

“Anytime a vendor gets into housing, I guarantee you a photo of them holding up their house keys will get so much traction.” – Cole Merkel, Street Roots. 

“We are hitting far beyond the Portland area, and covering things that have national implications,” Cole added. “Through our reporting on our website and our social media accounts we were able to gain a lot of traction.”

Additionally, Cole offered some valuable tips to help street papers grow their online following and donating base.

“Anytime a vendor gets into housing, I guarantee you a photo of them holding up their house keys will get so much traction. Share moments of day-to-day life. Show those big and small victories. That will really bring people into your mission,” explained Cole.

“Try to get dynamic pictures of your vendors, and ways that they have been impacted to bring in more funders to your organization. Also, you are 94 percent more likely for people to open your things if you have photos. I found that I stop when I see a really compelling photo.”

Also covered was the power of hashtags to unite street paper networks. One example Cole mentioned, was which Street Roots used to link their paper with other papers internationally during the week-long INSP event.

INSP communications manager, Laura Dunlop, said there were 15.5 million timeline deliveries on Twitter of the hashtag throughout #VendorWeek.

All agreed that, in this growing digital age, it is absolutely essential that street papers harness the power of social media networks to get their message out there.

Cole wrapped up the session with a few simple pointers. Make sure to post on all your accounts, and tag your community partners. Interact with your audience by asking open ended questions (so that your posts will pop up in their newsfeed more frequently). And lastly, encourage your staff to tweet and network about your paper because that will “give you a human base”.


Get social! Follow INSP on TwitterFacebook and keep up to date with the Global Street Paper Summit by checking out #INSP2015.