Tell us a little bit about @KQED. What makes you worth following?
Carly Severn: We're accessible, authoritative, inclusive, and local. I think there's a lot of power in locality that often gets overlooked with a global platform like Twitter, because you can reach people worldwide, but what I've seen in my over five years at KQED is how much meaning you can make from work that speaks to folks in a specific area, and communicates things of interest and relevance to their lives.
Any particular viral moment we might remember your work from?
Carly Severn: This question is well-timed, because if I were to say the words “BART Pony,” or #BARTPony, I think that might strike a chord with folks in the Bay Area. This all started back a couple of weeks ago, when a Twitter user saw a pony on BART, took a photograph of it, and put it on Twitter with the words “Retweet BART Pony for good luck.”
So BART Pony strikes this chord, and KQED is never going to be first with the story — that's not what we do, and that's not why we do what we do — but we knew that one of our reporters in the newsroom had tracked BART Pony down. So while everyone was talking about “Who is this BART Pony? Here's another photo of her!” we knew that our reporter, Dan Brekke, had an interview with BART Pony. We used all of these tactics, like teasing pictures, really jumping into that local mood, but it was all in the service of telling a bigger story, which is actually this really interesting issue of accessibility in public spaces. It turned out BART Pony was in training to become a service animal. It was such a delight to be able to jump into a local mood and to use that to bring people something bigger, something deeper, because we know that's what our audiences crave.
What does it mean to be a social media manager in 2019?
Carly Severn: You do absolutely everything, and you have to like doing it. You write, you strategize, you advise, you create visuals, you make video. I often think of it in terms of being multilingual — social media as different languages, the different platforms as different languages. And you can really tell among the social media managers out there who spend time learning those languages and visiting those countries, if you will.
It's really funny because sometimes the people who write the best stories or the best newsletters or the best Instagram copy or the best Facebook posts, they're not the best Tweeters, and that's fine. Everyone's good at different things. But I think that the job of a social media manager now is to try and be the best speaker of all of those languages that you possibly can be. You also have to be really unshy, I think, about attention-seeking.
How has social media changed since you started out in the industry?
Carly Severn: I set up the Twitter account and Facebook page for the very first institution I worked in, when I was in my early 20s. It was an art museum back in the UK — the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge — and I basically led their first social media efforts, back in 2010. It was such a different landscape — I really had to do the work of convincing people in the organization why they should be interested in communicating directly with audiences this way.
I really love that evolution of things — that I don't have to convince people why social media is important anymore — because that was a lot of labor in the early days of my career, and that's time that you could be spending doing amazing work in another place.
Describe your relationship with Twitter.
Carly Severn: Endless and compulsive. I'm laughing when I say that, but it's been really funny thinking about my morning rituals as I've gotten older. My morning ritual used to be reading the paper, then I graduated to checking my email, then it was looking at my Facebook feed, and then it was looking at my Instagram feed. I've really noticed, in the last year and a half or so, Twitter is the first thing — it has replaced my morning paper. It's very different, obviously, because it can often be one theme dominating and different branches of a conversation. Sometimes it gets to be a lot because it's my job, and I'm also on it personally. I am promoting, you know, the podcast that I work on and the stories that I write. I'm also a very enthusiastic lurker on #FilmTwitter, which feels like going into the world's best pub where people like to talk about movies as much as me, and I wouldn't get that experience if it wasn't for Twitter.
What's the most underrated Twitter feature?
Carly Severn: I do love a good poll. I've been thinking a lot about the spectrum of engagement and how I can often jump in at the deep end and think success in engagement with this will look like 150 thoughtful comments from the audience telling me what they think about the specific issue, and then I can take those comments and translate them into online content or acknowledge and reflect the audience back at itself. Often, that's asking a heck of a lot from an audience. Polls are a really good way to engender this softer engagement — a real gateway because you participate, you engage, and it doesn't even feel like you did anything.