Election Day Game Plan on Social Media: Share Carefully

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On Election Day, many readers of The New York Times will get their news on the website and app, known collectively as “on-platform.” But many will also learn of the latest developments “off-platform” — through The Times’s social media channels and via search engines.

Anna Dubenko, deputy audience director, helps ensure that followers of The Times on Facebook, Twitter and other channels get the latest information and the best of the newsroom’s coverage, while guiding Times journalists in understanding the needs of digital consumers. Jake Grovum, deputy editor, off-platform, helps oversee The Times’s presence on those platforms while monitoring the latest trends across social media.

Ms. Dubenko and Mr. Grovum work as part of the larger Audience team that, in addition to social and search, covers community (reader engagement), emerging platforms (like Facebook News Tab and LinkedIn) and data analysis.

In an edited interview, they talked about their plans for Election Day.

Before we dive into Election Day, what does a typical day look like for you?

JAKE GROVUM Since we’re a global, 24-hour team, the day starts in Seoul, South Korea, with our editor there, Eleanor Dunn. She and Lara Takenaga, a senior audience editor in London, oversee the social presence overnight and work closely with our international bureaus to share stories relevant to those parts of the world in those hours, as well as setting up the U.S. day: flagging early trends and stories to cover, sharing the best of our new stories that publish overnight as America wakes up, and of course, covering breaking news whenever and wherever it happens.

ANNA DUBENKO Every morning, before the 9 a.m. news meeting, a group of Audience editors puts together an overview of how we performed the day before — what the top stories were that resonated with our readers. We also look at search and social trends to try to prepare editors for where the news might go that day. Then, the social team divides the day by story line and sets out to create a social report, which consists of the stories we share over the course of the day, postings by our journalists and other content.

These days, we typically have a social editor devoted to elections, one to virus news, and then others to culture, lifestyle and enterprise, original stories not generated from news events.

Now take us to Nov. 3.

GROVUM Generally, not much happens during the day, which is a weird feeling. But as soon as poll closings approach, it can be a sprint to the finish line. But this year will be different. We’ll have twice as many people on for election night as we normally would, and we’ve increased staffing around the clock for the rest of the week.

Our general strategy is to take the best of what will be on-platform for The Times and share it off-platform. That means we’ll have editors working on capturing and sharing what our journalists are seeing on the ground across the country in addition to sharing our live results, race calls and analysis as they happen.

DUBENKO We’ll be sure to promote some counterprogramming during the day — give people something to read, watch or listen to as they wait for results. Once the results start to roll in, however, you likely won’t see much non-election news on our social feeds.

In case Election Day becomes Election Week or — shudder — Election Month, we’ve staggered our staffing. I expect this election cycle to be a marathon of news, not a sprint, and to that end, we’re spreading folks out.

What are your traffic expectations for Election Day?

DUBENKO Readers have come to rely on us for accurate, easy-to-understand results. And I anticipate that these will be a big draw from across all platforms. I think Wednesday will also be a big day, particularly if we don’t have a clear winner by Tuesday night. Our live coverage always draws a big readership, but the folks who come in to get the digest the next morning are often more numerous.

Many Americans will learn of the election results on social media. Talk about balancing speed with accuracy.

DUBENKO Speed matters on social, and if we feel confident in a call, we’ll do everything we can to get out the news quickly. Social media — particularly Twitter — can put pressure on newsrooms to get things out quickly, sometimes at the expense of accuracy. When it comes to state calls and results, everyone at The Times agrees it’s more important to be right than to be first. We’re going to approach calls very, very carefully, and be extra careful not to editorialize about what one state means for the entire election.

The key will be to provide readers on Twitter and Facebook — where emotions, editorialization and speculation run rampant — some very solid set of facts, a shared reality, I hope, by which we can interpret events. What we do on social media is a distillation of what readers get in our coverage on-site: fair and factual.

GROVUM We’re taking extra care to not narrate results as they come in — as in, talking about who’s leading or likely to win.

We’ll share results as they’re reported, but those results will emphasize the remaining vote count as well. All of those posts will be checked by colleagues in Graphics to make sure we’re comfortable with the numbers and they’re framed appropriately. As for race calls, we’ll follow the lead of senior editors leading our coverage and defer to them on judgment there.

We specifically do not get ahead of our reporting, so any posts about who’s winning, leading or won certain states or what that means in the context of the race as a whole will follow the lead of our on-platform coverage.

How much are you able to prepare in advance and how much is minute-to-minute?

GROVUM We can prepare some things in advance. Some of it is visual templates and plans: So we have premade designs that will allow us to share photography and updates from reporters around the country. We also work ahead on some framing or copy for how we’ll share results, to make sure editors are all comfortable with our characterization.

As an example, when we share graphics with the results in a given state, we’ll say something like “Here are the latest results from X race …” And that graphic will include a time stamp and how much of the vote has been counted, rather than saying, “This candidate is leading that candidate in Florida.”

What has changed about your coverage plans since 2016?

GROVUM A lot is different this year — first and foremost the pandemic. That’s meant that the traditional campaign trail reporting has been more limited, which leaves a bit less room for the color of the election to shine through. And the changes to ballot procedures and voting laws mean there’s a bigger need for us to explain and guide people for how they can vote than there might have been in previous years.

DUBENKO Instagram has become more important for us and other news organizations, and we’ve added a lot more text-based posts there. I imagine our social report this year will be a lot more visual than it was in 2016. You can expect many more videos and photography from around the country, and graphical representations of race calls. We also have a lot more data and tooling available to understand questions that readers are asking, where they’re coming from and how we’re doing competitively. So we’re heading into the 2020 election with a lot more insight than we’ve had in the past.

What will Election Day be like with people working remotely?

GROVUM Election Day in the office is electric, a mix of extreme anticipation, excitement and nerves. And normally, there’s a lot of pizza. Obviously we’ve had to plan how to work and communicate remotely, which for our global team is not as unusual as it might be for a team used to working together in an office. We’ve also had to stagger our schedules in anticipation that election night might become election week. So instead of all hands on deck, we’ll have people fully off on election night, with the aim of having people rested and ready to go the next morning.

DUBENKO Our boss, Hannah Poferl, associate masthead editor for audience, will be running point over all the Audience teams. No one from the social team will be in the office. Luckily, we’ve perfected the art of the Google Hangout. I will miss all the pizza!