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Living in social times: the Financial Times discusses social media strategy


By Ishbel Macleod, PR and social media consultant

March 1, 2013 | 5 min read

Striking the right balance on social media channels can be difficult enough, but what if your brand is behind a pay wall?The Drum chats to the Financial Times’s social media manager Rebecca Heptinstall and communities editor Sarah Laitner about why the brand is still with the times as it celebrates its 125th year.

Is there a certain platform you prefer working on?Rebecca Heptinstall: Twitter is very much the Financial Times’s favoured social network in sheer community size (2.75m) and traffic to That’s not to say that other social networks aren’t important, they certainly are – for example, we were the first newspaper to reach 1m followers on Google+ in July 2012. We’re also figuring out what platforms fit with the brand as and when they pop up – for us it’s less about being everywhere and more about being represented well in a few places.Sarah Laitner: All the social networks we use have their own merits. Twitter is particularly important for allowing readers to connect with our journalists and to help our reporters follow their beats.Which social media outlets does the Financial Times use to distribute images and information?SL: We focus on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube.Does’s paywall make it harder to encourage click through? How do you counter this?RH: Our readers know better than anyone which content they wish to access. That is why registered/ unpaid users can read any eight articles each month for free, completely of their choosing.In addition, our award-winning blogs (such as FT Alphaville and beyondbrics), videos, business education and FT Weekend content are open to all users and do not require a subscription. We also offer daily ‘read for free’ articles on our social media channels. These articles are not placed behind any barrier whatsoever and are selected based on how popular we believe they will be among our social media followers.The FT’s social media community remains extremely engaged and continues to grow: social media is growing faster than every other traffic source to, and the volume of visits to driven by social media is at the highest ever level. Social media is almost the highest driver of new registered users.Does the Financial Times have a set social media strategy and targets of how many articles to post a day on each platform?SL: We’ve got a really rich stream of content. We keep a close eye on the rhythm of the news day as we decide what to share, when and with whom. We don’t have fixed targets on numbers ofposts though.What are your goals for the platforms? Do you aim to get people talking, sharing, clicking through, or do you measure success another way?SL: We aim to interact with our readers as well as to build a relationship between them and the FT. We have a goal of bringing readers and journalists closer together because we can learn from our readers – they have a lot to offer.We try to personalise their experience of as we share our stories and we take on board their responses, some of which we go on to feature on the newspaper. Our readers ask lots of questions of us and they expect their views to be read and taken seriously.RH: Our strategy involves three activities: cultivating community, providing them with a brand experience via our branded pages, RSS feeds and marketing messages and moving the individuals within the communities to deeper relationships with the FT, and where appropriate encouraging those communities to pay for subscriptions once they have registered with the FT.We use Twitter to seek readers’ views and experiences, for example when Blackberry’s service went down, and ask for readers’ input, such as asking for questions for the tech column on the FT’s management pages. The FT uses Facebook to engage our followers, asking them for their views on a range of stories, and to solicit user generated content.Do you think the Financial Times will use tools such as Vine in the future?SL: Vine is exciting. We’re always experimenting with new tools; the test is what works for our audience.This piece is part of The Drum's social supplement, published in partnership with Yomego. The supplement is available for purchase or for subscribers to download.
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