Gray Lady Returns to Facebook for Inauguration Campaign

A post-election Facebook campaign by The New York Times was so successful the company is at it again, this time with a Barack Obama inauguration effort that, like the first campaign, will capture comments from the social site’s users.

In the first campaign, the Times purchased a “roadblock” video ad on Facebook’s homepage and asked users to weigh in on what should be the new president’s first priority upon taking office. This time, the company will again buy the roadblock ads, including one that urges them to become a Facebook “fan” of the New York Times, which has its own fan page on the site.

There will again be an opportunity to answer a question — the Times will ask participants to describe how they expect they’ll remember the historic inauguration — and the company will offer a free gift: A Barack Obama virtual stamp, designed by artist Christoph Niemann, that can be shared among Facebook users.

Stacy Green, who manages internal communications and public relations for the Times, said the company received more than 35,000 comments to the post-election question. The answers were compiled and posted online as well as on the paper’s Facebook fan page, she said. Some of the answers will also be shown on a print ad in the Sunday Times.

After the launch of the post-election campaign, New York Times Company President Scott Heekin-Canedy penned an eight-page internal memo praising the effort. “From our perspective, the home page roadblock campaign was a great success, garnering us 4.3 times the value of our spend,” he wrote, adding the company’s brand message reached 68.3 million people and tripled the number of its Facebook fans to 164,000 — far in excess of the 2008 goal of 100,000 fans.

The Facebook campaign may have been a success, but it was tough to manage. Asked how the company sifted through 35,000 responses to the November question, Green said, “hard work.” The goal was to find the most descriptive comments, and the best of that bunch were picked for online publication.

“We saw a lot of engagement around the election,” she said. “This is really continuing the conversation. We think Facebook is a great place for us to expose the Times to new users.”

Green referred to the Facebook component as an “ongoing marketing campaign” that fits well with the paper’s tendency to foster conversation. The company also has a Myspace page, presence on Twitter and a YouTube channel.

The Times isn’t alone in leveraging the inauguration next week to increase readers and site traffic. You’d be hard-pressed to find any major news organization that isn’t publishing a special inaugural edition or Web site.

For instance, The Washington Post will print nearly three million copies of its newspapers on the day of, and a day after, the big event, according to Editor and Publisher. The paper’s interactive “Inauguration Central” sub-site was advertised via e-mail messages to’s registered users.

Readers of The New Yorker can get complimentary copies of the magazine’s January 26 “inauguration issue commemorative cover” by filling out an online form. is publishing snippets and photos from people describing their thoughts about the inauguration. The MSNBC television channel is going to have its inauguration coverage shown in movie theaters in 21 cities. Those who want a shot at having the movie theater telecast in their towns can fill out an online form.

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