In February, 2019, Ball State University advertising and public relations students were approached with the task of creating a world wide event that thanked journalists who empower communities and promote free speech. The team ran a digital campaign with the addition to a physical booth on the day of the event, March 13th. Throughout this campaign, the team experienced many highs and lows with journalism being a controversial topic in the political media. Overall, the campaign lasted about 2 months and reached over 300,000 people on Twitter on Thank A Journalist Day.


The Results

Facebook

On Thank a Journalist Day, Facebook experienced its worst outage ever. Unfortunately, this meant that any interaction on Facebook was lost on March 13. In the weeks leading up to Thank a Journalist Day, Facebook did not generate nearly as much engagement as Twitter.

Paid media on Facebook reached a little over 2,600 people – the highest for any Facebook posts. The comments on this paid post were mostly negative, but some sparked discussion about the state of journalism in the United States.

Twitter

Leading up to Thank a Journalist Day, a video promoting the event was posted on Twitter on March 5, 2019 and went viral, garnering 63,202 total impressions and 72,024 media (video) views. Unfortunately, response to this video and tweet was overwhelmingly negative. With over 1,000 replies and only 107 Likes/Retweets, the tweet was not received well by the demographic that interacted. Common themes in the Replies centered around wishing journalists would learn to code or simply outright denial to participate in Thank a Journalist Day.

Moreso, some of the replies suggested that the definition of “journalist” is only understood as large media conglomerates and left-leaning organizations. Independant, freelance journalists were among those actually thanked in response to the video.

On March 13, “#thankajournalist” and “#thankajournalistday” sparked discussion across the world on Twitter. Interactions on this day were overwhelmingly positive compared to previous interactions.

Free Twitter analysis revealed that nearly 500 people from around the world participated on Twitter. The 606 total tweets that used the hashtag, “#thankajournalist” reached 1,892,178 people in less than 24 hours. Tweets reached all 50 states and even a couple of different countries including Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Using Brand24, a paid social media monitoring tool, a more accurate analysis of Twitter activity was created. On March 13, Thank a Journalist Day media garnered nearly 300 separate mentions (uses of hashtag) over 331,000 reach, 97.2% positive mentions, and over 2,500 social media likes.

According to Trendsmap Indy, the #thankajournalist hashtag was trending in Indianapolis on the morning and early afternoon of Thank a Journalist Day (March 13, 2019). A variety of influencers took to Twitter to use the hashtag including the Chicago Board Options Exchange (638K followers), Ted Allen (the host of Chopped), Governor JB Pritzker of Chicago, The Society of Professional Journalists, Radio Television Digital News Association, Indiana University Bloomington, the National Association of Black Journalists, Ball State College of Communication, Information and Media, Power 105.1 (NYC’s Hip Hop and R&B radio station) and many more.

Website

The Thank a Journalist Day website was visited by nearly 3,000 users between January 1 and April 1, 2019. These users were from nearly 70 countries across the world. The highest website visits came from the United States (1,735) the United Kingdom (706) and Australia (88).

Users were mostly male in their mid-30s to upper 40s. Most visitors arrived to the website by directly typing it into their URL or via referral. This is likely due to the amount of press releases and shared media that included access to the website. Simpli.fi Digital Ads also linked directly to the website. Bounce rates were extremely high, but this is to be expected since the website was mainly one page and did not ask the visitor to engage with any content.

Media Relations

The majority of media hits were op-eds, with 12 out of the total 15 placements having been written by guest commentators in support of our mission. The highest amount of reach was within Indiana, but the campaign also reached parts of Illinois and Ohio. The total amount of unique visitors per month (UVMP’s) for each outlet the campaign received coverage in was 721,253.  

Byway Brewing of Hammond, IN, extended a thank you to their local journalists via their blog on March 12, 2019. Thank a Journalist Day was honored on Sunshine Week’s website under their events. A blog titled “The Writer’s Apocalypse” also featured the campaign in an article. The Hoosier State Press Association wrote an article and the Chicago Public Square mentioned Thank a Journalist Day in a roundup of March 13 happenings

Simpli.fi Display Advertising

Simpli.fi, a digital advertising company specializing in localized programmatic advertising worked with Thank a Journalist Day students to promote the event on the internet using digital display ads. These advertisements appeared on websites in the form of banner ads and sidebars. These ads were “geofenced” to appear near or around office buildings housing journalists and newspaper reporters.

Additionally, the strategy geofenced the Newseum in Washington, D.C. to capture and “retarget” attendees of Freedom of Information Day on March 8, 2019.

Digital display ads garnered 206,806 impressions, but click-through-rates (CTR) were extremely low – between 0.15% and 0.18%. The highest performing campaign geo-targeted small town publications throughout the United States.

Looking Forward

With a successful first run of Thank a Journalist Day, the team is looking forward to seeing a successful second iteration of the day in 2020. In order to prepare and easily pass down the reins to a future team, the current team is creating a plan that includes the following as a wrap-up:

Establishing a Permanent Holiday

While a future team can reach out to Governor Eric Holcomb and propose March 13, 2020, be proclaimed as the second Thank a Journalist Day, we thought it would be helpful and effective to work to have Thank a Journalist Day recognized annually as a holiday on March 13. The process includes having a bill passed through legislation, and we’ve reached out to our initial state legislators we contacted in search of support and guidance in the process of passing a bill.

Guide for Future Students

This case study offers in-depth coverage of the campaign results and process, but in order to ensure that future teams excel in their Thank a Journalist Day efforts, a step-by-step guide for future campaigns has been created. The guide contains processes, pitfalls, and recommendations for growth. It also contains credentials for owned media to ensure that the campaign is consistent in social channels, email accounts, and our website.

Special Thanks

Thank you to the Ball State College of Communication, Information and Media for their generous contribution to Thank a Journalist Day. Without their provided grant and support, the project would not have been possible.

Thank you to 1 For All for providing a grant and believing in our project. 1 For All's commitment to protecting the First Amendment on campuses around the country is inspiring.