In July, NBC News posted a feature story documenting a son’s struggle with his mother’s advancing dementia. The emotional piece resonated with their audience — the video, posted to NBC News’ Facebook page, eventually drew over 2 million Facebook video views and thousands of shares after being cross-posted across their network.

Senior editor Emmanuelle Saliba, reporter Becky Bratu and the NBC News social newsgathering team used CrowdTangle to source the initial video from local news sources, then turned it into a national story.

How’d they do it? It’s a simple formula:

Step 1: Track hyper-local, trending stories.

“We use CrowdTangle to quickly uncover emerging trending stories, particularly those featured in smaller markets,” Saliba explains. “One of the lists we created monitors local news, a great source for content deserving of a national spotlight.”

“Among the ones we most frequently check are Local News, General U.S. News and Competitors (all pretty self-descriptive). The Local News list, which is where we first spotted the story, includes local news websites, local TV affiliates and local newspapers,” says Bratu.

“This story in particular popped up during a search of our Local News list, which includes local news websites, TV affiliates and newspapers,” Saliba says. “We noticed that this short clip of Joey Daley and his mother was very popular with this local outlet’s Facebook audience. The clip was getting a lot emotional reactions and also comments, so we decided take a closer look into Joey’s YouTube series.”

Step 2: Filter only the good stuff.

NBC News has made scanning CrowdTangle’s dashboard part of their daily routine, and use CrowdTangle’s Viral Alerts and Digests to help monitor trending content.

CrowdTangle allows you to spin up viral alerts to track any list cohort you might be interested in following, in this case around local news.

“I usually check each list a few times a day to see what stories are overperforming. I’m usually trying to find stories that have been overperforming in the last 6 hours,” Saliba says. The NBC News team also has a number of viral alerts set up for these lists.

The NBC News team used both CrowdTangle’s video data and reactions data to discover video that was both getting a high amount of views, and was resonating on an emotional level in terms of Facebook reactions.

CrowcdTangle allows users to sort by specific Facebook reactions, giving the opportunity to zero in on content that is overperforming by sad or heart reactions on Facebook.

CrowdTangle helped to spot the video, but it also highlighted the surprisingly positive reaction people had to it. CrowdTangle data allows you to zero in on stories that are overperforming based on Facebook’s heart reaction. You can also toggle by what is overperforming based on comments or shares. As Bratu explained, being able to see this sentiment data, as well as the numbers of comments and shares the original local story has, helped her team to pursue the story further.

Step 3: Use CrowdTangle’s data to turn the story into something bigger.

After watching all the videos in the series, Bratu thought there was a different and more unique way they could tell Joey Daley’s story. She tracked him down and spent several hours on the phone interviewing him multiple times. “We then pitched the story to NBC News Digital and the leadership green-lit our write-up/short documentary idea,” Bratu explains.

“It took months of interviews and shoots, both in person and on the phone, hours of research, endless editing sessions and more meetings before the project was ready to be published,” Bratu says. “The final version tackled dementia with Lewy bodies, the second most common form of the disease in older adults after Alzheimer’s, affecting more than 1.4 million Americans.”

Results: “Maybe the most thoughtful debate we’ve ever seen.”

The final video hit the hearts of their audience on Facebook and other social platforms, who responded positively to the story. On Facebook in particular, NBC News pulled more than 2 million views since the video was published it in late July, along with thousands of shares and hundreds of comments.

And not only was NBC News impressed by these metrics, but the story generated “maybe the most thoughtful debate we’ve ever seen in a comments section on a story on Facebook,” Bratu says. Gone was name-calling and soapboxing, she says, replaced instead by compassion, empathy and a genuine curiosity in the story.

Want more CrowdTangle use cases? Visit our case study blog here. You can also visit our Resources section to find how-to videos on the features mentioned in this case study.