Harnessing social media opportunities
Traditional media's attitude to social networking is evolving with varying results.
Some harness the opportunities offered, while others refer to social media with a condescending "and finally" tone that suggests they are out of touch with their audience.
In terms of using social media for newsgathering, finding diverse perspectives and news dissemination, again, some are doing better than others. The following are a few tips about what to do and what not to do.
The five don'ts
Never refer to social networking as a new phenomenon in your news output. A large part of your audience is using Twitter and Facebook and increasingly turning to them and other sites as their primary sources of information. Your failure to grasp this will lose you credibility.
Your failure to grasp this will lose you credibility
It's not new. Using terms such as new media makes it sound as though you are old media and lagging behind. The term was OK towards the end of the last century, but you should be part of a converged news operation delivering content to whatever platforms/devices the audience use. If you are, then it is part and parcel of that. If you are not, then you should be.
If you keep calling it new you will come across as old
Or worse still a junior member of staff to manage and monitor. Twitter, Facebook and other social networks should be an integral part of your newsgathering and news dissemination strategy. All your journalists should be using tools such as Hootsuite or TweetDeck to monitor what people are saying and to discover stories. Take it seriously or you may soon find you are no longer taken seriously.
Twitter, Facebook and other social networks should be an integral part of your newsgathering and news dissemination
Never let presenters refer to stories that involve social networking with that "and finally" tone or that condescending, knowing nod and smile, as if it is all a bit of a joke. It could come across as patronising or (even worse) disconnected, distant and judgemental. Get some of your more connected correspondents (and there are loads around) to educate the studio presenters and some of the less-connected producers. Those in the field often get it because they frequently meet the audience and understand the significance of changing audience behaviour; they also know, first hand, how your news organisation is being perceived.
Don't take pride in adopting a patronising, disconnected, distant and judgemental tone
The number and speed of tweets on an issue is a story in itself, and you can run that story even before you have been able to verify what is being said with the usual two independent sources. Simply reflecting the activity and taking the time to follow a few tweets in order to sample the diversity of perspectives and opinions will enrich your news coverage. If you ignore this medium, you are ignoring news.
If you ignore this medium, you are ignoring news
The five dos
1: Tweet your own news as soon as it is verified
You can tweet facts, you don't need long, complex concepts. Tweet about things that your news organisation can confirm have happened as soon as the confirmation is in. You just need the facts in a short sentence. Subject, verb, object - send. The social network audience feeds off facts (and other stuff), and it is taking those facts to another place (their preferred social networks) where they add their own context and analysis by interacting with their friends (rather than sitting in front of a TV or radio or clicking through your website or thumbing through your newspaper/magazine pages). Always add a short URL if the story is supported by an article or audio and video online.
Tweet your own news as soon as it is verified
2: Take a gift with you
If you are going to gatecrash the social network party, offer something that those who tweet will value. They won't thank you for regurgitating the wires and throwing up a slightly modified version of what is running on 100 sites, broadcast networks or newspapers. Originality is important. Tweet facts that they can't get elsewhere. Automate your feeds through to Facebook and Twitter to provide a steady stream of content for social networks to feed off.
They won't thank you for regurgitating the wires and throwing up a slightly modified version of what is running on 100 sites
3: Change your tools
Think differently about the way you set up the desktop for your journalists. If they can only surf the net and browse the wires, some may limit themselves to that window on the world - and your news output will reflect that limitation. You need to observe, evaluate and, where appropriate, integrate the social network chatter and make sense of it in a way that informs the public debate and broadens perspectives. Also encourage your journalists to engage in conversations when they find a story, rather than just feed off what is already there.
You need to integrate the social network chatter into the tools your journalists use
4: Widen your contacts
Build a contacts file from among the hundreds of thousands of (free) stringers. Their round-the-clock output is free, and it could be priceless. So enlist those who are tweeting, and don't always turn to the known voices who may no longer have the connection with changing audience behaviour.
Enlist those who are tweeting, and don't always turn to the known and overused experts
5: Embrace, hug and welcome back
Integrate social networking into your news production system: it offers real-time information from global sources unavailable via other means. Don't use social networking as an afterthought or as an interesting add-on. It is the pulse of news, it is alive. Those tweeting may have taken your facts away with them to their preferred social networking space to discuss with their friends, but in doing so, they and their contacts will add their own value to the growing story. Be sure to invite them back, and find ways of sharing that enhanced understanding and feeding it back into the system so the richness of knowledge and experience and the diversity of perspectives is available for all.
Social networking is a reflection of how the audience is changing - ignore it at your peril
See how others are doing it
Look at how many followers they have. Check the number of times stories are commented on and discussed in the Facebook environment.
And look at all the automated links offering a direct route back to the media organisation. Next, check their presence on Twitter.
Free social networking tools offer viral dissemination, engage the audience where they want to be engaged, and providing return traffic; it's a no brainer.
Free social networking tools offer viral dissemination, engage the audience where they want to be engaged, and providing return traffic.
The 'broadcast/publish at' model died years ago. The 'engage with on our terms' model is in its death throes. Now it's about 'participate in' and empowerment. In the uneasy but essential evolution of news, those traditional media organisations that move to this model qucikly may have more chance of surviving.
The author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide via Media Ideas. He also runs a media mentoring service.