Some basic social media strategy tips

Image of internet cafe courtesy of Rik Panganiban and released under Creative CommonsIf those who make up your audience use social media – and they do - you will need a strategy.  

If you don't have one, you will lose part of your audience.

Your social media strategy needs to be based on engagement and participation. Unlike traditional broadcasting and publishing - which was usually one-way - social media is a two-way conversation.

How to join that conversation and what to contribute is the issue. It's about tone, language, timing and values. And it's about offering a unique differential that is compelling and stimulates debate.

Note: This module was written for an international conference of media organisations discussing social media. Image courtesy of Rik Panganiban

Piecing together a social media strategy

So what does a media organisation need to consider when developing its social media strategy.  Let's presume that you have already appointed an existing member of staff to be in charge of your social media strategy. What should your social media editor focus on?  The following list might help.

1: News gathering

All journalists should monitor what is happening on social media by using free desktop tools. Social media dashboards, such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, etc, should be organised by key works. These words are important, and fall into three categories:

  1. Corporate:  These will be the key words that your media organisation is covering. Typically, this list will be the highest level – issues, regions etc.  These will be the specialist areas that are already being covered in your existing editorial strategy, with others added as you learn more about how social media is being used by your audience.
  2. Unit: These will be the words that your particular news department is covering, for example specialist areas such as education, politics, finance, entertainment, sport etc.
  3. Personal: These will be the specialist interests that the individual reporter is following. This is the reporters' and correspondents' digital contact lists which automatically update information in real time.  Miss these and you miss the news.

2: News production

The typical news production process was:

  • News emerges, either through talking to contacts, receiving news releases, the news wires, investigative reporting, follow up story development on either your own exclusives or stories the competition has broken.
  • Stories are examined, independent sources found, facts checked, unique information added, production effort and editorial ethics applied, and the material is released to the audience

The social media production process includes:

  • All the above, plus scouring the social media networks for diverse perspectives, audience mood, new information, data, reusable assets – verified images, audio, video, data, links.

3: News dissemination

Ensure you offer something unique to the social media conversation that adds valuable information rather than adding clutter and noise.

Work out the tone, language, frequency and format of your social media contribution.

Don't just use RSS Graffiti to spam Facebook with your latest online stories as they update. RSS Graffiti is useful, but it can't be your only form of engagement. Insead, consider writing bespoke and compelling text to draw people to the main points in the story and encourage interaction through adding questions, challenging comments or inviting input.

Don't just tweet your headlines on Twitter. Think through how best to use the limited character count to draw people to the nub of the story in a way that is more likely to draw a response and encourage further debate.

Use all the social media feeds to inform the public debate but also to draw the audience back for further discussions as the story develops.

4: Let the world tell the story

Release all your assets under Creative Commons so that each can be used by your audience as they add their own diverse perspectives to the story development. 

All pictures, video, audio, data and text should be released for others to adapt, rework and share.

Think about releasing fewer but more compelling elements that can be embedded by others in their own story-telling, or can stand alone as a complete piece of journalism – excellent caption, great tags, and links back to the complete story on your site.

5: Become a global publisher and broadcaster

Remove your local, regional and national limitations and go global. Ensure you have a brand identity on each of the social media channels.  There are many free tools for this. I have chosen those I work with when advising media organisations.

  • Video: Set up a YouTube channel. Create original content. If you are a publisher encourage all reporters to record all their important interviews or to record a sentence with the interviewee summing up the story. This material should replace images in online news stories as click-to-play video. Set up a video archive on all top stories (your channel). Tag the channel page well and all the content in it. Make everything available for others to use by releasing under Creative Commons. Apply your strategy for sharing (see above).
  • Audio: Set up a SoundCloud channel. If you are a publisher consider creating a 15-minute daily programme including a five minute news bulletin of your top stories, an interview of the day, a vox pop. Ensure all is released under Creative Commons. Tag all the content well. Apply your strategy for sharing (see above).
  • Images: Set up a Flickr channel. Create collections and sets of all the images you are taking in your story-telling. Write compelling captions. Tag the images well. Consider adding slide shows to all stories published on your online edition. Make them all available under Creative Commons for others to use. Apply your strategy for sharing (see above).

6: Displaying your presence

Your main social media activity, whether it's your Twitter feed, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google + presence should be visible on every page on your website. Don't presume people know you are active on these accounts.

7: Encourage sharing

Let people help you share your news. Put multiple share tools on all articles. Make these unobtrusive so they do not detract from the content. Do not use large buttons with large counters. Social media is not about numbers, it's about making content more useful. 

8: Encourage comments and interaction

Have a comments tool on all articles. If you don't have the staff to monitor your own system consider a system such as Disqus. Consider having a widget on all story pages with the latest comments or listing the most commented, shared, viewed stories.

9: Aggregate the assets of others in your story telling

Set up a Storify account for your media organisation. Perhaps individual correspondents and reporters will have their own. Search for updated, multimedia assets and drag them into your stories adding context and analysis.

Publish on Storify and share but also embed the asset-rich stories in your own pages to best display the energy and diversity of you audience's activity and news gathering.

10: Set up pages and groups

You will probably already have a Facebook page, a Google + page and perhaps a LinkedIn group. Each will serve a difference audience. You need to manage these and stimulate those pages on a regular basis. With some of the social media desktop dashboards, such as Hootsuite, you can do all this from one place and change the way the content is displayed according to your knowledge of the target audience use of the different pages/groups.

11: The phased approach

Build and introduce your social media presence in phases. Don't go for a big bang strategy. You will need to update your strategy continually as you listen to your audience. Introduce the changes listed above step by step. 

12: Monitoring your success

Measure your current audience engagement, online and social media strategy as you start to make these changes. 

Try new ideas on individual articles/stories. Examine what worked and what didn't. Think of what could have been done better.

Experiment with social media. Let the audience know that you are exploring its value. Let them contribute their feedback. Make them part of the process. Listen and learn.

Note: The graphic below sets out some issues to consider when writing your social media strategy. The image is courtesy of Images courtesy of Mark Smiciklas of Intersection Consulting and released under Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Mark Smiciklas of Intersection Consulting and released under Creative Commons

David BrewerThe author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who founded Media Helping Media. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast and online. He has spent many years delivering journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide.

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