A guide for journalists: How to use social media
I was asked to write this social media guide for journalists for The Journalism Foundation as part of a free online toolkit for anyone who wants to start up their own local news network.
Social media skills for journalists in 2012 are as essential as a notebook and phone. They are basic must-haves that should be part of your journalistic DNA. If you are not using social media you need to have a very good reason, as you can guarantee that your colleagues and your rivals will be. So get going.
You should be using Twitter
Social media for journalists starts with Twitter. It runs through the centre of the social media world, like a powerful river pumping information through a vast network of channels, and is increasingly the place where news breaks first. Osama bin Laden’s death is just one celebrated example, which helped push Twitter to a new peak of traffic.
Twitter isn’t simply a place where news breaks, but also a resource you can use to your advantage as a journalist, and a powerful tool for researching and writing stories. Use it to ask questions – or ‘crowdsource’ – and you will find people are often keen to help.
Twitter is increasingly a journalist’s public face. It is a social media calling card, an audience for our work, and a key tool for building your personal journalism brand.
Getting started on Twitter – Seven tips
Start off by searching out the most important news sources and commentators in the market you operate and follow them. Then start to build your own following by regularly tweeting interesting and relevant updates. Here are seven quick tips to getting started:
1. You don’t have to tweet all the time, as Twitter can suck up time, but try to be consistent and tweet regularly using it on your desktop and on your phone.
2. Be generous and honest with your tweets. If you’re tweeting something you saw via another user, credit them with an @mention. This can be a good way to pick up likeminded followers and make new connections.
3. Don’t always tweet only your own work. Try to share good interesting content or insights no matter their source – although some organisations directly prohibit this.
4. If you can, respond to any replies you receive to your tweets. There’s nothing worse than people who don’t reply. It is, after all, a social network.
5. You don’t need to be provocative or controversial to be interesting on Twitter. Besides, being unnecessarily controversial is an easy way to lose followers. As the BBC says in its guide: be sensible.
6. Read through what you tweet before you send it. Part of Twitter’s joy is its immediacy, but remember you are still publishing when you hit the tweet button and like anything else you publish, you must treat it with care. That way you will avoid a whole lot of pain and possible embarrassment.
7. Check out @TwitterForNews Twitter’s dedicated account that spotlights some of the best practices and innovative uses of Twitter by journalists
Think about Facebook
While Twitter is already huge, Facebook is fast catching up in terms of its importance. Last year Facebook launched an option called Facebook Subscribe which enables users to share news with people who aren’t their friends.
Rather than seeing updates about your family and social life subscribers will be able to see features you are posting as a journalist and can follow you in the same way they can on Twitter. It is another way you can build your personal journalism brand and raise your profile.
Facebook subscribe allows for a deeper variety of discussion than Twitter and is very easy to set up. Some people who are using it already have far larger followings on Facebook than they do on Twitter. The reason for that is simple. Far more news is consumed on Facebook than on Twitter simply because of the sheer size of Facebook.
Like Google+ you can also post updates and respond to subscribers who do not become your friend after they have started following you.
Facebook Subscribe pages are proving great places for journalists to ask questions and build conversation with their audience. It is handy for research and developing story ideas.
Get a blog
If Twitter is the shortest form of social media, then blogging is its long-form older brother.
Blogs are core to social media and can be brilliant platforms for all kinds of content from short updates pointing readers to an interesting article, to pictures, video, live reporting, breaking stories and opinion features.
Many news organisations have multiple blogs and encourage their journalists to use them regularly.
Some broadcast journalists supplement on-air work with blogs, including many BBC and Sky News journalists. You don’t need to spend hours working on it, and posts do not have to long, but blogs are a great platform for sharing work that isn’t necessarily news but requires more than 140 characters.
Blogs also allow you to build content which you can then share on Twitter. Each will help fuel the other.
Spend some time looking at some of the great blogs that are out there. Get familiar with the different ways people use them and have made them integral to 21st Century news
Photos, graphics, video, apps
Images are integral to good journalism and social media. Francesco Franchi, of Italy’s Intelligence in Lifestyle magazine, recently spoke about what he called “infographic thinking” and “visual journalism” to describe how journalism is changing.
Smartphones have made pictures easier to than ever to take and share on social media. Even low-resolution pictures can be valuable if used correctly. The pictures from breaking or rolling stories like 2011’s London riots became a powerful form of reportage and the photo from The White House situation room on the night Osama bin Laden was killed became the most shared Flickr photo ever. Look also at the case in January 2009 when the US Airways flight crashed in the Hudson River and an iPhone picture flashed around the world.
Think about infographics and how data can be represented visually. They are hugely popular, increasingly easy to create, and make great content for blogs and Twitter.
Try experimenting with services like Instagram and Pinterest, which are fast growing social networks in their own right and highlight how powerful a role images can play.
Most important though is that you should be prepared to experiment and try new things. Social media is still in its infancy and is fast evolving. This journey has only just begun.
You can check out the full guide on The Journalism Foundation’s website.