others. But in so many average American newsrooms today, the years have not been kind to those who work with social media. A 2017 American Press Institute survey of 59 newsrooms across the country shows that many social media teams and activities have been decimated by staff cuts and newsroom reorganization. Others have remained intact or grown, but still struggle with lack of leadership, weak (if any) strategy, and a lot of random daily tasks. The survey, along with dozens of interviews with social media journalists and experts, generally shows that social media efforts in newsrooms have changed little since their adoption of Twitter and Facebook about 10 years ago. The social media universe, however, has changed considerably:
- In 2008, 24 percent of the world used social media. Today, it’s 81 percent and growing.
- Facebook still leads the pack, but over 20 other platforms now have more than 100 million users each.
- Misinformation pollutes many of these platforms, and websites that exist only to distribute fake content are growing. Google identified at least 340 such sites in 2016.
- Politicians, candidates and other people in power routinely use social media to make news and communicate with followers.
- Ways to engage and reach a variety of audiences have grown considerably, and they’re often complicated and technically challenging.
- Metrics used to track social media success have not only become more widespread and more complex, they’re now sometimes used to measure journalists’ performance.
1) Revise your social media job postings.If you’re lucky enough to have a job opening in 2018, don’t pull that old job description out of the drawer. Hire an experienced journalist — just as you would for a newsroom reporting job. Here’s an aspirational job posting written by veteran social media editor Scott Kleinberg. Find more hiring ideas in our report.
2) Get training on identifying misinformation and other fake content.Now is not the time to make the embarrassing mistake of tweeting a fake photo or fictitious news story. Verification is a key element of journalism, but when it comes to social media, a surprising number of journalists don’t know the basics. Learn more about bots and fake accounts and how to spot, block and report them; how to identify falsified photos, audio and video; and other basics of verification.
3) Stop posting all those links.By far the most common activity reported by respondents to our survey was “posting links to stories.” Re-evaluate the amount of time you’re spending repetitively posting links. A common strategy by sophisticated social media teams is to choose only one to three stories per day — content most likely to get traction — and spend time instead on other activities that may be more fruitful.
4) Get to know your community, through data.Do you really know who lives in your community? We found that many journalists aren’t even familiar with their regional census data, which is easily accessed and potentially eye-opening. Find out who’s buying your newspaper, paying for your app and subscribing online by talking with your marketing and circulation department. Knowing your demographics is the first step in figuring out your social strategy.
5) Meet your audiences, in person.Now’s a good time to plan community events for 2018. Even the smallest event — a meet-and-greet happy hour, a “fake news” workshop with the local library, a blood drive or a bar trivia night — gives you a chance to glean useful information from your audiences and potential audiences.
6) Learn how to deal with fact-resistant audiences.It’s not enough to simply learn how to identify and flag misinformation. The next step is understanding why and how people are disseminating that information, and how to lessen its effect. This will take some psychology (which you probably didn’t learn in journalism school so just read this) but you may save the internet from one more piece of misinformation. And who knows, you may win a fan or two.
7) Create a strategy and goals that go beyond page views.First, find out if your social media team even has a strategic plan, or if social media is included in your newsroom’s overall planning for 2018 and beyond. Rather than focusing on collecting friends, followers and page views, think about how to create a more loyal and engaged audience. Here are tips from nine experts in audience engagement.
8) Provide quality training so that people can execute that strategy and meet those goals.This doesn’t have to be expensive:
- Look for people in the newsroom and in other departments with expertise in social media, verification, audience development and other skills. (The American Press Institute’s Changemaker Network is working to organize peer-to-peer training on a variety of issues.)
- Seek out online tutorials like API’s Better News, free and low-cost online courses, and newsroom partnerships. (Here’s a quick list of tips for newsrooms on a shoestring budget.)
- Research the best journalism conferences of 2018, squeeze some money out of your budget, and have your journalist(s) present a session to the newsroom with the knowledge gained from that conference.
- A number of Facebook groups have been created to offer support to newsrooms and academic social media efforts.
- Gather offers resources and video “lightning chats” to discuss better ways to bring newsrooms and communities together. Hearken helps newsrooms connect with audiences in smart ways.