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Training Matters: Top 5 social media skills for journalists

This week’s blog comes from Sue Greenwood who is a senior lecturer at Staffordshire University, specialising in web-based and entrepreneurial journalism. She previously worked at The Sentinel (Stoke-on-Trent), the Hull Daily Mail and the Telegraph & Argus (Bradford) and was managing editor of newspaper websites in the North of England and Scotland for Northcliffe Newspapers.

Let’s clear one thing up. Constantly texting and tweeting and Facebooking won’t necessarily make you “social media savvy”.

This generation of graduates may have grown up swiping and tapping their way through a world of information, but they are extraordinarily conservative in their use of social media – two-thirds of social media activity is communicating with their “real-life” friends, and over 90% of Twitter and Facebook chat is with people they know (Nielsen).

Social media in the newsroom is a very different beast. It has three jobs

News assistant: Gathering information; finding people to interview; checking rumours.

Reader liaison: Giving space for immediate feedback; interacting with readers; gathering responses to stories and events.

Promotion assistant: Promoting competitions, events, etc; building reader participation; reinforcing SEO and search marketing.

Talking to your mates on Facebook isn’t going to prepare you for using the social network to pin down a suicide splash (‘Why did no one help my dying girl?’- So, here are my top five social media skills that journalism graduates need to cultivate:

1. Tenacity. Three-quarters of us won’t venture beyond page one in Google search. We expect to find information quickly and that can lead to us giving up the search too soon when we don’t, or to accepting wrong information because it was delivered first. Using social media well is about digging until you’re certain of the result.

2. Making friends. Not in the usual sense, but to build contacts and links into your reporting patch. Social media can be the equivalent of hanging out in the local and buying a drink for that bloke who seems to know everything that’s going on. Don’t just use social media to “collect” contacts – use it to show that you’re friendly, approachable and discrete. Be social.

3. Ownership. If your job is to update the newspaper’s Twitter site or keep tabs on Facebook comments, “own” that site and its readers. What do they need to know? Who is reading? What else are they interested in? What do people “like” on Facebook? What are they getting angry about? What’s happening on your rivals’ Facebook pages? Think like an editor with a responsibility to your readers.

4. Competitiveness. Follows on from ownership but are you okay with your newspaper’s rivals having more likes or followers? What could you do about it? How will you get that story trending? SEO works in social media too.

5. Geekiness. Because you’re young, you’re assumed to be more net-savvy. Don’t pretend that you are; get ahead by teaching yourself about new plug-ins and applications (practice on your personal sites). Become the person in the newsroom who can answer the question “Should we bother with Pinterest?”

If tenacity, competitiveness, “owning” your readership and making contacts all sound like the broader skills every journalism graduate should cultivate – they are. Social media is a tool and how useful it is will come down to the journalism you bring to it.

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  • July 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    How refreshingly different from what is being peddled by LW, which seems to be all about wearing out your welcome in the social media world by saturating your friends with work-related spam and endless retweets in a vain attempt to increase your perceived ‘influence’. Quantity isn’t quality.

    In this context, by the way, it’s ‘discreet’, not ‘discrete’, and ‘practise’, not ‘practice’.

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