Five thoughts after #wjchat

On Wednesday I participated in a Twitter chat about social media skills in the newsroom. I won’t rehash any of the points made during the chat. You can read the conversation, which I pulled into a Twitter timeline, here.

But there were a few points that I wanted to make that I didn’t get to. So here my five points, in no particular order.

One. To keep track of your newsroom, use lists & notifications. I follow our newsroom Twitter list; it’s the #1 thing I check after mentions. On Facebook, I created a colleagues list and turn notifications on for it all.

It’s harder to track activity on other platforms, so I ask our journalists to tag their content with the hashtag #theworld on Vine, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. I work it into my basic news diet to check the hashtag. (Bonus: people have started to pick up on this and use the hashtag to join our newsroom’s conversations.)

Two. I wanted to share some more about the social challenges I run in the newsroom. It’s a fun exercise in skill building and incrementally adds to a journalists’ arsenal. Here are a few challenges that I’ve run regarding Twitter:


And Facebook:

I keep a spreadsheet that tracks all the challenges (and winners). This way, I’m able to look back and see the 50+ different skills that our newsroom has gained over the past two years.

Most importantly: Play up the sense of competition between journalists, but make sure that the behavior you’re encouraging is constructive and not superficial (for example, make your challenges about generating conversation, not generating pageviews).

Past social challenges have build skills like: Advanced search skills on Twitter, building a professional presence on social, using social to add context to a story, identifying content for different platforms, producing short form video content, community building, thinking mobile-first.

bear4 copySide note: A lot of people on Twitter were interested in learning more about the Social Bear. I wouldn’t recommend you following him on Twitter (his tweets might not make much sense out of context), but I would recommend instituting some sort of incentive system in your own newsrooms. The idea behind the Social Bear way simply a way to give kudos on a regular basis to someone who has done excellent work (see the postscript for more).

Three. A lot of people asked what do I say when trying to convince an “old guard journalist” to use social. Don’t look at them as an “old guard,” for starters! Think about what they can teach you, and try to reciprocate by offering what you know.

If you’re working with a reluctant social media journalist*, demonstrate to them how social media holds a treasure trove of stories. Show them that if they know where to look, they will never be at a loss for a story idea or a source. If someone is still doubtful, just say to them: “How many people are in your rolodex?” They will answer, then tell them the size of yours: 2 billion.

When they’re ready to venture out on their own, emphasize the helpfulness of social listening first. Set them up with an exercise or two that teaching them how to filter and find. Remember, you can be an amazing social media journalist and never post or tweet.

Then if they’re hooked, help them take the leap and engage. By responding to questions, comments, and experiences, the journalist will earn the respect of his or her current readers/listeners and make new fans.

Four. There was a question about measuring impact in the newsroom. Although I am bound by specific goals and metrics for my grant-related work at The World, I have only one standard of measuring impact in my newsroom: bringing as many stories and voices from social on to the radio show.

This goal is in essence “closing the loop” and evolving from a one-way relationship with listeners and readers to a reciprocal one. My favorite examples of this in action is when our audience gives us the story, we do the journalism, we listen for impact and resonance, then we update or continue to report based on that.

Here’s a good example. Last year we received a Facebook message from a fan who was passionate about R2P (Right to Protect) issues. His passion and unique story sent off an alert for our show producer Jeb Sharp, who followed up with him and traveled to Maine to interview him. This exchange, and the reaction from our audience, led to an entire series of stories about millennial perspectives of international security issues and a two-year grant from the Carnegie Foundation to cover these issues.

But we’re not stopping there: We’re paying it forward by creating a close-knit social community for the series (called SafeMode), building a place for these conversations to happen organically. (Learn more about SafeMode here.)

Five. Someone asked me about anonymity apps and social media, and if its a boon or a hinderance to journalism. This will be such a huge question in 2015. I am excited to see what enterprising news organizations are doing on WhatsApp and WeChat. I went to a fantastic session held by Trushar Barot at ONA about the BBC’s use of 1-1 apps. I’m also obsessed with Propublica’s #WARLORD project on WhatsApp (check it out – chat WARLORD to +1 917-331-4989).

Anonymity and 1-1 apps offer up a new challenge for the 1-to-many model that we’re used to. I think there’s a huge promise to it because I’m in the business of having 1-1 personal conversations with our listeners on social media, and this is a new way to do it.

As you will see if you watch Trushar’s presentation, 1-1 messaging apps in their current iteration are massive time commitments, and not necessarily worth the return on investment. Once we figure out how to produce quality content and create a personalized experience for our fans, we can open new doors to massive new audiences.

*This is a false distinction. Every journalist is a social media journalist.

Postscript. Here is a gallery of people loving on the Social Bear.

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