Throughout the last six months, I have developed the Watertown Daily Times’ Twitter and Facebook accounts. I also have personal and professional pages for myself on both.
I’ve done a lot of researching and taken part in many conversations about how journalists can and should use social media.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Create a dialogue: Twitter, Facebook and blogs are a great way to create a conversation you wouldn’t ordinarily have with your readers. Get your readers to see you as a person, not an institution. I can’t count the number of times a Twitter follower or Facebook friend has said how much they enjoy having a conversation with the people behind the newspaper. These social media sites really give readers the behind-the-scenes access they are looking for. We’re entering a new era where people don’t only want news, they want to know what went into making the news. They want to see the sausage being made.
2. Opinion: This is something we’ve been struggling with at the WDT. To voice your opinion or not. In a recent conversation with Kent Fischer, creator of the Dallas ISD Blog, he said newsroom and beat blogs should definitely have an opinion and/or voice. He said for every source he pissed off with his opinion, he got 10 more who were willing to talk to him and spill dirt on a daily basis. Some of us, however, are reluctant to voice our opinions. My thought: If you’re going to do it, do it, but be careful not to cross “that line” – you’ll know when you get there.
3. Links, links, links: Another interesting tidbit from Kent Fischer: He said journos should be linking to other journos and even competition. He said once people find out that you’re the blog that has all the information, even if it’s not your own, they’ll come to your site to get to that information.
People want easy ways to get to the information they’re looking for. If they see your compiling the information for them, they’ll keep coming back. Don’t be afraid to over-link. In my opinion, you can never have enough resources for your readers.
4. Tidbits: Blogs are a great way to briefly explain what you’re thinking about. People don’t want to read 5,000 word essays, they want to read conversational tidbits of information. If you do your research, you’ll see that many newsroom and beat blogs have posts with 2-6 paragraphs. Keep it short and simple with enough information where readers want to come back, but not so much they feel over-burdened.
5. Breaking news: Here at the WDT we use Twitter and Facebook to keep our readers apprised of breaking news updates throughout the day.
6. Top stories: Every morning we put out between 3 and 7 tweets and 1 to 3 Facebook updates with the top stories of the day. Like breaking news, we find people enjoy being able to pick and choose which stories to click on – they don’t like having to wade through all of the other stuff on our Web site or newspaper before getting to what interests them.
7. Daily/Weekly features: We’re also planning on including daily and weekly regular features in our soon-to-come newsroom blog. We’ll have a daily morning roundup, top weekend event picks and a comment of the week feature. Kent Fischer told us readers like knowing what’s going to be there. And we figure, with the hodgepodge of information in a newsroom blog, people will be glad to know there’s at least a few regular features.
8. Video: Just another way to visually draw in readers. In the day of Flickr and YouTube it’s extremely easy to add video almost anywhere.
9. Trial balloons: Use your @replys and wall posts to see what people are talking about. Let your readers tell you what’s a story and what’s not.
10. Resume builder: The Internet is growing and expanding every day. Last time I checked, there weren’t very many job postings that didn’t require some sort of Web experience. Do yourself a favor and start playing around with what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not sure about something, just try it. What’s it going to hurt?