Social is the key part of social media

With more journalists jumping on the social media bandwagon, it’s good to remind people that the key word in social media is social and not media.

Traditional journalists are used to a one-to-many publishing approach. They are used to being arbiters of what information gets disseminated. They are used to pushing information to people but not accepting it.

That’s fine for a print world. Print is a one-way medium. Nothing wrong with that.

But social media is really about being social. It means interacting with people. It means two-way communication. And it means journalists no longer control what and how information is disseminated. 

Social media is not yet another place to push content onto. It’s not a repository for content from another medium. It’s its own medium.

It deserves — no demands — its own content. Social media can be a great way to connect with users. It can also be a great way to build a network of sources.

Beat blogging is all about using social media, blogs and other Web tools to build a larger network of sources. Beat blogging is a give and take. It requires journalists who are willing to interact with people and provide users with a service.

Social media can really help journalists report better. I think it can help make our jobs easier. But only if we are social on social media.

Being social comes down to interacting with people. It means not always using social media solely for work purposes. Now, I’m not sure if all editors and publishers are comfortable with this approach.

I think many newsroom managers want their reporters to get on social media to help disseminate existing content. I also think many newsroom managers are just jumping on the bandwagon to help save their careers (they hear people talking about Twitter and decree that their employees need to get on it). But journalists and journalism would greatly benefit from people understanding how to best use social media before attempting to use it.

News organizations need to have concrete plans for what they hope to accomplish with social media. Once that’s established, they can then look at which tools make sense for their organizations and individual employees (I’d never recommend the same tools for all employees). 

A news organization wouldn’t seriously get into blogging without a blogging editor to help journalists out. Nor should news organizations decree that employees get on social media without guidance and without at least one point person to guide them.

Some simple tips for news organizations who want to get on social media:

  • Form a concrete plan before attempting social media as a news organization. You have to be able to answer, “What do you hope to accomplish with social media?” If you can’t answer that, how will you know what to do with social media? You won’t. 
  • Under no circumstances should you encourage employees to experiment with social media for work purposes without giving them clear guidelines as to what is and is not appropriate. Somebody will mess up. 
  • Don’t force everyone onto social media. Not all employees will be good at it. It is what it is.
  • One size does not fit all. Twitter might make sense for one beat, while YouTube for another. Maybe Flickr would be great for your photo staff, but it may make a lot less sense for your cops reporter. This is where a plan comes in handy.
  • Ideally, you should have a social media editor (could be combined with the blog editor as both are social platforms). If you want social media to be an important part of what your news organization does, you should have someone in charge of your vision for social media. This person should observe what employees do, provide advice and be a go-to person for questions.
Here are two great podcasts about newsrooms conducting social media and beat blogging training