Too many news agencies are doing it wrong.
Social media are not after-the-fact forms of one-way communication you use just to promote your content after the story is written.
Social media are ongoing, two-way discussion tools meant to help build a professional relationship between reporters and the audience. The reporters represent the news organization and, therefore, create a bond between the organization and its readers. The bond is based on trust and mutual respect. It is a relationship, not a transaction.
While it takes time to build, this bond helps journalists fulfill their goal of serving the people (and, therefore, the democratic function) by providing information. It also gives the public a source of information on which they feel they can rely.
To use social media to effectively create these bonds, journalists must use the tools throughout the information gathering and reporting process.
Here are some ways journalists can use social media to build reader relationships.
News agencies shouldn’t just decide to “use social media.” Instead, newsroom managers must consider which mediums to use and how best to use them in ways that benefit the audience. Social media must be part of the overall audience goals, not an afterthought.
Build your audience
To truly engage readers through social media you must first connect with them. Friend and follow readers actively, encouraging them to friend/follow you and building your online community. You also can use traditional media and marketing tools to promote connections on your social media accounts. Just be sure to tell readers how they benefit from connecting with you online.
You can promote your content before, during and after it runs.
To advance content online, tell your audience what you’re working on and when/where they can expect to see it. Make sure to stick with this schedule.
During the reporting process, use social media when you are looking for story sources. This will help you avoid interviewing all of the same people, diversifying your sources.
Afterward is when the content promotion occurs. Use social media to share content, but don’t forget to continue engaging. One key way is to ask for and respond to reader feedback about your reporting.
Provide good content
Quality content is your news organization’s best promotion. It doesn’t matter how well you promote your news website if readers don’t find what they need and want when they go there. Think of your site as “one-stop shopping” for your audience. Try to give them all of the information they need in one place.
Write amazing headlines
The headline is what pulls readers in and makes them consider reading the content, just like in the traditional print edition. The headline also is what’s used to promote your content. Without an amazing headline, your promotions will fall flat.
Readers should find something new each time they visit your site. There’s always something happening, so give them new information using the best multimedia storytelling tools available.
You don’t want to bombard readers with social media updates. Consider a tool like Hootsuite or Buffer to space out your updates. Breaking news is an exception and should be labeled as “breaking” to assist readers in understanding why updates are happening so frequently.
Don’t assume constant connection
Don’t assume your reader live and breathe news from your organization just because you do. Your audience probably doesn’t spend all day, every day online. Therefore, it’s not enough to promote content once and assume your readers saw it. Use the same apps mentioned above to schedule future content releases, according to the medium and timeframe of the news happening.
Your audience no longer wants to wait for the news. Use social media to help distribute information immediately, especially when there might not be enough information available for a full story online.
It’s a good idea to let the reader know what you know for certain and that you’re working on the rest.
Remember to spread truth, not rumor. You don’t have to choose between being first and being right. Just make sure all information you report is verified and attributed.
Ask for feedback
Use social media when considering the type of information you should report. Ask your readers what they would like to see on your website and in your printed publications. Listen to their feedback.
Also ask readers what they think about your existing content. Listen and respond to their feedback. Use it to guide your future reporting.
Help them participate
One of the greatest roles of journalism is to give people the information they need to be free and self-governing. If information is key to a democratic society, then it’s your job as a journalist to give the people the information they need to get involved in their local, state and national communities. Provide readers with information in a timely manner that allows them to become involved in public meetings, votes, donations, community events, etc.
Make helpful announcements
Think about ways you can use social media to help make your readers’ lives better. Simple announcements like a reminder of a road closure can make a difference for readers in their regular commutes.
All of your social media posts don’t need to be serious. It’s acceptable to wish your readers a Happy Thanksgiving or tell them to have a good Monday. Remember that social media usage is about building and maintaining relationships, not just about promoting your content.
Treat social media updates the same way you do your reporting. Don’t post anything you can’t verify. Your publication’s credibility relies on your accuracy.
Mistakes are made. It’s a fact of life. If you post something inaccurate, post correct information, don’t just leave the inaccurate information hanging out there.
Social media writing may be less formal than your news writing, but there’s no place in journalism for improper language. Use correct grammar, spelling and even AP Style when updating your social media. This will ensure professionalism and help build credibility.
Make it multimedia
Don’t just post text. Vary your posts to include text, video, links and photos, which will create variety and garner attention.
Twitter is an excellent tool for live microblogging events. Journalists are the eyes and ears of the people. Use Twitter to help your reader be present where they are not. Be sure to advance this type of coverage so readers know where/when to expect it. Advance this coverage across social mediums, but avoid microblogging on Facebook where frequent status updates aren’t appreciated.
Make content sharable
Give your readers simple methods to share your content with others. This may include social sharing buttons on your website or just asking them to pass along your updates to others who are impacted.
Makes it possible for readers who don’t want to miss anything to subscribe to your site via email and/or RSS Feed. Promote these subscriptions from time-to-time via social media.
Internal and external links help direct your audience to other helpful content. Don’t be afraid to send readers off of your site. If you’re meeting their needs, they’ll come back.
Post a link to your story, photo and/or video on all social media as soon as they are posted online.
People want to read things that are about them and/or their friends. Tag all of the people included in your content to let them know they’re there.
This encourages sharing by leaving more room for comments on social medium like Twitter that have character limits.
You can’t just use social media when you want to promote your content. Otherwise, your audience will feel manipulated instead of engaged. Social media is about having an ongoing conversation, which builds professional relationships with your audience. This means you have to engage with them, not just promote and run. Communication online always should be two-way. Always respond to comments, questions or ideas.
The nature of two-way communication makes Q&A critical. Try to ask insightful questions in the majority of your social media posts.
Because of the less formal nature of online engagement, newsroom managers should write social media policies for the organization and make sure staff is aware of them. Things to consider in these policies include who should respond to/engage with online comments on the organization’s website and on social media. Also, should journalists have professional accounts representing the organization?
Community building takes time and work, but the service and loyalty that result from the efforts make it worth the time spent.
While they take time to build, the bonds between news organizations and their audiences will serve both entities for the long term. To use social media to effectively create these bonds, journalists must use them throughout the information gathering and reporting process, not just to promote content after it is developed.