Online News Association: How to use social media to be a better journalist

The following is roughly the talk that I gave at ONA‘s first NYC meetup on January 26, 2011.

How many people in the room use:
– Twitter
– Facebook
– LinkedIn
– Other

How do we feel about it?
– Damn kids/Don’t get it/don’t care
– Dig it, but don’t have time/ambivalent
– Love it, into it, get it

Before we get into it tho, I want to make something clear: Social media is not a replacement for anything that you’re already doing. It’s an enhancement. There’s this cultural rush to declare the New Thing as Way Better Than The Old Thing, and we know how that can sometimes play out… hello eight track? Right. The world will always need good storytelling, hard-hitting journalism. We don’t know what that’s going to look like in the future, and that’s the scary part. What these tools can do is set you up to be in a position to be agile and adaptable, and for creating the digital space that you will continue to thrive in.

So, how are you going to do that?

Well, first thing to realize is that in this brave new world, relationships matter–more than ever. It’s not enough to just be good at what you do. You need to have the ability to relate to people whose work you care about, and who care about the work and issues that you do. My friend Susan talks about the 3 R’s that should be your mantra going forward: reputation, recommendation and referral. Increasingly, our professional lives are hinged on those three things.

Social media can help you maintain and enhance those critical relationships–whether that’s the casual person you meet at a conference, someone from your community who follows your work religiously, or a good editor who believes in you. Just remember that social media isn’t about broadcasting info… that wouldn’t work in an relationship that you have in-person, would it? If you just stood around with your friends talking about how awesome you are?

Social technologies are called “social” for a reason–they’re about connecting and conversing. You can think of the conversations that happen in social media as a cocktail party that’s always happening. You don’t have to be at the party all day every day, but it’s useful to stop in, see what’s happening with other folks, talk about things that are interesting to you. You don’t get up on a chair at a party and yell at people. You pick and choose people you have (or want to have) relationships with.

Next thing is to think of yourself as a curator of information. Each of you, I’m sure, has a particular beat, or set of interest areas, or issues that you work on. They can be disparate–I share things about tech & politics, feminism and dog rescue. But your job is to act as a filter of the best and most interesting stuff out there for the people in your community. Sharing things that you didn’t produce is key–only about 20-30% of things you share should be your own work or about you specifically; the rest should be curated from your sources and the community. Congratulating other people, sharing articles from competing organizations, thanking people for sharing your stuff, that all counts. It’s all good karma. Everyone is overloaded with information… so you can act as a champion for your community, and help them filter what you think is important for them to know.

All of that creates the situation where people recognize that you are the go-to person on a particular topic–they *trust* you. Trust is serious capital to be aware of in the social media space, and you can us that trust to amplify your work–when people trust you, they’re more likely, ego-stroking-wise, to share your stuff–and to want to be part of the community that you’re building.

I’m also happy to answer questions about the personal/professional divides that people struggle with in social media, but didn’t want to take up too much time here.

Last thing, and this is a big one, is listen, listen, listen. Like I said, this whole social media thing is a two-way street– you can’t just be in there pushing information at people. You’ve got to tune in to what’s being talked about, and seeking out those granules of info or updates that are unique to your ears. Look for people to build relationships with that aren’t exactly like you, that don’t share most of your characteristics.

You can start with common ground, of course–here’s an example of what I mean. I met a woman, Ileana Jiménez, at one of my trainings that is a teacher and writer about building feminist curriculum in high school education. So, we’re both feminists, that’s handy, but honestly, education has never been an issue area that core to my own work. But I talked to her a little, and started following her on twitter. She posts things from the world of feminist secondary education curricula, and while I don’t click on everything, I certainly click on a lot more things because they come from her–someone I trust now, someone whose work I’m interested in–and weren’t just a headline on a page. And I’m thus more willing to listen to people I trust, and pass on the nuggets that really resonate with me… and hopefully, the people on the receiving end of my nuggets do the same.

Listening is good karma, and karma is a simplified way of thinking about how we define success when it comes to real people using social networks to get their work done.

So to recap:
– relationships matter
– be the curator
– listen, listen, listen.

Thank you!

Leave a Reply