One of the more interesting aspects of the interactive Web for journalists is the ability to connect with readers directly through social-networking sites. I really believe journalists have just begun to see the value of social networking as a reader-interaction, news-gathering and news-dissemination tool. In 10 years, I suspect, we’ll look back and wonder how we ever covered out communities without social networks.
This post will explain to journalists eager (or not so eager) to try social networks, how to get started.
What are social networks?
I define social networks broadly as any site that allows you to connect directly with other people and network. So I consider Twitter a social network, but I’m not going to go into that here because I’ve written quite a bit about it before. For this post, I’m delving into how journalists can use Facebook, but I’ll get to other social networks, such as MySpace, Linked In and niche sites in later posts.
Before I go into tips, I think it’s important to remember that the primary value of sites such as Facebook for news organizations is not about publishing per se. It’s about connecting with readers and helping them make sense of the world. Buzz Machine blogger Jeff Jarvis, a veteran journalist and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, sums it up well:
How to get started on Facebook:
- Set up your page: Seems obvious, but you do need a page to connect. I use my page for reaching readers on my beat (parenting), but I also use it to connect with my own friends. Don’t make it too sterile even if you’re using it just for work. Readers want to connect with a person, not a brand. Include facts about yourself in the information (favorite movies, books, quotes, etc.) and upload a few pictures that you don’t mind the world seeing. (If you’re uncomfortable with the world seeing pictures of your kids, you can indicate in the privacy settings which “friends” can see what.) Include your blog prominently on several places on your Facebook page: in your contact information, your bio, as a separate application.
- Include a picture in you profile: A real photograph of yourself is best because people connect better when they can see who you are. (I do break this rule on ocassion when I get bored, and I put up a cartoon version of myself.) Keep it appropriate (this isn’t the place for you in a bikini), but that doesn’t mean your photo has to be dull. I prefer a casual shot, rather than a formal portrait, for mine because it shows readers what I’d really look like if they met. (And they are meeting me, virtually.)
- Use status updates to promote your blog: One of the great features of Facebook for a journalist, is you can tell a small group of interested readers about your latest blog post quickly through the status update. Don’t just post a link. Give readers a few words about what the post is about to entice them to click and then add the link. As your number of friends grows, this feature becomes more useful because you have a larger potential audience. (You can also update your status update using Twitter, which is handy.)Reminder: Don’t just use your status update to promote your blog. You want to converse with readers, not yell at them. You want to be human. Use it for udpates on what you’re doing; odd thoughts; linking to news stories you think are useful; your mood.
- Make friends: In Facebook parlance, friends are the people you connect with. Facebook is useless you befriend people, so start by searching for people (readers or sources) you already know. Then do searches on Facebook related to your topic. I cover parenting, so I searched for anything with the word “mom” or parenting in it. Other bloggers in your niche may use Facebook, and it can be a wonderful opportunity to connect with them, gain readers and get guest posting opportunities. Don’t be afraid to friend people you don’t know if the person seems to want to connect with your for work. (Obviously, don’t friend anyone who creeps you out. )
- Tell you readers: Don’t save the fact that you’re on Facebook for the tech-savvy few who happen to find you. Start by promoting that you’re on Facebook in your publication regularly and ask readers to join you. You may be surprised to find out how many of your readers are Facebooking. You might put up a Facebook badge on your blog, connecting to your Facebook page. (Here’s how to create the badge.)
- Interact: The whole point of Facebook is to interact, so talk to people and answer back. If a friend publishes an interesting status update, comment on it. And if someone comments on your status update, comment back. Write on people’s walls. Share links to your blog, news stories, other blogs you feel are interesting. (Don’t just talk nonstop about your blog, though, or you’ll just be a bore.)
- Get to know your readers: If one of your blog reader takes the time to befriend you on Facebook, welcome him or her. Notice what links your readers are posting or what they are writing on their walls. You may find out something about a reader that would make him or her perfect for an upcoming story. (I noticed a dad/reader of mine posted a lot of his daughter’s pictures on his Facebook page, so when I was doing a story about how parents are turning to Facebook to keep their friends and relatives updated about their kids, he was a natural pick for a source.)
- A word of caution: Despite all the benefits of social networking, you do need to realize that people misrepresent themselves on the site sometimes, so don’t trust everything you read. Check a person out in other ways before you quote them. And remember that you’re a journalist, so you need to keep certain ethical boundaries. I won’t go into them all here because I think they vary depending on a person’s beat and how they want to use Facebook. Shane Richmond at the Telegraph has a good list of cautions to consider.
These are only some ways to get started on Facebook. I’ve only been on it a year, so I, too, have much to learn. I’d love to hear your ideas of how you use Facebook. Do you find the groups helpful? Do you have an innovative way to connect with readers through Facebook?
Post a comment. (While you’re at it, friend me on Facebook.)
Future posts: I’ll go into MySpace, Linked In, niche sites.