Today’s post is second in my series of how journalists can use social-networking sites to connect with readers and help them make sense of the world. MySpace can be useful for journalists in much the same ways as I outlined in my post about journalists on Facebook, with some notable differences.
Before I get into those differences, I think there’s an important point to make about using both MySpace and Facebook to gather information about people you are writing about — if they happen to have pages on those sites. Yes, social-networking sites are good for finding a juicy tidbit about a murder suspect, who is accused of killing his girlfriend, or discovering the hobbies of the new college president you’re interviewing tomorrow. But MySpace and Facebook profile information should be a starting point — to help you know what questions to ask the source or other people who know the source. Don’t trust what you read because, let’s face it, people lie on social-networking sites.
This American Journalism Review article outlines how newspapers have used social-networking sites as reporting tools. And this Poynter Institute post offers guidelines for journalists who use these sites.
Not just for reporting
But if all you’re using Facebook and MySpace for is a reporting tool, you’re missing a lot. What’s new about new media, is the ability to interact directly with the readers. Social networks are designed to do just that. So to use them well you need to jump in and join the conversation on these sites, not just pick and choose data from other people’s pages. You must engage.
So should you be on both Facebook and MySpace?
Yes, and here’s why.
- MySpace is bigger: It hovers around 60 million unique visitors, compared with Facebook’s 47.5 million, although Facebook is growing more quickly, according to Nielsen Online data at Mashable.com. That means you have access to many more people and potential readers through your page. Plus some people are on both MySpace and Facebook, but many are not, so you might miss out if you pick one or the other. (If you cover music or young people, you’ll definitely want to be on MySpace because so many bands are on there.)
- It offers a blog tool: Unlike Facebook, MySpace offers a spot where you can blog right on your page. This offers you a creative way to reach and interact with readers and potential readers. I’ll explain how I use the blog tool, but don’t be limited by my ideas. Figure out what would work on your beat to help you connect with your readers.
I use the MySpace blog to post a weekly newsletter that I also send out by e-mail to about 250 subscribers who read my Family Lifeblog. The newsletter isn’t a RSS feed from my blog; it’s a separate mailing I put together that highlights some of my posts and provides links to them and gives newsletter subscribers special access to contests on my blog. (I will do a separate post on the newsletter and its value, but mainly it’s a way to remind readers to read my blog in a more personal way than an RSS feed. My subscribers become sources for stories, a sounding board for ideas, insiders who help me do my job.)
Basically, MySpace’s blog tool allows me to potentially reach all my MySpace friends — who in my case are mainly readers, not actual friends – with my newsletter and help them feel connected. When my weekly newsletter is posted on MySpace, I send out a bulletin alert to all friends. MySpace keeps track of how many people read your MySpace blog, and I’m thrilled to report that many of my MySpace friends regularly read my Family Life blog through MySpace. Why is that important? Because I’m reaching readers in the way they want information instead of expecting them to get information the way a newspaper wants to give it.
- You can add widget boxes:You set up a widgetbox at widgetbox.com, and it basically provides a live roll of your blog posts. It’s cool to put on MySpace because if people click on it — and they will because it’s enticing — they go directly to your blog. Plus, people can also click on the bottom of the widget box to put a widget box on their MySpace page. When that happens, you maximize the number of blog hits you get because it’s basically like free promotion from a MySpace friend. (Now, technically, you can put a widgetbox on Facebook, but it shows as a link not a widget, which I think is much less effective.)
I’d love to hear your ideas for using MySpace as a journalist. Post a comment. And if you’re on MySpace, friend me.
Next up: Using Linked In and niche social networks.