Today’s the last installment in my series on how journalists can use social-networking sites. (If you haven’t been here for the whole series, be sure to read about how to use Facebook, MySpace and Linked In in previous posts.)
To me, niche social networks provide perhaps the greatest potential for journalists trying to engage their community. Why? Because they reach an already-targeted audience.
If you write about education, and you want to find people really interested in education, for example, a niche social network might help. You won’t reach as large or as broad and audience as Facebook, but a smaller audience that is super interested in your blog topics or stories is better in way than a larger audience that isn’t.
I rely on two main niche social networks for my beat, parenting. They are Cafe Mom and Twitter Moms. They help me connect with moms both in my geographic coverage area and throughout the world who may be interested in the parenting tidbits on my Family Life blog.
But niche social networks don’t just work for my beat. They can work for yours, too.
How do you find a niche network on your beat?
- Ning.com: Anybody can start their own social network for free on ning.com, and they do. First step, plug in a keyword of your beat (education, firefighters, environmentalists.) Then check out sites. You may need to try out a few. If one doesn’t yield results, try another one. You can even start your own site if that will serve your readers by helping them connect in one place. (If you’re considering setting up your own site, here are some ideas at Beat Blogging to help you decide whether that will work for you.)
- Do a Google search: It seems so obvious, but I found one mommy social-networking site while trying to help a reader find a support group for parents of children with autism. I Googled autism and support groups, and found a support group on this mommy social network. (I just Google firefighter social networks and came up with this social network just for firefighters, EMTs and rescue workers, which could be helpful if you cover the police and crime beat.)
- Watch ads on Facebook and MySpace: I found out about Cafe Mom through an ad on MySpace, which I suspect showed up on my page because I have a lot of parenting/mommy type information on my page.
So why do you want to connect with people who aren’t in your geographic area?
- Reach more readers: Local newspapers, especially ones in smaller cities, used to be limited by their geography. The Web changes that. While I believe newspapers should play to their strengths and focus on their local community, that doesn’t mean you can’t gain readers all over the world. So many experiences are universal. So many issues we write about transcend geographic boundaries. A compelling murder trial can fascinate people across the globe from where it happened. Niche networks help you expand your community beyond geography to include all the folks really interested in your topic.
- Find out a buzz: If you cover education, and you find out on an education-related niche social network that a new way of teaching math is gaining popularity, you can bring that idea back to your community. Is it being used in your geographic area? Should it? Your educating yourself, so you can engage your reader better by finding out the answers to smart questions. You may even come upon some experts to use in stories.
- Connect with your readers: Once you join a site, let your readers know you’re there. Promote it on your blog or in the newspaper regularly. You’re expanding your community two ways: widening the circle to include people outside your geographic area and engaging those people who already read you. In time, your regular readers will join the site you’re on. You’ll have access to them in a while new way. You’ll be able to chat with them, find out what they think you should be writing about, even ask them to write for your blog or your newspaper. They’ll become your inner-circle of advisers.
- Find how your particular site works: You need to play around once you join a site, and figure out how it will serve you and your readers. Each one may be different. Cafe Mom, for example, has a “hot list,” where people can list links they think will be popular. I use that on occasion to list a story from my newspaper’s Web site or a blog post of mine that I think will have wider interest. Other readers can “bump” my link, so it moves higher up on the list and likely reaches more readers. I don’t use this feature every day, but it’s a good way to reach the targeted group of moms on Cafe Mom, which has an estimated 6 million visitors monthly. Twitter Moms offers a spot to list all my blog contests and polls, potentially expanding their reach. I’m also on the “welcome wagon,” for that site, so I get a tweet each time new members join. That enables me to “welcome” them with a nice note on their page; hopefully, they’ll check out my page and my blog or friend me. Niche sites in your topic will have their own unique features. You just need to find them.