News Leadership 3.0

November 03, 2009

Social media, Spider Man, and the new journalism

A list of five lessons in social media and how they translate for journalists today

I really enjoyed the post “Everything I Needed to Know About Social Media I Learned From Spider-Man.” After you read it, here’s the look at the lessons (bold face) with my thoughts (regular type):
1. Listen first. How many news organizations are using social media to push out your headlines but neglecting to find interesting community conversations that might inform news coverage? Success on social media requires abandoning the traditional idea of one-way media (from news organization to the public) and finding ways to tap into conversations and learn from them without intruding.
2. Be real. This remains a tough one for traditional journalists who came up on a notion that objectivity was a primary goal. Being “objective” often meant being detached and hiding personal perspectives (different from partisan opinion). Authenticity is a key requirement on social media. That doesn’t necessarily mean taking sides. It does mean being forthcoming about views and connections that underlie how you approach a story or issue.
3. Engage your audience through dialogue. For journalists, this means reconsidering your role as an information provider by adding the role of information facilitator. As I’ve said before, few of us who entered journalism in the last century knew much about participating in, even fostering conversation. Our job was to get the quote and write it up. But the Internet makes the playing field more level. Your users, or community, have something to add and journalists need to learn to hear them.
4. Involve your audience and use their feedback to improve your product. The days of building the perfect project (remember those print redesigns that took a year or more?) are over. Don’t wait, iterate. Assume your users will show you how to make your project better.
5. Build a community.Take some of that great effort that goes into creating quality craft and invest it in fostering conversation and community. Ultimately, it will make your journalism better because you’ll know more about the community you serve and what it needs from you. And you’ll strengthen you brand where it matters—on your home turf.
As Sven Larsen, the writer of the post, points out: “... the principles behind Social Media have been around for decades (and we should focus on those principles and not the latest flashy tools that help us put them in to practice).”
These principles are pretty simple. They do require a re-imagining of the role of the journalist and, as a practical matter, re-imagining by newsroom leaders of the priorities for the staff.
In a different post, Kevin Marks explains an emerging role in online community: “The communities that fail, whether dying out from apathy or being overwhelmed by noise, are the ones that don’t have someone there cherishing the conversation, setting the tone, creating a space to speak, and rapidly segregating those intent on damage.”
Who does that in your newsroom? It may seem daunting as resources dwindle. I think it’s necessary. Don’t wait. Iterate.


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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