There’s this funny little joke going around right now that there’s such a thing as a social media expert. These are people who boast advanced skills in the way of Twitter. They’ll teach you how to DM and build a fan page with the best of them.
But what’s so funny is that technically, there’s no such thing as social media.
So we’re in agreement here: there’s such a thing as media, which I’ll define as any platform through which you can distribute information. A newspaper, a TV station and a Facebook profile all fit this description. So does a chalkboard out in the open. So does a TED talk.
But social media? Any platform in which you engage the public could be social media.
So let’s get rid of the title now and get to the heart of the idea: if you’re rethinking your news organization, you need to be thinking about how you work with and talk with your readers, viewers and listeners.
And you can start by considering a few options.
-Commenting forums: Allowing consumers from around the globe to chime in on an issue is a wonderful thing. It brings additional perspectives and ideas to a story. It can also bring unpleasantries; modern commenting forums have taken over where early Internet message boards started. So now’s a good time to ask: are these forums working?
Here’s something to consider: what is it you’d like to get out of commenting forums? Are you really looking to give readers a chance to debate? Because if you are, you’ll first have to set the rules of debate for readers. Or are you looking for reader tips on other similar stories in the community? Because there might be other, more user-friendly forums for readers to suggest story ideas.
My personal favorite use of commenting forums: as a place for reporters to answer additional questions or comments about a story. Sometimes, reporters do this in a live chat that happens after the story is published. But why not put it all in one place, where readers can find it for posterity?
Or, better yet: why not just make consumer engagement part of the reporting process in the first place?
-Twitter and Facebook: Use them. Respond. Reply. Be active. Before/during/after the reporting of a story. It’s okay if your readers help you be the assignment editor. It’s even okay if you open up a forum to actually allow readers to do so. It could actually open your newsroom up to new ideas.
The next step is to actually get back into the community and be engaged offline. I’d recommend one of two methods:
-Weekly chats in the community: In the form of MeetUps/TweetUps/FacebookUps(1) to discuss issues or stories being discussed in the news. Instead of having readers merely email in their thoughts, invite them to regular forums in which they can discuss and debate their ideas.
-Lecture Series: Make it a monthly event. Pick a lecture hall. Pick a topic. Publish a few stories leading up to the lecture about that topic, and then invite experts or interesting thinkers to discuss it. (2)
Either way, it’s essential that you offer some sort of in-person experience with your readers. It’s a great way to get feedback on stories, make new contacts and – best yet – to remind readers of the actual humans they’re supporting when they buy your news.