In 2011 it is no longer possible to be a top professional journalist without mastering social media. Here are five reasons why news organizations need to care about the new trends.
Social media is starting to become an integrated part of the work of many news organizations. Yet many editors and journalists still struggle to see why they should put a lot of effort into understanding the dynamics of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.
- Read also: Social networking tips for mainstream media
I gave a speech this week for the annual conference of the European Alliance of News Agencies in Geneva, Switzerland. In preparation for the presentation I compiled this list of five key reasons why social media should matter to news companies:
1. Distribute the content
Social media is all about sharing – and sharing drives traffic. As such Facebook and Twitter can be powerful channels for distributing content.
There are two main reasons for that:
- People tend to trust tips from their friends more than others. Stories shared on Facebook and Twitter therefore have a higher chance of being clicked on.
- People spend much more time on social network sites than on other sites. According to Facebook, the site’s 800 million users spend on average 15 hours per month on the site. By making their content available on these sites, media organizations make it easy for people to share their stories.
2. Create engagement
Content without engagement has no – or at least low – value.
Most news sites will find that content that creates engagement will have a longer average length of the user sessions. People spend more time on the content and they will move on to more of the other content of the site as well.
The big social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and YouTube, provide efficient tools to create engagement and they also provide lots of information about who actually engages with your content. And THAT is valuable information most news organizations would struggle to find on their own.
Journalism used to be a one-way process. Editors selected the news and presented the same stories to a large audience, confident that no other could reach the same audience.
This premise has changed. Today everyone can create a mass communication channel. Journalists do no longer have a monopoly of distributing information.
This fact changes journalism. And it changes people’s expecations of the journalists. It also mean that journalism hasbeen redefined. It is no longe a one-way street. Instead modern journalism is a continueous stream of two-way communication.
3. Pick up news fast
When big news events occur there are no better place to keep track during the first hours than in social media.
In fact social media is a great tool for professional journalists to pick up news. And this seems to be done in at least three different ways:
- Big and live news events. In these situations journalists should immediately start monitoring Twitter to pick up any news from eyewitnesses or other sources. News will typically be distributed in social media first – and then in the traditional media.
- When social media becomes part of the news event itself. We see this happen more and more often, for instance in the uprising in Libya or in the terror attack in Norway. How people use social media during the events – and what role this plays – becomes an important element of the story to be told.
- Monitoring social media for particular areas of interest. This is the everyday use of social media in an editorial organization. Most journalists have an area of expertise. They should systematically monitor what is being said about that area – including the messages from important sources – in social media.
4. Dialogue with readers
Social media forces us to change our way of thinking – from journalism being a “one-way-communication” to looking at our profession as a two-way dialogue.
Social media is all about sharing – and dialogue. Unfortunately many editors don’t seem to realize this. They look at social media primarily as a place to distribute content – and don’t reflect on the fact that people want them to share and communicate as well.
In fact sharing is the core of social media. And there is no way we can succeed with a social media strategy if we do not start to share
For editors there are many benefits in starting to talk to readers through social media.
Take the Facebook page of Aftenposten – Norway’s largest newspaper - as an example. It now has 67.000 followers. Aftenposten has been quite skilled in using the Facebook page not only to distribute content, but to ask for the advice from readers in covering specific stories. For the editorial staff this has turned out to be extremely useful. (Disclaimer: I work for Media Norge, the owner company of Aftenposten)
5. Build brand value
This is the more overriding reason: How a news company uses social media influences the brand value of the company.
During the meeting of European news agencies I was asked which business opportunities I saw in social media.
I am not sure that is the right focus. At least business models are not the first we should look for. But doing things right in social media is an efficient tool to build brand value over time.
And high brand value always creates business opportunities.
How you dialogue with your readers in social media can strongly influence the perception of your brand – for better or worse. Your task therefore should be to establish brand missionaries, people who will do anything to promote your brand among their friends and acquaintances.
It is in fact becoming more or less impossible to be a professional journalist today without an active attitude towards social media. Yes, Facebook and media brands are to some extent competitors, at least when it comes to catching people’s attention. Yet, social media and traditional media organizations are in position to collaborate much more than before – to the benefit of both parties.