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Best practices for social media and journalism

July 7, 2014 By Sue Burzynski Bullard Resources

Using social media effectively requires traditional editing skills. That’s why copy editors often are finding new roles as social media editors. It’s a good fit.

Take Twitter, for instance.

Editors exercise judgment by choosing what to broadcast on Twitter. The best editors understand who their audiences are or, in Twitter’s case, who their followers are. They’re selective when they write tweets. They know they’ll gain followers only if they provide value to their readers.

Scott Kleinberg, social media editor at the Chicago Tribune, uses a rule of thirds for deciding what to share on social media. One third of the time, he said, tweet about things related to your brand. That may mean writing a tweet similar to a headline and linking to a story to promote it.

The second third should be tweets related to your content but coming from other sources.

“On social media, people trust you as a source,” Kleinberg said in an interview. So even if the competition has a breaking news story before your news outlet does, he said, you share it and credit the source if it’s important to your community.

And the final third of Kleinberg’s Twitter formula involves being human. “I don’t think in social media there is anything worse than following a feed that tweets the same thing all the time and never responds to your questions,” he said. “It’s the digital equivalent of someone ignoring you — someone standing in front of you and not answering you when you talk. You wouldn’t like that in real life, and you wouldn’t like that in social media.”

survey of editors showed that most news outlets recognize social media as a tool for disseminating news and information. They know that growth in social media use, particularly Facebook and Twitter, has been rapid. The number of online adults who use Twitter, for instance, has quadrupled since 2010. But many editors aren’t maximizing the potential of audience engagement with social media.

Boost your social media power by adopting these simple, best practices:

• Verify information before posting it. Retweeting or posting bad information hurts credibility. Readers won’t come back if they can’t trust what they find on your site. Editors wouldn’t commit something to print unless they’ve verified its truth; don’t spread rumors on social media either. Being accurate is more important than being first.

• Talk to readers. Thanks to the Web, readers can interact easily with news outlets. They want to be engaged. Pose questions on Facebook. Respond to people who follow you on Twitter or who retweet your posts.

• Treat different social media platforms differently. Facebook and Twitter are not interchangeable. Twitter, for instance, works well with breaking news. Facebook users are more apt to click on posts with images. Understand the differences.

• Avoid over-promotion. If you only use Twitter to promote yourself or your stories, your followers may get bored. Share other information that you think they might be interested in as well.

• Increase your social media savvy with training. The Poynter Institute’s News University has several social media courses. ACES members get a variety of discounts on all NewsU courses. So, for instance, the $14.95 Social Media Strategies and Tools for News course is 25 percent off with the ACES discount.

For more advice on social media, listen to this short video featuring Amy Guth, former social media manager at the Chicago Tribune.

Sue Burzynski Bullard is an associate professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a member of the ACES Executive Committee.

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