Be active in your (digital) community

By Jamie DeLoma
Vice President for Communications

As a member of SPJ’s national digital media committee, I have the pleasure of writing columns each year for Quill magazine. I thought my most recent column was worth sharing in this evolving media landscape:

In today’s journalism industry, it is imperative that journalists are active in their digital community.

For decades, some journalists have been criticized for being distant, out of touch and elitist — and in many ways, we were. The high cost of content creation and distribution made it possible for members of the press to keep their distance from the community and interact with the public on their terms. All of that changed with the development of the Internet and social media.

Now almost anyone can tell a compelling story, complete with multimedia elements, and disseminate it to an audience that rivals the audience of any newspaper or television station.

In addition to communicating with the public during breaking news, being active on social media enables journalists to build the trust and cooperation with a diverse public. An effective and compelling social media presence will enable a journalist to have a legion of correspondents with various perspectives and contacts available and eager to help make a report more dynamic and complete.

There are a few sites where every journalist should consider building a presence. Community-building takes time. Waiting until the big story breaks to join is too late. It’s not just about building a large number of followers; it’s about determining which members of the community are the most trustworthy and dependable.

Every journalist should be active on Facebook and Twitter. Journalists active on Facebook must offer something to the community, rather than always taking. A common mistake is a constant feed of stories from a particular reporter or news agency. Nothing turns off an audience more than being lectured. Instead, inform and encourage conversation and collaboration with a variety of content.

Instead of telling your audience the news, tell them why what you are telling them is important, and ask them for their perspective and insight. It will likely enhance your story, as well as expand your audience. As more people talk back to your brand, more of their followers will be informed of your existence and relevancy to the greater community.

On Facebook in particular, it is a good idea for journalists to link a professional page to their personal account. In addition to allowing for unlimited followers (personal accounts are limited to 5,000 friends), journalists could continue to have a personal presence.

Journalists should also maintain an active presence on Google Plus. The circles feature allows users to segregate content based on who is disseminating it, as well as allowing journalists to easily disseminate content to the audience of one’s choosing.

In doing so, it relieves journalists of the need to create a separate, more professional presence, as they could disseminate more personal aspects of their life to one circle and more professional elements to another. However, perhaps most powerfully, the platform permits journalists to host “hangouts,” to connect and collaborate with members of the community via live video chat. Google Plus also allows for easy collaboration between Gmail, Google Docs and other popular Google products.

Another beneficial platform is Foursquare. This network, which encourages users to check in to their current location, is available to anyone with a smartphone and is an effective way of not only spotting potential stories and trends, but also seeing them, as users are able to post photos from their current location. Journalists should consider maintaining the “worldview” feature and enabling phone notification when friends check in to ensure easy monitoring. It’s a great way to reach out to individuals at the scene of a story, determine potential sources for feature and profile stories and catch up with elusive sources and story subjects.

Journalists with iPhones and iPads should consider building a presence on Instagram, a dynamic photo-sharing platform. Although not yet available for other devices, this fantastic platform allows users to share moments from their daily lives — and for journalists to discover potential stories. However, like on the other platforms highlighted, it is imperative for journalists to share content, as well. A reporter covering a meeting could snap a photo and share it, teasing a coming report and asking for feedback, for example. A sports reporter covering a game and a business reporter profiling a business or economic trend could do the same.

During the building process, listen. Interesting and compelling stories will surely follow. As on any other platform, however, journalists need to be able to spot and develop them.

Overall, the journalist with the most diverse community will have a considerable advantage over the competition. It’s no longer about whether journalists should be part of the digital community; it’s now about what digital community is best for their particular beat.

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