Journalists don’t have much time to spare, so quick reference lists are always helpful.
“10 Commandments of Getting Good Sound,” posted on the Missouri School of Journalism‘s website for convergence students, is no exception. I know the list is useful because I failed to obey one of the commandments, “Thou shall always check the tape before you depart a scene,” while covering a Marching Mizzou practice. I regretted it immensely while editing.
Also helpful are social media reference lists. If you haven’t seen one, you must be hibernating because they show up on my Twitter timeline almost every day. Today, “20 Ways to Master Google+” from Social Media Examiner caught my eye. It’s a well-compiled list and has convinced me that I need to step up my savvy on the network. Additionally, seeing the “20 Ways” list has made me reflect on my own social media standards. Many of you know that I run Twitter and Facebook for the Online News Association at Mizzou, a responsibility that has made me scrutinize every tweet I see and, as a result, develop guidelines for what I see as good practices. So, I’ve created my own reference list containing tips for how journalism students should use social media. The idea is far from original, and many of the points aren’t groundbreaking. Nonetheless, they help me every day.
Be personable, not dramatic. News audiences increasingly expect journalists to be conversational and to share information about their outside-of-the-newsroom lives. While pop culture sometimes mocks people who post daily activities on Facebook — read: the teacher in “Easy A” — it’s a way to build trust between audiences and journalists. However, there’s a fine line between tweeting what movie you’re watching and writing, “I’m so done with people who stab me in the back and then pretend they’re my friend” (I made that up, but you get the idea). I feel sympathy for people having personal troubles, but a blurry line between personal and professional lives isn’t a license to abandon discretion. News audiences want to have conversations with journalists, but I doubt they want underhanded jabs clogging their feeds. (Think, student journalists, do you want to compromise your credibility this early?)
Understand retweet etiquette: Retweeting carefully is a sign of transparency. Always credit sources using “via” or “h/t” (hat tip) if you’re spreading their information without directly retweeting it. Also, if you’re retweeting something that was previously retweeted, try to credit as many of the previous users as possible, a practice I learned from Tweet Smarter‘s “How Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended From Twitter.” I highly recommend reading everything that Dave Larson writes in this post. I have it bookmarked.
Different networks need different strategies: Almost all of my Facebook friends are, well, friends. They’re acquaintances from high school and college. While I also have personal connections on Twitter, many of my followers and people I follow are news folks. As a result, I share news links on Twitter much more often than I do on Facebook because I know my high school basketball buddies don’t want to read about mobile reporting. Differences also exist for ONA Mizzou. With Twitter, I share links about general digital-journalism topics because @ONAMizzou has news-industry followers all over the country. On the other hand, Facebook has a smaller, more Mizzou-centric audience, so I make club-specific updates the focus of that medium.
Try to avoid scheduling updates: I admit that I sometimes schedule tweets in advance, but this is only when I have no choice (I’m an overcommitted journalism student just like you). For example, I know college kids like to browse Twitter after classes end in the late afternoon, but this is also when Marching Mizzou, which I’m covering for Journalism 2150, has practice. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to inform @ONAMizzou followers about upcoming events, etc., so I occasionally schedule a few tweets around 4:15 p.m. But when I do so, I choose links that will still be relevant if news breaks while I’m away (which isn’t long). My attention moves back to the feed as soon as possible.
Constant scheduling is a sign that you don’t want to interact with your audience. I update in real time whenever possible because the best part of running ONA Mizzou social media is getting to people from a variety of places and professions. The following statistic, posted Wednesday by Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalist program manager, says it all:
Tip of the Day for Journalists: Posts published through automated feeds (RSS, other platforms, etc.) get 2-3x less engagement than posts published manually with an authentic voice (as a teaser for the link).
People know when you’re not listening. They’re going to be less likely to contribute their thoughts on something when they think they’re talking to a wall.
Automation and scheduling aren’t the same, but the underlying message is clear: Be human.
Keep track of your click-throughs: You don’t have to understand every engagement statistic, but pay attention to how often people click on links you tweet. More importantly, note what kind of content your followers like best. Also, if one of your links was popular, check your Timeline to see when you tweeted it. Maybe that’s when most of your audience is usually online.
Bit.ly is a link-shortening service that keeps track of clicks. I highly recommend getting an account.
Grammar still applies: Abbreviated words and ampersands instead of “ands” are often acceptable in tweets. That’s because it’s usually best to stop short of 140 characters, so people can retweet you and add thoughts. But if you have room for proper grammar and Associated Press style while still being concise, use them. It’s a way to show employers that you know your stuff.
Use common sense: Enough said.
I could add more to this list, but I’ll stop for now in the interest of your attention. I understand I’m not an expert. Heck, I’m a college sophomore, and I have a lot more to learn. This means feedback is welcome, so if you completely disagree with what I’ve written, tell me.
Bon voyage on your social media adventures.
Image at top courtesy of Flickr user Rosaura Ochoa