Distribution dominates many discussions about the future of journalism on the web. Should newspapers charge for content? Should they link to each other? The list goes on. But at the same time, especially with the rise of social sites like Facebook, journalists now have a new range of free, easy-to-use tools to help them do their jobs better.
Today’s journalists must be everything they once were but also tech savvy. Students in college journalism programs are already being trained to navigate the social web. In the list below, we offer tips on using social features like Facebook fan Pages to help journalists find new stories, check facts and interact with readers.
1. Join Pages to get instant updates about your beat.
While not every organization has a live and active Facebook Page, thousands do. When you become a fan of a Page, updates from it appear in the Pages section of your news feed. At Inside Facebook, we use it to track news from Facebook itself and other technology companies with active pages, such as in this case last week. But tech journalism is just a small segment of the media. Say you’re a writer for the fashion section of the newspaper or magazine. “Fanning” brands with Facebook Pages is one way to effortlessly stay on top of their activities. Wall updates are usually accompanied with feedback from fans. As a journalist, you can easily track what kinds of updates appeal the most to fans and read how fans are personally thinking via the comments they leave. Before you even write a single word, you can better gauge how readers will react to your piece.
2. Verify the facts and make sure the source of your leads are actually reliable.
A major problem with gathering data on the web has been that people can easily hide their identities. Owing to Facebook’s origins as a site for real-life relationships on college campuses, the site’s users tend to share information about their real lives with each other. For a journalist trying to, say, do a background check on a source, this “real life” aspect means they can use Facebook to learn more about the person and establish their credibility. Features like “mutual friends” are especially valuable. If a source is a friend of your friend, you are more likely to assume that the source is legitimate — and if you have any questions, you know you can ask your friend for more information.
Questions remain about some practices of using information gleaned from Facebook. Most of it is considered private. Yet information put on Facebook can be easily leaked to journalists, as a number of recent scandals have shown. Media laws in this area very between countries, as do editorial policies in newsrooms, so journalists looking to use private information gained on Facebook should consult their editors and lawyers. For some, see this special report on social media for newspapers by Editor & Publisher.
3. Publish content and reach your audience in a social context.
News organizations can also create Facebook pages to reach fans on the site, then cross-promote their pages and their web sites (for example, here’s Inside Facebook’s fan page). Some users may not want to spend a lot of time on a news site but will want to read the occasional article in their news feeds, so use your page to publish posts throughout the day. As posts go live, fans interact by liking and commenting.
News is a hot topic on Facebook. The number of links shared on Facebook has doubled from 9 million in April to 18 million last month; Facebook links account for 19 percent of visits to news site The Huffington Post, and are the top traffic driver to Perez Hilton’s gossip site. With 500,000 fans, The New York Times Facebook Page is one of the gold standards in the business. It generates multiple Wall posts, covering breaking news across various topics and industries, and includes visually arresting photos and videos.
Note that the “Like” feature can make for some awkward moments. In the example below, it’s not entirely appropriate for fans to “like” the recent fires in Southern California, although this may not be their intention.
4. Participate in the conversations you initiate on your Facebook Page.
Building an online fan base extends beyond user acquisition. Continue to engage fans by publishing rich content to your Wall. Respond to fan comments when it’s appropriate. Offer special promotions and sneak previews of what’s to come. To build a successful and dynamic community around your product, think about how to maximize the fan-to-page experience.
5. Also allow your audience to interact among one another.
Creating an online community is not just about listening and responding to your audience. Enable user-to-user conversations whenever possible. In July, CNN integrated Facebook Connect so that users could watch Michael Jackson’s memorial service online while discussing their thoughts with their Facebook friends and other Facebook users around the world. During the service, 759,000 Facebook users watched the live broadcast by logging into Facebook Connect. Combined, they generated 733,000 status updates at a rate of 6,000 posts per minute at the peak.
See also: HuffPost Social News‘s Facebook Connect implementation.
Social journalism is very much a nascent trend, but it’s one to watch and to think about carefully. What ethical policies should be put in place? How do journalists keep their work and private lives separate on Facebook, a place where the boundary is blurry for most users? What will happen to the quality of news content ? Will the most widely read and circulated stories help readers think responsibly or will entertainment and humor sites rule? As the newspaper industry loses profits, will it figure out a way to monetize online traffic? There’s a social media revolution going on and more questions than answers for now.