How to get started with Social Media

I have a chance to speak to the Missouri Press Association today with Joy Mayer at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. We have a chance to speak to editors and publishers – many who are lucky to have an engaged audience of readers in small towns across the state. We’re talking today about social media and how it is worth learning about before the core readers age out and the new readers never take their news product into consideration to use as a way to learn about their communities.

But the key tip I hope to share is how to get started in social media. We think this is important because of a little moment I had last week with a large lecture class I’m teaching this semester called Journalism and Democracy. It’s better known as “Journalism for non-journalism majors.” There are 236 students enrolled. All of the students are underclassmen and planning to graduate with a wide range of degrees. There are all kinds of differences until you ask how they got their news of the day. (I took a picture of a portion of the class during our first test of the semester.)

Last week, a class speaker and I asked the class to raise their hands to see who watched television news in the last 24 hours. Four hands went into the air. We asked how many people had read news from a printed material on a newspaper or magazine. Six people put their hand in the air. Then we asked how many people got news from the Internet. All but two people raised their hand. Two people explained they had been so busy with school and work, they had not opened the Internet in the last 24 hours.

Everyone raised their hands when we asked if they learned something new (news or personal, we didn’t differentiate for this question) that day from a social networking tool.

If this class is a peek into the future of news consumption, we better hop into social media and see what the heck is going on here!

But how do you get started?

Let me tell you how I did it. It starts with curiosity.

In 2005, I heard a lot of my students talking about this thing called “Facebook.” They were sharing and distracted and always talking about it. So I hopped in. You just needed an email from .edu account. I had one. So I dug in and created an account. I watched interactions between students. (I had a rule where I would never “friend” a student, but I would accept friend requests. I would only choose to “friend” students after they graduated.) My husband would harass me for using Facebook. But I saw merit in the natural way people interacted with each other. I created a profile for my newsroom and tried to see what kind of interaction I could get in that space. Eventually Facebook created the opportunity to let brands build pages on the site. All of these developments grew while I was already in the space. I understood how it worked because I played with it on a personal level first.

I did the same thing with Twitter. I created a personal account and a newsroom account in June 2006. I had heard some people talking about the tool and I’d seen how easy it was to share information from your phone by just sending a text message. So I signed up. I would text messages and post quick 140 character messages. For my newsroom, I just posted an RSS feed of links. About a month or two into my personal use of Twitter, I realized how searchable the account was on Google and other search tools. I had used the names of my children in many posts and decided to delete the account so my name wouldn’t be linked to their names. But I returned to Twitter with a new account in October of 2006 after watching how Twitter was used to help relay information during a large group of wildfires in Southern California. I still follow the Los Angeles Fire Department thanks to that event. News and emergency officials used Twitter to share information about safety, the size of fires and rescue efforts. I started talking about journalism and mom stuff on a personal level, but I would call my son “the boy” and my daughter “the girl.” The first time I met up with Twitter followers in my town, they were so excited to meet my children and finally learn their real names.

Working with Twitter is a little trickier to understand how to use on a personal level than Facebook. I highly recommend trying Twitter with  a tool called TweetDeck. Most new Twitter users notice how it makes more sense to read and connect with people. You can search by terms, people and conversations called hashtags – these are chats where everyone includes a word with a hashtag in the front. When you follow the hashtag, you can jump in and converse or just peek in on the conversation. Some of my favorite hashtag conversations are #journchat, #wjchat and #smcedu

I didn’t get to this point where I could easily converse immediately. I warmed up to it. But I kept trying. I would @ a person and see if he or she would respond. I have made friends and colleagues through Twitter. I have learned about my community and found new connections to news consumers.

If you want to read some of my other posts about Twitter, feel free to click here to see my a webinar I did on Twitter a while back that still holds true. Also, I keep track of great tools for journalism that are free or really cheap. I have a great list of Twitter tools included!

I would not be linked to my town the way I am without the help of Twitter and Facebook. It is not the end-all-be-all of journalism. But it is a way to connect with many people who are not consuming my newsroom’s material in the traditional ways. And as my class full of 236 underclassmen become professionals, their communication and information collection styles are going to affect us all. It’s great to jump in before you’re playing catch up.


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