Where Community Meets Journalism
Last week I went back to my journalism roots, attending the digital journalism conference news:rewired. But this time I could wear two hats: journalist and community manager. In a week when The Guardian launched a Platform for citizen journalists, and social media wrongly identified suspects in the Boston bombings, I was eager to hear how news organisations and journalists are using social media and community to engage with their readers, helping to bring their stories to life, personalising it for their readers and even using readers’ content in their own news output.
The keynote speaker was Vadim Lavrusik, Journalism Programme Manager for Facebook. He can also claim to have a foot in both camps as he’s a former journalist at the New York Times as well as a former Community Manager at Mashable. In typical Facebook fashion, his presentation kicked off with an explanation of how the newsfeed works – something we community managers are frequently asked by our clients. While this doesn’t explain how the algorithm actually works, these are the five things that Facebook takes into account when showing content in anyone’s newsfeed:
- Frequency of engagement with page
- Engagement with specific post
- Interaction with types of content
- Negative feedback to content
- Freshness of post
This means no one newsfeed is the same – yours will always differ from your friend’s. So while he couldn’t guarantee that your content will make it into your target audience’s newsfeed, he shared some tips that work for journalists as well as community managers and brands.
- Have a conversational tone and personal voice
- Use targeting controls to reach the right audience and avoid inundating all your fans
- Thumbnails should be 600 x 600 pixels and compelling pictures – links with appealing thumbnails enjoy 20 per cent better engagement
- Highlight conversations on air – create conversations on Facebook and say what happened on air
While this last tip was aimed at broadcasting organisations, there is nothing to stop brands from including stats and quotes from Facebook in their marketing materials, websites and presentations.
Lavrusik even used the buzz word ‘crowdsourcing’ to claim that Facebook was the ideal tool for journalists to take a snapshot of sentiment towards an event. The presentation also highlighted how Facebook’s new replies feature, introduced last month, would make live Q+A much easier and simpler on the platform.
As community managers we’ve shied away from this, but the functionality allows brands to really talk one-on-one with users, as well as getting the community involved. You can watch Lavrusik’s complete presentation here.
Journalism and Community Management
One interesting session was entitled Curation: The journalist as manager. This could have been re-titled The journalist as a community manager. Today’s journalist, as well as researching the hard facts of their story, now has to take opinions and stories from social media platforms to incorporate into their own news stories.
The Huffington Post maintains it is the only news organisation that links to other news websites. If it sees a story has already been written by its competitor, then it links to it. Why bother rehashing the story when your readers have already seen it? Funny how community managers have been doing this for years.We recognise there is value in good quality content as long as the source is authoritative.
Curation, editing and journalism: the same thing?
Michael Rundle, Technology Editor of The Huffington Post UK, said at the session: “Curation is another name for editing which is another word for journalism – bringing together lots of info from one place.” This is exactly what a good community manager does as well. By allowing your community to share and discuss topics that are relevant to them, we are acting as curators. That is precisely why we have community guidelines to help us moderate and manage the members, as well as encourage good community behaviour.
Anticipating social media backlash
Speaking of behaviour, it was suggested at the conference that some journalists have changed the angle of the story or toned down their story because of the backlash they expected to receive on social media or comments on their story. In my day, the only time we faced criticism was when someone took the trouble to ring the editor to complain and that was rare. Now we have empowered readers, members, users, communities and the general public to share their views, and they are absolutely entitled to do so. The key is to being able to moderate and manage these comments, and how you deal with them. Yes, it’s another task on the list, but it extends the shelf-life of a good news story, and journalists need to prepare for this.
Social media training
So what support and training are journalists given on social media? Some news organisations have community or social media teams sitting alongside their journalists to help manage the backlash as well as engage with readers, and this is a great way forward. But is the industry doing enough to share best practices around community building, how to deal with irate readers, interaction with members and keeping the community in order?
News organisations are encouraging reporters to join communities to help with their reporting. And if they can’t find a suitable community they should build their own. While community management is not a dark art, it is important that journalists – and anyone else for that matter – knows the basic principles behind good community management or they are in danger of having these communities backfire on them.
A trusted community is a very useful resource for journalists, and can provide valuable information and insight for use in their stories, but in return their members will want to feel rewarded and acknowledged, not just an unpaid anonymous source.
It looks as though reporters of the future will have to wear two hats – community and journalism – but I think the pairing works very well.
For more on news:rewired’s Digital Journalism conference on April 19th, here’s the Storify round up of the event.
Image courtesy of Flickr: NS Newsflash
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