31 July 2009

Social Media Revolution

Social media represent "a revolution in communication that no journalist or news organization can afford to ignore," says journalist and self-described change advocate Michele McLellan.

She offers three lessons in social media for news executives and entrepreneurs: Understand how it works. Understand how people (not journalists) use it. Use it strategically.

Specifically, she has three suggestions for how to proceed:

1. Try it. Start with Facebook. Set up an account, link up with friends and family members, and locate groups that reflect your interests. Start posting once a day. Share links to interesting articles. Ask friends to comment. Comment on others' posts. Devote 10 minutes a day to this for several weeks.

Next, she advises, start a Twitter account and repeat these steps. If you want to drive traffic for a certain subject on your site, Twitter will be a better tool than Facebook, she adds -- advice supported by JP Digital Digest posts earlier this week on the rapid growth of Twitter as a content-sharing tool.

"Resist the urge to create a litany of reasons you don’t like Facebook or Twitter or any other network you join," McLellan cautions. "You are not the point. Understanding how social media works is Job 1. Just talking about it or dissing it won’t get you there."

2. Watch how other people use social networks. What are people sharing and how do they share it? Don’t look at social media through the eyes of the journalist, she says; instead, focus on how people communicate with each other. Check out people who have a lot of followers on Twitter. How do they write, and what do they offer that appeals to you? Learn as much as you can about how people in your community use social media. Use search and check out sites such as PlaceBlogger to identify and connect with social media leaders. Ask the people around you how they use social media, too. Start thinking about how the news you produce might improve their experience -- which, she adds, "is different from trying to get them to read your news."

3. Be strategic. There’s no point in being on all the networks all the time, McLellan says. "Figure out a strategy, try it out and stick with it long enough to figure out whether it works, and learn from your mistakes if it doesn’t."

She says news organizations should not expect to get immediate revenue from social media. The applications are about community and conversation; they are valuable for journalists who want to increase their community connections. "It is those connections that may eventually yield revenue, from advertisers who want to speak to those communities, from services the news organization discovers those communities want, and from loyalty that will help keep the users coming back," McLellan concludes.

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