I have worked with editors who express doubt that social media is worth a journalist's time. I've also worked with editors who can't get enough of cross promotion between Web and print products. But many journalists may ask, where's the balance? How much time spent on social media is too much? Or, how little is too little?
To answer these questions, it's only necessary to check in with your time management skills. As Matt Dominis, Web editor for Sun-Times Media, sums it up:
"Every time I log into a social media site at work, time disappears into a very large black hole."How true for so many of us. For that reason, I want to outline a few tips I have picked up along the way while successfully managing two social media accounts for The Beacon-News (Twitter and Facebook), a daily print features section, and three personal social media accounts with which I keep up on a daily basis (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn).
Ask yourself: Why is your publication using social media?
It is imperative that every social journalist answers this question. Because the past year saw such an increase in the number of news outlets jumping on the social networking bandwagon, you must strategize on how your publication and its branding will stand out from the competition. Make a decision on what your purpose is with each respective social account: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, whatever you may be managing - much like you would for your personal accounts. This question must be evaluated consistently, because your answer could change on a daily, or even hourly, basis. Once you have an answer, you'll be able to tweak your social interaction to get exactly what you're looking for, and you'll come up with smart post topics more quickly. Other great questions to ask yourself include:
- Is your news organization on Facebook to find local sources?
- Are you trying to increase Web site traffic?
- Attract more interest in the print product?
- Gain better understanding of social media?
- Is your news organization on Twitter simply because the competition is?
- Do you plan to use it only to blast headlines as they go online, or to talk to other Twitter users?
Find a social media management tool you like
"Use apps that lets you see multiple social networks in one place," advises Tiffany Black, editorial producer at InStyle.com and "Writing and Editing for the Web" instructor at MediaBistro. There are many tools available for download to help you manage multiple social media accounts, including your personal ones.
- Hoot Suite: This is my favorite. With Hoot Suite, I can manage @Beacon_Readers, @CynthiaGoldberg, my personal Facebook page and my personal LinkedIn profile, all in separate tabs on one screen. It's much easier and faster than logging into various accounts many times a day, and it has great features such as tracking how many clicks you get on each link posted. It also makes retweeting more convenient. Other helpful management tools include:
- TweetDeck: Log into your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace accounts here and view them in different columns all on the same screen. It is reported to be the most popular social media application.
- CoTweet: This business-oriented application allows multiple people to communicate through Twitter accounts and stay in sync while doing so. "No dropped balls, no stepping on each other's toes," its Web site says.
- PeopleBrowsr: PeopleBrowsr describes itself as a "Social Search engine and a Conversation Mine" that dives into digital conversations and engages across multiple networks at the same time.
When to post
"Set times that you will check social media because it can be a time suck ... something like once a day from x to y time," Black says.
I have committed at least three times of the business day to posting to my professional social media accounts. No matter the number that is right for you, the key is to remain consistent. I like to post first thing in the morning, at lunch, and within my last hour in the newsroom. That's not only when it's easiest for me based on my print deadlines, but they're also our peak hours on The Beacon-News' Web site - which tells me it's peak time on Facebook and Twitter, too. I also like to use these times to read the posts and tweets of those I'm following, too, so I can engage with the paper's community and potential followers as much as possible.
Stay committed to your designated times, and you'll find the level of interaction with your following at those times will increase. Let breaking news and other posts such as finding sources come and go naturally; they will be quick posts anyway. I recommend the following in terms of frequency of posts:
- Twitter: Tweets can get lost from the home feed very quickly if your followers are following hundreds of other accounts (and not taking advantage of Twitter lists). Tweet smartly and tweet often. A close friend of mine, Online and Social Media Marketing Manager of Perficient and social media blogger Erin Eschen, recommends at least 10 tweets a day. As a news organization, I believe even going up to 20 tweets in a day, depending on how slow or fast-paced a news day it is. Social journalists are a different species in the Web 2.0 world than other businesses - users are of the frame of mind that news should come to them, so let's give it to them as often as possible without becoming overwhelming.
- Facebook: My opinion is to keep your limit at three to five average posts a day, with room for two to three breaking news updates or otherwise immediate and necessary posts. You don't want to post to Facebook too often, as your fans may just end up hiding you from their news feed if you start to get in the way of their friends' updates.
View your competition for what it is: Competition of your readers' time, interest and money. Be sure to follow every news outlet in your immediate area, as well as major U.S. and world news outlets. You'll see how often, or how little, your local competition is posting, and it will keep you on your toes in terms of coverage. If their post quality is only so-so, do not use that as your standard for quality. Use it as a challenge and tell yourself (and your readers) that your posts will be better and more worth your following's time. To follow your local TV, radio and newspaper competitors may take some time away from your duties to manage social media and producing a newspaper, but it is just as important to read your competition's Facebook and Twitter feeds as it is reading, watching or listening to its product.
Don't let the weekends stress you out
If I have time, I like to post to The Beacon-News' Facebook page on the weekends. And because of news' 24/7 nature, fans and followers appreciate the updates even on the weekends. Perhaps your newsroom has more than one manager of social media tools - if this is the case, one of you should be able to post on the weekends. If it is just one person, do what you can to keep the conversation going even on low activity days. But remember that most people are on Twitter and Facebook less on the weekends, so don't feel bad if you are not as active as you are during the week.
Take advantage of mobile devices
If you have a Blackberry or iPhone, download a Twitter application with which you are comfortable (I like UberTwitter), as well as the standard Facebook app. Check your @replies and fan page comments on your way to the newsroom, and in the evening before heading to bed. Oftentimes readers will @reply or write on The Beacon's Facebook wall questioning the outcome of an accident or other newsworthy event they witnessed - you want to be able to reply to them in a timely manner, even if just to say, "we are still looking into it." A smart phone will help you stay on top of remaining valuable to your readers at all hours of the day, and will keep you connected to what your following is talking about. Just don't let it consume you to the point that you are the person at the bar every Saturday night tweeting for work. Take a break!
The best advice I can offer above all is to make post quality your No. 1 priority, and that deserves quality time. Take every posting session seriously, and give yourself time to make it worth something to your following. I go back to my first point: If you don't know what you are looking to get out of social media as a news organization, why are you a part of it? Have a purpose and stay committed to it. It will make the time that social media takes from our print duties well worth the cost.
"(Social media has) got to be woven in as an expectation, not an add-on," says University of Missouri journalism professor Joy Mayer.I couldn't agree more.
If you have some time management tips of your own for the social journalist, please share. Have a great week!