8 Ways To Improve Your Social Media Usage

by on Jul.24, 2011, under In the News, What's New

A story written for the Radio Television Digital News Association:

8 Ways To Improve Your Social Media Usage
Mar 30 2011
By Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog & RTDNA Blogger

Social media – some people love it, others despise it. But, no matter what side you may fall on, as a journalist you are probably on at least one and using it for both professional and personal reasons.

The mix between professional and personal can be tricky to balance. How much sharing is too much? Should you “like” politicians on Facebook? What about liking links to stories that show bias one way or the other? And most importantly: What about the comments you make or status updates you post, are they biased?

Here are some things to keep in mind while tweeting and scanning your news feed.

1. Watch what you “like” on Facebook. “Liking” a brand or band or news organization on Facebook is easy, fun and it shows support for that person, individual or group. It is a great way to support friends and family and spread the word about something you love. But, keep in mind that when you click the “like” button your feelings of support are no longer private. As journalists we are supposed to be unbiased in our reporting. How is a reader going to portray your story on a democratic political candidate if you “like” all of the republican candidates on Facebook? Even if you feel you can put your feelings to the side for the story, what will the viewer think? You do not want them to have any reason to doubt your coverage so think twice before you show your support for a candidate or anything else for that matter.

2. Consider a “Disclaimer” statement on your profiles. I have one on my personal profiles and professional profiles and if anything it just makes me feel a little more comfortable. I spell it out for people: just because I am in a group on Facebook does not mean I am actually “in” the group. I may be in the group to obtain information or to get in contact with members who are associated with the group. Sometimes in order to get updates from a politician you have to “like” them or follow them. Consider telling people that in a disclaimer sentence at the end of your profile.

3. Watch your comments. Whether it is a RT on Twitter or an actual comment on Facebook, comments can get you in trouble. Be careful of the words you use, the type of sentence you are writing and most importantly what you are saying.

4. Keep opinions to yourself on personal accounts. As journalists we still have opinions and we still want to voice them and that is our right. The key is to be careful. If you want to be more vocal on Facebook or Twitter consider strengthening your privacy settings and closely monitoring who you allow to see your profile and information.

5. Watch what you delete. When you post something you did not mean to and delete it, remember that someone, somewhere probably still saw it and may have made a copy or a screen shot of what you said. Sometimes deleting can be worse than what you said in the first place. Think about whether you want to delete it or consider posting an explanation or a clarifying sentence.

I also would like to add that I think it is OK to share opinions and make comments about topics you do not cover. For instance, I cover education but I still love to follow what is going on in the entertainment world, especially when it comes to music. I comment and share links to stories about entertainment and Hollywood all the time. But, I do so knowing that as much I like it, I will probably never be covering the industry professionally. Other than tweeting or sharing links on Facebook, I do not see myself interviewing people from the red carpet in the future.

But, when it comes to education stories, I do not let my opinions of how money is being spent or how I feel about the newest piece of legislation come through anywhere in public. I feel I owe that to my audience. I want to provide non-biased coverage for them and do not want to give them any reasons to doubt that that is exactly what I am doing.

On the other hand, I am very passionate about government transparency and an individuals right to information. This is something I will comment on and is also something I will cover for my news organization.

The key, I think, is to really sit down and think about what you want your viewers to think about you. Personally, I want people to know that I feel people have a right to certain information and I have no problem helping people get the information. I also do not mind people know that I love pop music. What I do not want people to know or think is that I have a biased toward a member of the school board, the superintendent, a piece of education legislation, etc. Ask yourself what you do not mind people knowing about you and what you do not want people to think about you when it comes to your news coverage. Then base your posts on that!

Along with watching what you are typing, “liking” and sharing, always remember the following:

1. Be Social. The point of social media is to interact with people. Don’t just share links. Comment on others links, think of ways to engage people who are following you. BE SOCIAL and LISTEN!

2. Don’t be afraid of the competition. If you find a great news story, share it, even if it is from a reporter at a competing station. Do not be afraid to share links of other news organizations in your market. Being competitive is important but what is more important is sharing quality news with your audience.

3. Be responsive & communicate. Remember to check your messages and mentions on Twitter and do this often. If someone asks you a question about a story you posted but you do not respond for a few days, how helpful is that? That same goes for Facebook comments on your wall or links. Answer the questions, tell people what you know. If you do not want everyone to see your response to the individual then message them individually or e-mail them.

I have in no way perfected social media and I am not sure anyone ever will, which is one reason why it is so fun! Those are just some tips I have picked up along the way and I would love to hear what else you do. Share them with me below or on Twitter @LWalsh.

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