Moving forward to engagement, Part 3

Once you’ve identified the topics you’ll cover or the first opportunities to test your new engagement strategy, the project manager can work with the vested reporter/editor to determine a starting point. Before you try to find new sources on the beat or topic, it’s a helpful to document and use sources you already have by creating a shared database. This isn’t a must-have for this framework, but it can pay dividends in the future — perhaps even financially — if you're able to integrate the database with those in your financial department.

There are many ways to go about this, and you’ll have to investigate which system makes the most sense for your organization. However, here are some general characteristics for putting together this database:

  • Is it relatively simple to use? Use as stripped-down a system as possible so that it can be sliced, diced and sorted in numerous ways. Using Google Sheets or something similar is a good start.
  • Is it sortable?
  • Is it searchable?
  • Is it accessible to the entire organization?
  • What is the plan for its maintenance? Who will be the keeper of the database when changes are made or new sources must be added or removed?
  • How reliable is it? Is the place where the information will be stored (locally or in the cloud) stable?
  • If it’s a more advanced system, what is the customer support situation? Is it what you need?

Can we talk?

Once you’ve settled on the structure, it’s time to start populating your database with people interested in specific beats or your chosen topic. This is a process best facilitated by conversations and group work with the project manager and vested reporter/editor.

Beyond the typical categories of name, job title and telephone number, consider including information about each source in the following categories:

  • Website.
  • Social media handles (a must-have for effective digital outreach).
  • Email.
  • Neighborhood of residence or company significance (especially useful for those with brick-and-mortar organizations focused on neighborhood issues or businesses).
  • Key topic interest or expertise.

Start with power players before involving the community

  • Who are the “typical faces” in this issue? Start building your database with these names first.
  • Then, have the vested reporter, project manager and collaborator/producer have conversations with each of these power players. Questions for those conversations can include: Whom else should we know that we don’t? Who is someone they speak with regularly or from whom they get the inside track on this topic or beat? Include any names you get from these conversations in your database. Fringe benefit: These conversations often spur new story ideas.
  • Remember the people you identified when you asked, “Who are we trying to reach?” and “To whom is this topic important?” Go find these people and talk with them. Put them in your database and find out whom they know and where they learn about the topic you’re interested in pursuing. Put those people in your database as well.

The next step: Social network mapping

If you’ve gone through all of these steps and have had conversations with as many people as possible, you should be amassing a nice starting list of people with whom to connect. Technology now allows us to take these conversations and connections to the next level with something called social media network mapping.

You know those social media handles you collected for your database? This is where they come into play. Using each person as their own node or point of origin, you can visually map the networks of people your database members communicate with regularly on social media — without them having to tell you who they are.

Admittedly, this is a step that I haven’t fully pursued and one I want to understand better. An excellent place to start with this pursuit is by reading “Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL: Insights from a Connected World” by Hansen, Shneiderman and Smith. Project managers and collaborators can read this and add it as a layer to your database compilation. It’s an exciting tool that deserves further use and study.

Kelsey Proud  
Institutional fellowship project lead


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