Don’t think social media is worth the time and effort in your small newsroom? You might want to reconsider, says Jaci Smith, managing editor of the Faribault (Minn.) Daily News.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg reported in August, “For the first time ever, one billion people used Facebook in a single day.”

For Smith, statistics like this reaffirm how useful social media tools can be in connecting with a news audience.

“I don’t think you can say it more powerfully than that,” she says. “We need to be using social media.”

Smith, a 2014-2015 fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, started a social media training program at the Daily News known as “Social Media Ninja School.” Smith recently spoke at the Missouri Press Association’s annual convention about why newsrooms should be using social media. She gave six examples of how she uses Facebook and Twitter in her newsroom.

1) Listen to your audience and find out what they like.

When Smith looked at the insights page on her news outlet’s Facebook page, she said she was shocked to see the success of videos on the page. (Videos were the second highest type of post on the Facebook page, after links to content.) It surprised Smith because the Daily News doesn’t produce a lot of videos.

However, seeing the insight has reminded her of how important it is to learn what type of content is important to an audience.

“Before doing anything else you need to listen, and by listen I mean you need to find out what your audience wants and where they want it,” she says.  

Remember, your audience may differ in their preferences on different platforms, says Smith.

The Daily News has found their audience likes play-by-play coverage on Twitter, whether it’s a city council meeting or a sporting event, says Smith.

2) Don’t be afraid to let people comment on your website and on your Facebook page.

The comment feature allows readers to continue discussions about issues in the community. Commenting also allows readers to share story ideas, point out story errors and offer feedback and follow-up suggestions, says Smith. Be sure to respond to comments on the sites and let people know you’re hearing them.

Some conference attendees said they have turned off commenting on their sites.  Smith challenged them to reconsider.

“One of the things that I would challenge you to think about is ‘how can you turn that all back on again … and channel the conversation in a more positive direction?’”

3) Be proactive about setting boundaries for comment sections before people start sharing their feedback.

Letting people know nasty comments and personal attacks won’t be tolerated has been helpful when it comes to managing comments on the Daily News’ website and Facebook page, says Smith.

Repeat offenders are blocked from posting, says Smith, and readers help police the site. Keeping trolls at bay “tends to change the tenor of the conversation,” she says.

4) Use social media to collect content.

If you have a small news staff, your local community can help be your eyes and ears.

For example, a citizen posted a photo of a crime scene van on the Daily News’ Facebook page, which alerted the news outlet to a potential news story.

“Without him, we wouldn’t have known,” says Smith.

Encourage people to share their photos with you. Smith says the audience is eager to share photos, especially ones of their children.

In one promotional campaign, Smith gathered enough photos to monetize a full photo gallery — with ads — in the newspaper.

Tell your readers up front if you wish to use their submitted photos online or in the print product and make sure you ask for full names and contact information up front when needed.  

5) Create a social media policy handbook for your newsroom and make it required reading.

Social media can be a great tool for newsrooms but it can be a source of trouble if you aren’t careful. Create a social media policy handbook and let everyone know your guidelines for personal and professional use of social media. Remind your staff that they represent the news outlet at all times.

For example, the Daily News discourages reporters from “friending” sources on Facebook.

It also forbids staff from using photos from people’s private Facebook pages without prior consent.

(See an example of a social media policy handbook below.)

6) Invite your advertising department to use social media, too.

Ad departments should use social media to “establish themselves as experts,” says Smith. Platforms like Twitter can be a place to share advertising trends and news about upcoming local promotions, she advises.

For more tips, see Smith’s PowerPoint presentation, above. Have a social media tip that works in your newsroom? Share it in the comments box below.

Jennifer Nelson-Pallikkathayil  
Senior Information Specialist


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