Social media and journalism are one and the same these days.
Perhaps that’s because over 50% of people rely on social as a news source.
Meanwhile, platforms like Twitter are capable of reporting news in real-time minus any commercials or paywall.
From politics to retail to entertainment and beyond, there’s no timelier place for journalists to get their stories to the public.
BREAKING: NCAA will permit athletes to be compensated for their names, images and likenesses, Board of Governors says. https://t.co/4rLzgF127e
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 29, 2019
And so reporters are more empowered than ever to build their own audiences and break their own news.
That said, social media for journalists can be tricky. From fact-checking to dealing with a space that’s absolutely crowded with the competition, knowing how to navigate social is an invaluable skill for journalists of all shapes and sizes.
9 best practices of social media and journalism
Below is a breakdown of best practices when it comes to social media for journalists. Whether you’re a freelance writer or representing a major news organization, all of these tips are fair game.
1. Put together a professional profile
So much of social media and journalism boils down to looking the part.
People should ideally be able to look at your profile and identify you as a professional. Doing so means paying keen attention to seemingly small details of your profile and social bios.
Since most journalists on social media are laser-focused on Twitter, that’s what we’ll focus on. These tips apply to other social networks as well, though.
In addition to a professional headshot, some other key elements of your typical journalist’s Twitter bio include:
- @Tag organizations you currently (or formerly) report for
- @Tag any other projects or accounts associated with your professional life (think: podcasts)
- An email address or contact form for people to send tips to
- Relevant hashtags related to what you’re covering
These small details can give your profile a much-needed sense of credibility.
Likewise, getting verified on Twitter and reaching “blue check” status is a common goal when it comes to social media for journalists. Despite popular belief, you don’t need to have a massive following to make it happen.
2. Shout-out your colleagues and other orgs in your space
Journalists represent a community.
As a result, it’s important to support other journalists and organizations by sharing and reposting their content.
Make sure to @tag them when you do so, by the way. This helps introduce you to new organizations and also encourages them to return the favor as they repost your takes.
Also, make a point to shout-out any and all organizations where you’ve been published or are making appearances. Any exposure is good exposure when you’re a budding journalist.
No social account should be totally “me, me, me” and journalists are no different. Reposting and retweeting others allows you to both keep your feed fresh and build relationships at the same time.
Oh, and don’t be shy about following fellow journalists and publications en masse. Unlike celebrity or brand accounts that might be worried about their follower-to-followed ratio, most journalists on social media follow thousands of accounts for the sake of having a constant pulse on the news.
3. Be ethical and mindful when interacting with others
The beauty of social media and journalism is that reporters have the ability to interact not only with other organizations instantly but also with the public.
Of course, you should be mindful and respectful when doing so.
If your organization doesn’t have a code of ethics for social media, you might want to start thinking about your own. For example, the New York Times’ guidelines for journalists heavily emphasizes respect and objective reporting.
Name-calling, controversy and bickering on social media can definitely result in buzz and clicks. However, riling people up or posting “hot takes” to stir the pot usually does more harm than good.
Although some indie journalists might see drama as an opportunity to get their names out there, doing so could do long-term damage to your reputation.
There is no “right” way to carry yourself, but conventional wisdom says that journalists should try to keep a cool head and not try to rile people up for the sake of it.
4. Fact-check your stories and sources
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: mistrust of the media that oftentimes stems from misinformation or the spinning of stories.
This puts extra pressure on journalists to both report news objectively and scrutinize their sources prior to hitting “post.” This is especially true if you’re accepting tips from folks on social media.
Sure, there’s pressure to break stories as quickly as possible. But is doing so worth a mob of backlash for yourself or your organization?
The takeaway here is to verify your sources independently and don’t take tips at face value.
And in the case that you do need to issue a correction or apology, don’t panic. It happens all the time. Simply be humble, straightforward and move on.
Correction: New Zealanders are only allowed to drive locally and for essential activities.
— Bloomberg Opinion (@bopinion) April 27, 2020
Part of the benefit of the news cycle moving so quickly for journalists is that people don’t have the time or attention span to obsess about corrections.
5. Use threads and Stories to avoid clutter in your followers’ feeds
Speaking of the news moving quickly, journalists on social media are expected to post frequently.
Heck, some journalists will post dozens of times per day if they’re live-tweeting an event.
To avoid cluttering your followers with post after post, considering using “threads” to keep all of your posts in one place.
This not only makes stories easier to follow but also prevents information overload in your followers’ feeds. Below is an example of a Twitter thread, often denoted by “Thread:” or “1/(#number of posts)” at the end of the tweet.
1. Reporting Thread: This winter I traveled with @HirokoTabuchi to America’s largest oil field to make the invisible, visible. See our investigation into methane in today’s @nytimes https://t.co/kQyOQK6P3U pic.twitter.com/PGM3mGOOXX
— Jonah M. Kessel (@jonah_kessel) December 12, 2019
This same format also applies to the likes of Instagram or Facebook Stories, too. Stories allow for a quick and easy way to publish timely updates minus any sort of spam. The fact that Stories disappear within 24 hours is a nice touch for journalists who will likely have moved onto covering a new story by the times their former ones expire.
6. Publish more than news articles and text-based posts
Social media and journalism are about more than just dropping links to articles.
Injecting a bit of creativity into your content strategy can help you stand out from the crowd. Also, doing so allows you to engage the public beyond text-based posts.
For example, consider taking your followers behind-the-scenes of your beat. Slice-of-life content is both entertaining and relatable to followers, critical to establishing your personal brand as a journalist.
Through live video platforms such as Twitter’s own Periscope, you can emulate network news coverage with just a smartphone. From interviews to on-site reporting, putting together your own live broadcast from scratch is arguably easier than ever.
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) March 27, 2020
7. Boost and discovery new stories with hashtags
Fact: posts with hashtags receive more reach than that don’t.
That’s why tacking on hashtags to your articles and posts is a subtle but smart move to get your stories in front of more people.
If you’re looking for a potential hashtag to piggyback on, look no further than Twitter’s trending tags. You can look at popular tags globally or localize them based on your industry or field of coverage.
If you’re able to get in on a tag early, you can build some serious buzz around your story. Although not every post needs a hashtag, they’re a low-hanging way to increase your reach that doesn’t require much effort.
— Nina Totenberg (@NinaTotenberg) May 4, 2020
8. Don’t be afraid to get personal
Bear in mind that we live in an era where many people are flat-out fatigued by the news.
Fact: two-thirds of Americans saying that they’re burned out when it comes to hearing about politics. Meanwhile, news stories such as those related to COVID-19 take their toll on people who are looking for some form of good news.
Although journalists have a responsibility to report such news, personal stories and anecdotes are a great way to break up your coverage.
Not only that, but personal updates provide an opportunity to get followers invested in you beyond your duties as a journalist. Note that few journalists with sizable followings are rigid and “matter of fact.” Want to share a personal milestone or something not news-related? Go for it.
Back on the beat after five months of maternity leave. Very, very grateful for the time to recover, figure out how to do *gestures wildly* all this, and get to know our happy, hilarious baby! And thank you for all the well wishes, those were really nice.
Lines are open.
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) April 1, 2020
9. Share posts when your audience is most likely to be engaged
We’ve established that the news cycle moves fast.
Like, crazy fast.
Anything you can do to ensure that your posts get as much attention is a plus. One strategy to make it happen is by understanding the best times to post on social media.
Although many journalists post throughout the day, queuing up stories and articles that are must-see for your audience is a smart move to maximize engagement.
You aren’t necessarily expected to stick to these guidelines in real-time, by the way. Instead, consider publishing tools such as Sprout Social which allow you to queue up your content and hone in on automated posted times based on when your audience is most active.
And with that, we wrap up our guide!
Are you sticking to the best practices of social media and journalism?
The social media impact on journalism is crystal clear.
From breaking stories to engaging with the public in real-time, there are so many opportunities and responsibilities for journalists today through social.
And yeah, it can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of the best practices of social media and journalism.
Speaking of which, it’s especially important for journalists on social today to understand how to adapt to negative coverage and crises. Make sure to check out our guide to social media crisis management if you’re a journalist looking to navigate today’s wild social space.