Most of us get into social media out of personal curiosity. We invest time in establishing our networks and personal branding. We’ve learned by our mistakes and our Twitter following is building nicely, thank you.
So should you wince when the editor casts a critical eye over your Facebook posts? After all, social media is personal, right?
Nope. Not once you become a journalist, it isn’t.
Your behaviour online reflects not just on you, but your colleagues and the organisation you work for – just like in real life. Except with social media whatever you do goes through a megaphone.
You may well have a clause in your contract that makes it a condition of employment not to harm the reputation of the company. Justified or not, there are plenty people who have lost their jobs after a moment of madness in real life, or a misjudged remark on social media.
But you CAN promote your individuality on social media (it’s essential anyway) while enhancing the reputation of your newsroom. Just take a look at journalist Nicholas Kristof’s Facebook profile. A staggering 517,000 people subscribe to his updates, but there’s no doubt who he works for.
Cast your eye over the number of comments and likes on his stories, note the sort of posts he shares, his questions, his tone of voice … it’s a social media masterclass for journalists. Kristof has clearly built huge personal credibility and trust, while adding value to his community AND the New York Times.
But to achieve this sort of success there has to be give and take.
Three things the editor can do for you …
1. Establish a clear, easy to understand newsroom social media policy. It’s there to make sure journalists are confident in using social media to do a better job. In my experience, policies work best when journalists are invited to help shape the policy and they should be regarded as work in progress, reviewed regularly. Here’s a link to AP’s social media guide for staff [PDF] and the social media policies of organisations around the world.
2. Encourage staff to come forward with ideas and try new platforms, but ensure they are started as a controlled experiment, and the results measured. Unused accounts should be closed. Make sure all branded accounts have at least two admins (in case one leaves) and that usernames and branding across social media channels is consistent (try this tool: namechk.com to check whether a username is taken).
3. Celebrate success. Make sure you share social stats with the newsroom and recognise achievements and innovation. Set up a Twitter list of staff (even those in other departments) and review it. Praise good practice and promote individual Facebook profiles (if they allow subscription) and Twitter accounts through other media channels.
Three things you can do for the editor …
1. Be responsible. The old rules still apply. Usual rules of journalism ethics, fairness and impartiality apply across ALL media. Publishing a defamatory statement on social media is just like publishing it anywhere else, as some have to their cost. Tempted to post those photos of a wild night on the town? Just don’t. Ever. Start from the assumption that everything you do online will end up public. The bottom line is, if your mother wouldn’t like it, don’t post it.
2. Be transparent. Make sure you clearly identify yourself and who you work for. Including a ‘views are my own’ line in your bio may add a touch of clarity for followers, but it won’t and shouldn’t indemnify a single world you say. If you work as part of team, toe the line. If you have a vested interest in something being discussed, be the first to say it. Be humble if you’ve made a mistake (but always flag up potentially damaging posts to the editor and never delete a branded post without speaking to the editor first). Don’t ever compromise journalistic sources.
3. Be active. Building a social media reputation requires commitment. Spend time listening to the conversation, ask questions, share information of value to your audience (but don’t break news on Twitter before you’ve spoken to the newsdesk, unless it’s covered by a policy or you are doing a liveblog). Please don’t automate posts across social networks – nothing looks more lazy or unprofessional than a tweet on Facebook.