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What Sarah Palin can Teach Reporters about Social Media

What Sarah Palin can Teach Reporters about Social Media

Last year was tough on the media business. Dog bites man.

Social media is a big part of the reason why this is happening. Dog bites Sarah.

The traditional media’s enthusiasm for social media is tepid. Sarah bites dog.

* * *

It’s a radical move for the old school, but The New York Observer is doing it: paying bonuses for page views and Twitter followers. Welcome to click-based journalism.  Pay people to write content readers will devour.

This will undoubtedly grate on traditionalists. “I didn’t attend no high-falutin’ journalism school, but if I had, this would make me even more depressed than usual,” reads the first comment on the story.

Like it or not, the world has changed. The media business is struggling to make money. More importantly, this fact is why social media should be important to reporters: “Expanding two-way information flow between news outlets and the public yields big benefits for both,” read one subhead of an Austin-Statesmen article.

At a media panel tonight, I heard three reporters, who cover down on politics (and I suspect the comments would be different if they covered technology), make comments (paraphrase) like this:

  • We don’t read comments on stories, there’s too many and they are written by “rift-raft”
  • You can’t form relationships on social media
  • We don’t care about a community, in the social media sense, we just care about clicks

I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if these comments were provided by an old school newspaper editor…but CNN and Politico?  Politico was one of the first to buck the system since it’s published entirely online — and CNN has built a reputation for being forward thinking and quick to adopt social mechanisms like Facebook’s “Like” button.

One reporter noted that while he doesn’t use social media, his organization has a staff that ensures every post they write goes out on Twitter, Facebook, and several other social mediums.

The PR person next to me leaned over and said, “That sounds like what Coke does with their press releases.” Output only.

Social media is about engagement. Community clicks are earned, especially if what the Observer is doing catches.

One reporter skeptically noted that Sarah Palin endorsed Carly Fiorina (Fiorina is running for governor of California) today: she made the announcement on her Facebook Page of all places.

Why she would make such an announcement on her Facebook page and not her website? His logic was that her website is where her political action committee (PAC) can collect money from donors.

The reason is simple: interaction. There far less opportunity for interaction on a website. Just wait for the day when CNN posts to Facebook first, and then on their site. And for the record, just like the iPhone, Facebook has an app for donations — it’s the fourth tab from the right on Sarah’s Facebook page (at the time of this writing).

Sound crazy? Maybe.

What if CNN’s Facebook fans exceed the number of site visits CNN.com gets on any given day? Would it make sense then? What if Facebook grows to 1 billion users? How about 2 billion? In a few years, that’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

As of the moment, Sarah’s Facebook page is counting more than 7,000 interactions and more than 1,100 comments. In a small way, this is an opportunity for Sarah’s community to be part of the story. This is the important nuance: to be part of the story. That’s what engagement and interaction is all about.

* * *

The question came up again during Q&A — why not interact with readers?

Answer: There are too many comments, we’re short staffed, on deadline and don’t have the time.

Fair enough, as they might say in Boston, but do you compete with blogs?

Answer: Absolutely. We want to break the news, we don’t want to miss a scoop and be relegated to quoting a blog.

Well, do you think those bloggers you compete with respond to comments on their posts?

Answer: Probably. But we don’t have comments on our site. We have email addresses, those are public and we’ll engage readers via e-mail…at least those with something worth saying.

But that’s missing the point of interaction. Okay how about Twitter? Is Twitter important? Should you connect with readers there?

Answer: I don’t want to give my scoop away. I also don’t care what you ate for lunch. Maybe if you had 30,000 followers I might reply, but I can’t answer everyone. You build relationships over coffee not over Twitter. However, politicians and businesses should do this social media stuff because it’s good for brand building. You know, if you are on Twitter, you avoid coming off like you’re stiff.

Great point….should journalists try to build brands? Especially if they might be paid for clicks and Twitter followers?

That’s interesting. Journalists as brands...

* * *

At this point,

Peter Cherukuri from the Huffington Post stated the responsibility for managing interactions falls on the media company, not the journalist.

“The story doesn’t end when Jackie [a reporter] files her story,” he said, noting it’s just the beginning of the conversation.

Cherunkuri said the HuffPost moderates comments and the company is actively exploring some new initiatives to reward those readers offering insightful comments — something of a point system that rewards good comments with status. It’s worth noting Cherunkuri is management, not editorial.

Should a media company be responsible for managing the interactions spawned by a reporter’s story? I’m not sure, but I know those interactions are important for reporters and to that end, here are a few ideas for fostering:

  • When you post to Twitter, say something interesting. Don’t just Tweet your headline and a link — ask a question, invite interaction and be receptive to criticism. As one social medialite wrote, if you please everyone — you’re doing it wrong.
  • Use online polling. Online polls are an easy way (and often free way) to get aggregate feedback. You still invite your readers to engage with the story — to be part of the story — and you can manage these interactions in aggregate. This is especially useful since you’re one person, and you’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of readers. Bonus if the poll is interesting enough to squeeze out that extra blog post you have to do these days.
  • Reward your Twitter followers for reacting to your news. Choose five followers each week. Write a short post that answers or responds to those five. Be sure to link to your original story (helps drive traffic) and give a little link love to your follower’s Twitter handles. This post would take but 10 minutes to write. If your management will permit this, tools like Tumblr are perfect for this sort of stuff.
  • Skim comments, responds to one or two intelligent remarks. So you get 200 comments on your stories — that’s awesome. There are a lot of writers out there, formally trained journalists and otherwise, wishing they had that kind of interaction. Reward your readers for loyalty. Pick one or two comments to respond to — the other 198 will take note, and I bet, over time, the quality of your comments will improve.
  • Start a community. Do you have a ton of readers just dying for your attention? Capture that, cultivate it, grow it: start a LinkedIn Group and invite readers to engage you there. You can facilitate the discussion, respond where you wish, ignore those that don’t add value, and still allow your readers to feel part of the story. You can do this easily on Facebook as well, if that’s your desire, though some prefer to keep Facebook personal. That’s understandable, but there is of course, the added benefit of the “Like” button. If Facebook isn’t filled with personal contacts, this is probably the optimal medium. And if you leave one gig for a new one — you take your readers with you.
  • Be humble. One of the first lessons I learned as a PR pro, is to treat every reporter like they work for the Wall Street Journal. I do my best to live that every day. Likewise, in this flattened world of social media, even the little people like me have blogs, and the potential to go viral. Lose your cool, and it’s likely to make a bigger issue out of a small one.

* * *

I believe traditional media still matters — and love her or hate her, Sarah Palin understands engagement and is building influence. She’s playing to her base and stirs a passionate band of followers. Put aside your beliefs, political inclinations or whatever, and consider her approach.

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Photo credit: Pixabay (CC0 1.0

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