Social media and journalism are becoming more and more intertwined, and while the debate rages on if social media is a part of the journalism industry, Twitter, Facebook and the like shouldn’t just be reserved for the marketers and brand community managers out there. There’s an even greater potential for journalists to leverage the power of networking with Twitter, but before you sail into unchartered territories, you first need to know how to navigate the waters.
We have RSS feeds for a reason, so don’t use your personal Twitter account as a means to purely promote your articles. That’s what your news organization’s account is for. People follow you on Twitter because they want to have a conversation with you and because they want to contribute. If you have an interview planned with someone interesting, solicit potential questions from your followers. Or, hold your interview on Twitter with a custom hashtag so users can follow along.
News breaks on Twitter. Why? Because writing 140 characters are easier than writing 300 words — no matter how good you are under deadline. And since you no longer need a press pass to get information out to the public, you’ll need to keep a sharp eye out for what people are talking about, whether it’s tech tips, natural disasters, or the world’s most-wanted terrorists being killed. Muck Rack is a good way for you to stay on top of the conversation by staying on top of what other journalists are tweeting about.
One of the hardest parts of writing a story is finding your sources and that’s especially the case if you’re looking for a very specific type of person. Emailing your direct contacts may only yield limited results, but if you poll your 5,000-plus Twitter followers, your chances of one of them knowing someone who fits your need is greatly increased. You can also use Twitter directory listings like WeFollow, Twellow, and Listorious to search for people that fit what you’re looking to feature.
Witnesses vs. Discussion
One of the hardest parts of Twitter and social media is shifting through the mindless babble in order to get to the good stuff. The hashtag was originally introduced to remedy this situation, but even that filtered conversation has gotten cluttered. In the wake of the Japanese earthquake, Jeff Jarvis proposed the idea of a Twitter witness tag — denoted by a ! instead of a # — for witnesses of an event rather than a discussion about an event.
You don’t have to limit yourself to just Twitter when it comes to creative ways to use the social sphere. The difference between a good journalist and a great journalist is the ability to come up with fresh, creative ideas, which is also one of the hardest parts about being a journalist — or any writer for that matter — but there are a number of Google tools that help you brainstorm story ideas, including Trends, Alerts, Reader and Scholar.