How journalists can play the social media game

If you don’t have time for social media, you don’t have time for your customers. So says Chip Mahaney, a recruiter for E.W. Scripps, who offers suggestions for journalists trying to expand their social footprints.

“Be social, not awkward. It’s not just about you.  Your camera has two lenses and journalists need to be using the front-facing camera more often,” Mahaney says.

He also recommends that you “paint your posts blue.” Use hashtags and tagging features to include others in the conversation, in order to build audience engagement. Mahaney’s session on social media at the Excellence in Journalism conference focused primarily on Facebook and Twitter.

“Facebook is a game where you are competing against other posters,” says Mahaney.  “The algorithm acts as the judge and jury.”

To win the game, Mahaney says you have to start posting through the eyes of your user. You want to think about what the audience wants at the very moment you are about to hit publish. You win if you get users do to something with your post:  like, comment or share.

“You should be creating ‘thumbstoppers’ — something that will make people stop scrolling and pay attention.”

For example, Mahaney says the first two seconds of a Facebook video have to be especially compelling or you might consider beginning with a screen of text designed to draw people in.

sommervilleYet, even in a world that seems consumed by video, Mahaney says text still matters. He points to KTVU’s Frank Somerville who writes what Mahaney calls “beautiful, simple text” in his Facebook posts and gets rewarded for it with plenty of audience engagement.

“If Facebook is a game, I call Twitter hand-to-hand combat,” says Mahaney. He maintains posting frequency is what matter most on the platform, but that consistency and a mix of photos and videos is important as well.

To improve your Twitter following, Mahaney suggests checking out your own Twitter Analytics.  Identify one thing to work on at a time and set a weekly goal.  For example, if you notice tweets about local schools engage audience, see whether you can increase your following by increasing your school-related posts.

In answering the oft asked question of how much sharing is too much, Mahaney says, “You have to decide where your line is between personable and private. You don’t have to put private out there, but do share what’s personable, as long as it is professional.”