It was a tough week for romance in Lake Wobegon…
It was a tough week for romance in Lake Wobegon…
Believe it or not, there’s a museum and bar in town.
I really love this series both on tumblr and on the radio.
Wherever you go, it sounds like Garrison is from there. He has all of these insights into local things and every fact and tidbit about what’s going on around town. … For a Guy Noir skit, he might want a specific location that has some kind of local myth, like a bar that Guy would work in. Details that the locals would giggle at because they thought that nobody else knew about it. That’s essentially my job — help him get him that information.
Monday starts a new road for me at NPR. After several great years, I’m leaving the Social Media Desk and moving on to work in Business Partnerships. I am proud to leave the social media desk in the more-than-capable hands of Wright Bryan and Melody Kramer, not to mention the hundreds of journalists that make social media at NPR a fantastic place to work.
As I make this shift, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the many things I’ve learned working in social media as it made a huge impact on journalism.
Social media is a Conversation, not a Broadcast Medium
People who are active in social media know that the value they get out of it comes from the people on the other end of the conversation. That you choose to follow topics, engage in conversation already going on, ask questions yourself, and something great comes out of it. The value comes not from putting a great joke out onto Twitter or Facebook, but the reply that comes back. And this holds true for news organizations as well - don’t just broadcast out your content, but really participate in the conversation because…
Great Things Come When You Tap into the Intelligence of your Audience
The community is POWERFUL.
Perhaps I was spoiled at NPR with a very intelligent listening public, but I don’t believe this is unique. The audience that we have know just as much, and in many cases more than we do on certain topics. Bringing that audience into the content in a meaningful way both makes our content a hell of a lot better than it would be and keeps our audience coming back for more.
Because many parts of our audience would love to be part of what we do here - and when we can tap into their knowledge and ask them to create certain things for us (or give their time, talents, sweat, creativity, etc) they give in abundance. From translations to photography, from obscure sources to actual written contributions, our audience really steps up to the plate when we ask them to do so. And we should do so even more often.
Be Real, Authentic, and There
Social Media is one of those things that scares the inexperienced because they fear the time suck that it can become. If I start a social media account, do I have to be “there” all the time? How much time will that take? These were questions I answered for a lot of people as I started. What I told them is that when you’re there, be there — be real, you, and engage. But I’d rather see you there for an hour every few days than let your stuff be automatically fed out and you never be there to engage. Even if you do (and you should) use automation to get some things out there that you would otherwise, it should be aimed at easing the process, not automating your presence. You’ll want to engage in conversations that are going on, both sparked by your posts and that you can add your expertise to.
Also, your voice on social media, as an individual, should be the voice in which you are most comfortable.
Your voice on social media as a news organization doesn’t have to be exactly the same as your voice on the air. But it should be human. And authentic. Own up to mistakes, own up to typos, and watch the reaction. We can’t do it 100% of the time on 100% of the channels, but when we are there, we are there.
Watch your numbers!
I don’t mean you need to sell your soul for page views, but you should know how things should perform. Numbers without context are almost useless, but you can at least watch trends - as you change your approach, see what numbers it affects, week over week. I dug deeply info Facebook metrics while I was here in order to crack the code (since it was such a traffic driver for us) and found myself able to identify algorithm changes before they announced them. It told me about what topics were going to do well on different platforms. A quick experiment told us that retweeting worked, even on an account with 2 million followers. And it meant that when we had an effort start (a new tumblr, a new account) that we could guess as to what the followers / traffic / engagement might be after a few weeks. And those numbers didn’t stop us from doing journalism that we thought was necessary, but it did allow us to start to quantify our impact — and that is spreading outside the social media desk.
Pay Attention to Innovation, but Don’t Jump on Every Bandwagon
I had originally put the subhead on this of “Experiment, Fail Fast, and Learn” which comes more from my product background. Social Media has even more innovations than you can shake a stick at, and every one could potentially be a great opportunity for you. Hell, NPRNews is on Snapchat, and even used it to illustrate an article. However, you want to experiment in ways that allow you to not go all in at the front, and to remember that you should be deliberate about the investments you make. Moving early can help you garner an audience you may not otherwise, but moving early and abandoning the effort because you don’t actually have the resources to maintain it is worse.
Something new comes up that you want to dip into? Try it for a specific event, or one particular news story and see if you like it. Then, if you find yourself liking things about it, then you can tell others about it. Eventually, once you have a group of people using it, then you can talk about it as a best practice or figure out how it may need to come into your workflow. But definitely experiment first before you start institutionalizing it!
Forgive Yourself for That Which You Don’t Have Time of Which to Take Advantage
There will be bandwagons that you miss (like Medium, where this is crossposted as my first post). There will be places you move to very late. And there will be awesome trends that you dismiss. And it is ok. You don’t need to justify every opportunity you miss — but you do need to not beat yourself up over them. Focused investment will win over distracted toe-dipping every time. And that means you may miss the best article or conversation to happen that week / day / year — and it is ok. You have to forgive yourself for the things that you don’t have time to do,
And have fun!
Social Media provides powerful tools for journalism (and there are many aspects of what I’ve learned that aren’t reflected here) but at its most atomic level, social media is a forum for people to connect with other people. All human interactions can certainly be fun, and I hope that everyone who engages in this for a career never loses sight of that fun — or the real human beings at the other end of the feed.
Thanks to everyone in this community for working with me over the last several years. I look forward to even more great stuff coming out of this team in the years ahead.
Who wants to see Wait Wait on the big screen with me? May 2nd, 8PM, Union Square, $22, Dreams = Come True.
I love you all. (And I’m probs getting this tattooed on my bicep.)