Tips to help journalists tame technology: #2 Make Facebook your friend

Kristie Lu Stout's Facebook page

Social media uptake still spins our heads and stuns our well-honed news sensibilities.

After more than three decades working in and with the news business I still find it rather bemusing how our 23-year-old daughter often knows about something before it’s even hit the news wires.

Well, all right, she’s a digital native with friends from around the globe – thanks to her years at university – and when her Facebook or Tumblr accounts “go nuts”, she knows something big has happened and usually gives me a heads-up. (For the record, with two parents with lifelong careers in the media, she has no intentions of following us into the trade, but does have a good nose for news.)

Paradigm changing

Yet there are ways we can all learn to surf this technology to our advantage too. One of them is learning to use Facebook in ways that enhance and assist our reporting. But to do this successfully, we need to move from a traditional, ingrained, one-way news-dissemination paradigm to a more open, two-way one where news and ideas are shared.

The key to successfully using Facebook as an aid to reporting though is embracing this concept of sharing: Exchanging ideas, insights, news tips, images, warnings, and so on. It’s not too dissimilar to Twitter in this regard, but you won’t be limited to just 140 characters! (In the first post of this series we looked at why journalists should embrace Twitter.)

A word of caution: A wise journalist has their own professional, public Facebook page where they not only share their work output with those who opt to follow them but also abide by their company’s social media policies if they wish to remain employed! (Their company, like the BBC, may even have its own Facebook page which has its own news feed for others to ‘like’/follow. The BBC also has its very own social media policy for its staff!) But the wisest journalists keep an entirely separate private Facebook account with much stricter privacy settings to share their intimate, less-guarded thoughts (and more-guarded images) with only their closest friends.

Tools and tricks

To share our work effectively, we need to join key Facebook groups and ‘like’ fan pages as well as link-up with regular sources to keep track of what’s going on. We can use Facebook’s new Graph Search function to track activity among followers on almost any topic, to identify potential sources, find photos by location or topic, and discover connections through interests (where privacy settings allow). And we can use a Facebook feature called Subscribe to allow people to follow our public updates on our news feeds without them having to add you as a ‘friend’.

Once you’ve established a professional Facebook presence, you can private message anyone who has ‘liked’ you, a boon for accessing relevant sources for stories and great for building your little black book of contacts, whether that be digital or hard copy or both! You can also allow your ‘followers’ to subscribe to your news feed through RSS (really simple syndication).

Facebook itself runs a handy Facebook + Journalists page that is filled with tips for making the most of the platform.

Stepping it up a notch

But things move fast in the digital world. In late January, the digital natives went wild over Twitter’s video sharing service, Vine. It allows users to upload up to six seconds of video content. Then late last month (June 21, 2013), Facebook posted a link to the announcement of the launch of its Video on Instagram feature that trumps Vine by allowing users to record and upload video clips of up to 15 seconds to their news feeds. (Facebook bought Instagram in April, 2012.)

Then again, the option to include more professionally produced video segments suitable for online publication can be a gift for reporters covering breaking news. If you’d prefer to file longer, high-definition polished video packages, there is already a well-regarded, low-cost app for smartphones and tablets – Videolicious which is demonstrated here – that enables swift, professional packaging of such news reports. Journalists can learn to use this app in about 30 minutes and these videos can be posted via Facebook as well. Videolicious also maintains a Facebook page.

And, if you’d like to keep up with all the breaking news about Facebook itself, try this website.

For newbies (like me)

Facebook itself has a great primer and suggestions for individual journalists wanting to build a strong profile on this social media platform. And its Graph Search function is explained and demonstrated here.

Social media site Mashable also posted The Journalist’s Guide to Facebook, an insider’s introduction to this powerful realm written in 2009 by Leah Betancourt, that talks about finding news leads and sources, reaching audiences, creating two-way communities, dealing with ethical issues, fact-checking and some handy tips from experienced users.

The Next Web has an excellent post on Why journalists should be using Facebook more which is worth a read.

And, remember, staying abreast of the technology wave sure beats being swamped by it.

Until next time, as they say …


Words: Trina McLellan

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