How to choose the best social media tools for journalism

The wealth of multimedia or social media storytelling tools available can be bewildering for journalists. Often seasoned pros asked me, what is the one thing I should learn and add to my reporting toolkit?

To my mind, that’s the right attitude but the wrong question.  Journalists need to be open to new ways of telling stories and engaging with audiences. But it is not about adding a new tool to your reporting repertoire.

Instead it is about figuring out how to rethink reporting to ensure it remains compelling, relevant and impactful

This month’s Carnival of Journalism tackles the issue by asking the collective of journalists and journalism educators:

How do you decide to dedicate time to a new tool/platform/gadget? What is the process you go through mentally? And then later – how do you convince others to go through that process? And, last: How do you ensure that the tools you do adopt are used once the “newness” factor fades?

The starting point for this discussion is the public, not the tools. Talking about tools is the last thing we should be doing.

I’ve found that Forrester Research’s POST methodology provides a useful framework to make decisions about whether journalists should be blogging, tweeting and more.

Forrester’s argument is that most companies are going about adopting and implementing social technologies backwards. They start by jumping on a technology and then try to figure out its purpose.

This is exactly what happens in many newsrooms, where journalists are encouraged, nudged or cajoled into taking on a shiny new gadget or platform. For example, in February 2010, the BBC’s director of Global News, Peter Horrocks, told journalists they should be using social media.

Horrocks is on the right track. But a more strategic approach is needed, and this is where Forrester’s POST framework for making decisions about social technologies comes in:

  • People. Who are the people you are aiming to reach? Who is the intended audience? What tools/platforms/gadgets do they use?
  • Objectives. What do you want to achieve through using a particular tool/platform/gadget? Is it about reaching new audiences? Deepening the connection with existing audiences? Providing new ways for audiences to engage with your work?
  • Strategy. Figure out the end point of your approach. How will these objectives change your relationship with the audience? If you succeed, what will be different?
  • Technology. Armed with the information above, decide what will be the most appropriate technologies to match your audience, objectives and strategy.

This is a far more sophisticated approach to evaluating new media tools than simply joining Twitter or creating a Facebook journalist’s page. It requires editors and journalists to consider what they do and how they do, and takes time.

But in the long-term, it offers a framework to make smart decisions that will, hopefully,  enhance both the journalism and the audience experience.

7 Comments

  • Great post, Alfred. I am in full agreement of your advice about thinking strategy before technology. Too many folks chase the shiny, new thing — QR codes come to mind — without thinking through how it will improve their effectiveness as journalists and communicators.

  • Matt says:

    Great post. Do you have any recommendations for new journalists? It seems to me that newly graduated journalism students may be attached to their twitter and facebook accounts but those may not be the best choices to work with or through.

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