Liz Heron, social media editor for the New York Times (NYT), has three pieces of advice when it comes to social journalism.
“Be strategic, be different, and strive for meaningful interactions – don’t be content to skate on social media’s surface,” she said during her keynote speech at news:rewired – media in motion.
While 2011 was “definitely a watershed year for social media,” Heron said the question in 2012 is not if news organizations use social media, but how do they distinguish themselves from all the other voices. The NYT is tackling this challenge head-on, Heron said, by using innovative approaches to Twitter, Facebook Subscribe and Google Plus to let readers interact directly with journalists.
“We know we have to keep innovating and changing our approach,” she said. “Our challenge will be figuring out how to inform and empower our readership through social journalism in a way that makes their voices count more than they ever have before.”
Using the upcoming U.S. presidential election as her main example, Heron said the NYT continues to make its audience the focus, whether it’s by highlighting the best readers’ tweets on the homepage or hosting Google Plus hangouts and live chats on Facebook to enable “true back-and-forth conversations between our journalists and our readers.”
The key to using new platforms is to be strategic, Heron said. Focus on the unique strengths of the platform, popular topics among your community and how your news organization can distinguish itself, she said.
In particular, Heron is pushing the NYT foreign correspondents team and the How We Live desk to use Facebook Subscribe. More than 50 journalists at the NYT use the new Facebook tool, which allows readers to follow their favorite reporter’s public updates on Facebook.
Heron shared a recent story as evidence Facebook Subscribe can work as a “curation hub”. When a reporter was recently writing a story on depression and students, Heron asked her community of Facebook Subscribers to share their experiences. Almost 500 people responded with “high-quality comments”, Heron said, and the reporter is planning to do a special sidebar of just the Facebook comments.
“Social media is transforming the way we do journalism, and I’m very excited for what this new year will bring in that realm,” Heron said.