Confessions of a social media editor


Confessions of a social media editor

Yolanda Ma | September 19, 2011

“What does a social media editor do?”

This is exactly what I typed into Google before I started my job at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong as its first-ever social media editor in the summer of 2010.

The search results were not that satisfactory. One of the few well-known social media editors at that time was of course Jennifer Preston of the New York Times.

But things move so fast that three months after I started my job, the Times eliminated its social media editor position.

At least two lessons learned here: the first is that there is not much collective experience available to share and the second is that things change fast (if not too fast) in the social media world. So a social media editor job by definition means non-stop exploring and learning.

Still, as social media editors become more common in newsrooms - in fact, they are now a micro-hiring trend, there are some concrete job tasks, the main three are:

1. Social media strategy planning and execution

There are more platforms than Facebook and Twitter. Instead of following what everyone else is doing, the social media editor needs to consider carefully why and how each platform should be used as a channel for its media organization.

Who is the target audience? What kind of news do they want? What time do they spend on social media? What kind of digital gadgets do they use? All these questions make a difference for decision making.

For countries where Facebook and Twitter dominate, the decision is usually easier to make. But for Asian countries, localization becomes important. If Chinese readers are your target, microblogging service Sina Weibo is hard to miss. Running your news organization's account on Sina Weibo can be very different from running it on Twitter.

Once platforms are chosen, editing comes in. Some newspapers simply sync their Twitter accounts to their Facebook pages, which might save a lot time, but it does not really serve their social media readers.

On the Post’s Facebook page, I used to put more question-style leads, to engaging readers and generate discussions. Our Twitter account, on the other hand, sent out more straightforward headlines.

2. Community Building

I usually describe the curating and editing part as the “traditional social media” work. While some social media jobs are described as community managers, underlining that engaging the community is part of the job. The community can be within your existing readers/audience, or beyond that. It could be online, or offline.

There are all sorts of new media initiatives that involve the larger community, from the Guardian’s expense investigation experiment, to the New York Times’ hyperlocal site. At the Post, we experimented with an interactive crowdsourced map on environmental destruction in Hong Kong called CitizenMap.

As the project manager behind the initiative, the work involves planning, designing and developing the concept of the site and communicating with developer and designers to turn the concept into product.

It also involves marketing and outreaching to possible partners to build a strong network of people relevant with the cause. Content-wise, editing and engaging readers/users is still a crucial part to ensure the quality of the site. If your organization has a large citizen journalist project like CNN's iReport supporting similar initiatives, you are lucky. But in most cases, the social media editor needs to take care of more than just social media or editing.

3. Integrating social media in the newsroom

The social media editor is a newly-created position in many news organizations, so integrating it means both getting the product into the editorial mix and training people.

For print products like newspapers, there are lots of small experiments that can be done -- from taking Facebook comments to the printed paper (which was very welcome at the Post), to putting questions on front-page stories and leading people to discuss on social media. Usually the letters or opinion page is a good place to start.

Despite the current thinking that social media is very important in modern journalism, you will be surprised how many journalists and editors are not familiar with social media at all, let alone integrating social media into their daily work. Training people up takes time and effort, but changing the mindset is always more difficult than offering skills.


re: Confessions of a social media editor

I so agree with you, Yolanda. With the availability of internet and proliferation of blogging as a hype, many online users could easily say they're so into social media these days. But just like our old school journalism, an editor is an editor who gained years of training experience in understanding and practicing the craft of responsible journalism, editing specifically. And yes, it takes a lot of training to even change the mindset of many, especially our tenured editors ;)

Not Confession but Informative

Yolanda has set the truth that journalist has many thinks to learn and it really need the mindsetting of a writer to be well versed in social media. Like me, for more than two weeks already I do self-study of the techniques in writing for social media. I opened my website and do write blog but up to that point only. I cannot even edit my articles once it were posted. I have to go on to be par with other social media writers.

As the Filipino old adage, I still need more rice to eat before becoming truly knowledgeable in social media.

Fidel Duna Banzon

Interesting post

Thanks for sharing your 'confessions' - I found it very interesting to read about the concrete tasks of a social media editor.

Confessions of a social media editor

Thanks writer,

Social media is a world of naive and can't replace professionals


I totally disagree with the concept that social media will make a crucial difference in the journalism industry. This is just a fad like the many in previous decades.

The professional of journalism is quite sound and strong since at least the two centuries. Any naive person with so much freedom available due to internet can put rubbish online but it is sheer wastage of time and effort to chase these.

After sometime many people stop using these and revert to old, trusted and credible sources of information that are there to stay. Though I agree they might change shape, but dwindling incomes, recession and corporate factors have more role to play than the social media.

Andrew Kaggwa

As an editor in the Third World (Uganda) interested in social media I found this piece informative and I totally disagree with the anonymous writer who says it is 'just a fad like the many in previous decades.'
On social media, especially Facebook which I use most you can be able to know which stories your readers are interested in and on several occasions even get tips for followups on stories.


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