Social media can help you do much more than connect with old friends. Here are shortcuts for journalists who want to get interviews, sources and stories using Facebook, Twitter and more. If you have more tips, please share them in the comments.
Consider opening a fan page. It will keep readers and your Aunt Mabel separate, letting you post calls for comments or your latest story without interfering with your personal life. (By the way, here's IJNet's fan page).
You may feel silly having a “fan” page – but even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's puppy has one, so get over it. The fan page will allow quick updates and interaction with readers without the time suck of reading everyone's status updates -- and getting sidetracked.
If you don't want a fan page, remember you can always separate family and friends from work contacts with lists. That way, you can send status updates to specific lists – so your vacation photos don't go out to sources.
A great way to keep in touch with readers, find stories and promote your writing. Since you won't be using it just to broadcast what you ate for breakfast, download a desktop client. (There's a nice comparison of them here.)
Most allow you to schedule tweets, separate contacts into lists, post to multiple networks – LinkedIn and Facebook, for example -- and the direct message feature very useful. Take the time to set it up – by following the competition, potential sources or keywords in streams or lists (much like the news tickers of days gone by) and you'll get what you need quickly -- potentially abandoning RSS feeds or Google News searches altogether.
To multiply your sources, join groups for your industry or beat. You can join up to 50 and most people allow other group members to contact them directly – even if they are not connected otherwise. (Normally, LinkedIn's mail service charges to contact people out of your network.)
Add PR people or sources to your network and post your Twitter updates to your profile to let people know what you're working on. The Answers feature can also sometimes turn up interesting story ideas and sources.
There are numerous ways to find sources online – here's our rundown of five free services – but ProfNet Connect, launched in March 2011, is a social media platform from the folks at ProfNet. It offers a free, interactive, online community of over 43,000 members. This is a good route if you work across time zones and need a live source – fast.
Image from Grafixar used with permission.