Social media best practices change faster than you can tweet or "like" whatever people agreed on last week.
The idea for this piece came about while prepping IJNet's internal social media guidelines. Our number of Twitter followers is on the rise and so many people "like" us now on Facebook we blush, but across our seven languages no editor had the same strategy. Actually, our best practices often contradicted one other. ("Don't schedule." "Use scheduling." "Avoid cross posting." "Cross post, it's a lifesaver."). You get the idea.
Here are some social media "rules" worth breaking. Your mileage may vary. But if you're a journalist just getting started or struggling with social media time suck, try them out. Experimenting can't hurt and we're pretty sure at least they won't get you fired.
- Don't cross post on social networks.
If you, like Liz Heron, the social media editor for the New York Times, have more than 100,000 followers on your Facebook page - versus about 11,000 on your personal Twitter account, writing something especially for a group of readers equal to the population of Cambridge, Massachusetts makes sense.
If you have a more modest following, try cross posting. Not all your followers will be checking your updates on that investigative story or the best local pizza across all channels at the same time. Use a desktop client like HootSuite or a free program like IFTTT (If This, Then That) to cross post over Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. IFTTT is a multitasker's dream: there are more than 25 "triggers" you can set up including Wordpress, Instagram, Facebook, Craigslist, Tumblr and Posterous. So, for example, a new post on your blog, a Google Plus update or an uploaded Instagram photo can trigger a tweet and/or a Facebook status update.
- Don't schedule social media posts.
Social media is immediate, fresh, of the moment, so you should rush in there as it happens - a good recipe for never getting any actual journalism done. Consider scheduling some updates once daily, as you go through your morning news. Scheduling is also a nice way to post more personal or off-topic updates in off-peak times so you won't annoy followers. Try Hootsuite or free apps Buffer or Timely, which times tweets for maximum effectiveness based on when most people retweet or respond.
- Follow/friend/subscribe to everyone who follows you.
Not following people back seems like bad manners. But like sending handwritten thank you notes for every invitation you receive, it's overkill and keeping up will drive you crazy. Instead of mass-following, use Twitter lists to keep up with people or subjects, on a desktop client set up streams with hashtags or keywords. On Facebook, divide friends and readers into lists or set up a Journalist Page; in Google Plus, add readers to a circle.
- Don't repeat yourself.
Sensible advice if you don't want to be a colossal bore at a cocktail party, but inadvisable if you're using social media for reporting. News flash: people who follow you are not awaiting your shoutout for interviews with local business owners affected by a recent flood. Try Tweko, which allows you to selectively repeat tweets in the time span you set up, as many times (or as few) as you'd like. You can set an interval to repeat your tweets, ranging from 3-100 hours and the number of repetitions. It will repeat any tweet you add the hashtag #tweko to at that setting. This is a real lifesaver if you work across time zones or internationally, you'll reach another set of people.
What social media rules would you break?