New Tricks: Using social media to listen

February 18th, 2010

For those of us in the publishing industry, it’s kind of a “no kidding” statement to say that the vast majority of what we do is gather content and then push it out there through print and online means. However, there’s another side to being a journalist: listening. We listen to what members of the community are saying. We listen to city officials. And we listen to the competition.

One of he little-known benefits of social media is that the tools can be used to listen. You can use social media effectively even if you’re pretty sure you’ll never tweet a thing. Here’s how:

  • Through story comments. Though maligned (often righteously) for being the junk heap of the Internet, comments can offer some information if we listen. Don’t believe me that there can be value? Check out what American-Statesman Business Editor Kathy Warbelow has to say: “Readers sometimes know things we haven’t heard yet. Their comments have given up tipoffs on things like local layoffs — including recently at Dell — stores or restaurants opening or closing, the sudden stop of work on big construction projects — we heard about the big star riverside condo project problems from a reader comment — and sometimes about companies we had not known about.”

    Warbelow points out that sometimes comments are “maddeningly vague” and that e-mail addresses can be phony, but the business staff has been able to connect with enough people that she believes that “comments are good.”

  • Besides sending out Tweets, you can also use Twitter just to listen. It’s not a bunch of people saying they’re eating a sandwich … you can follow a select group of Twitter users who can help you in your job (politicians, sports figures, corporations and other media outlets come to mind). There is some good (free) software for that, including Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop. If your followers are just tweeting about sandwiches, drop them and find the right followers. There are plenty of informative people and organizations on Twitter.
  • Listen to what your Facebook friends are saying. Assuming you have some locals you have friended, you might hear some good tips. At the very least, you’ll likely get some good feedback on stories you’ve written.

Before social media, good journalists listened to what their neighbors were saying, what people were saying at the coffee shop and what city officials were telling them. Think of social media as a way to extend your reach.

- Robert Quigley

NOTE: This is from a social media newsletter that I send out to the American-Statesman newsroom. You can read past newsletters here.

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Entry Filed under: New Tricks,Newsletter

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  • tomheld

    I have found twitter to be a valuable source of information for the blog I write for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It is frustrating and overwhelming at times, but once I get over being beat on a story, I can dig in, follow it, and make it my own.


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