Yesterday The Entrepreneur argued that journalists are late to the Facebook party. True, but I’d argue that that’s precisely why it’s now such a powerful potential tool.
Facebook has grown into a network of unprecedented size – 845 million active users – and has insinuated itself organically into the everyday lives of over half its users. Facebook is already where masses of ordinary people discuss politics, share memes, start riots and spread revolutions.
On the other hand, Twitter, beloved of journalists, has nowhere near that number of active users. The joy of Twitter, when used confidently, is that it allows users to interact with just about anyone. But in reality, it’s mostly just “civilians” listening in while journalists and celebrities talk among themselves. No wonder journalists love Twitter – it’s so easy just to broadcast a link to your latest byline without the same level of interaction expected on Facebook.
There are, of course, notable exceptions. Sky’s Neal Mann, for example, regularly sources stories via Twitter and is careful to maintain good relations with all potential contacts, making a real effort to reply when he’s tweeted. That kind of reputation pays off but it’s hard work to cultivate. And with Twitter there’s often the sense that you’re preaching to the choir as followers seem to represent a narrower self-selected demographic.
Despite Twitter’s aims, I believe that Facebook is at present a more democratic and less elitist platform. It’s also a space where users already feel comfortable communicating and interacting.
While I was working at DIVA magazine, I wrote a feature on social networking and relationships. I tweeted from the DIVA account asking for readers willing to talk about their experiences and didn’t hear much back. I put the same message on their Facebook group and within half an hour I’d had a dozen emails and scores of comments on the Facebook post. I also wrote a short, silly piece for the website (“top 10 women we wish were gay”) and the link got over 100 comments on Facebook. It was great way for me to interact with readers and defend some of my choices – and notable exclusions!
DIVA seems to be a bit of an exception, however. Perhaps as a smaller, more niche magazine it’s more necessary and more rewarding to interact with readers. But then again, with only a few staffers it has far more meagre resources for social media than larger magazines and newspapers.
Journalists don’t need to be particularly innovative when it comes to social media. They need to find a way to use existing networks; for example, by taking advantage of their magazine’s often woefully static Facebook page or following the example of NY Times journalists and using the subscribe service. News gathering and sharing among “the people” means talking to the people on their terms and on their level, engaging rather than preaching and adapting rather than inventing.