Social media might be the hottest trend in newsmedia circles, but engaging with consumers is nothing new. Op-ed editors have done it for decades. The development of op-ed skills across the entire newsroom is where social media proficiency begins.
It’s now a given that more community discussion is taking place through social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter, but certainly others) than on newspaper Web sites. Traditional newsmedia companies are working hard to determine how best to participate in or (better yet) lead community conversations.
Social media articles and blogs have consistently referenced “Community engagement: A practical conversation for newsrooms,” the fine work done by Joy Mayer of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Meyer found that nine of 10 editors were discussing how to make their newsrooms more “social and participatory,” but added that the “editors aren't sure what exactly that means or how to go about it.”
I’ve discussed Meyer’s report with a variety of content editors. Their reaction gives me reason to hope that traditional newsmedia will rebound by embracing social media to their benefit (instead of being left out of the conversation).
Some newsrooms are getting very good at monitoring social media conversations that are the most relevant to the audiences they reach or are trying to reach. They work hard to identify the most important topics, the sentiment on those topics, the influential participants, and, then, actively participate in the conversation.
One editor related this new initiative to a very old job description in the newspaper, that of the opinion page editor. The same skills that make for a very good op-ed editor translate directly to social media engagement today.
Before email and the Internet (remember that far back?), the op-ed editor would read through letters, talk with people in the community on the phone or down at the coffee shop, and be very visible and active in the community. He or she would be very good at judging individual and community opinions, determining the important topics of the day, and even deciding which voices should be heard (which letters to publish).
The op-ed editor is hand-picked to lead and moderate the discussion (in print and online). However, social media today allows all voices to be heard (some restrictions apply in some places, for sure). Newsrooms today should develop these skills in as many people as possible, not just in op-ed.
Newsmedia companies are sitting on a pile of great assets (both archival and breaking news content) that should be relevant to social conversations and increase audience trust in their local media company.
The development of op-ed skills across the entire newsroom is where social media proficiency begins. Combined with smart utilisation of digital assets and audience data, traditional newsmedia can find its rightful place in the middle of social media conversations.