Three Ways Journalists Can Use Social Media (Beyond Story Promotion)



By Justin Sablich

As a media professional, in particular reporters and fact-checkers, if you’re just using social media to promote your stories, you’re not using it to its full potential. 

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are also great tools for finding sources, building relationships that can prove beneficial in the long run and staying on top of your particular beat in real-time and more. But as with anything to do with social media, one must tread carefully and maintain traditional journalistic standards. 

The following are simple ways you can maximize the value of social media as a reporter without getting yourself into any trouble. 

Finding Sources 
Chances are, if you’re a reporter, you’ve at least experimented with reaching out to potential sources on Twitter and Facebook, with hopes of arranging an interview. If so, you may have also run into some hiccups along the way. 

The first thing you must do is to verify that the person you’re reaching out to is, in fact, the person you want to be talking to. Unless the potential source is a person of note who is verified by the social platform as being legit, you may find yourself interacting with a totally different “Barbara Jones” or a Russian Bot pretending to be Nicolas Cage. 

Keep it simple: Do not reveal too much information about what you’re working on and try to move the conversation to a private form of messaging (remember, anything posted on Twitter that is not a direct message can be seen by the public). 

For example, on Twitter, start with “@BarbaraJones Hello, I’m a reporter with the The Daily Planet and am hoping to ask you a few questions for a story. Please give me a follow and send me a DM with the best way I can contact you.” (Note: In order to DM another user, both of you must be following each other’s accounts). 

On Facebook, it’s much easier to send a message without having to worry about who is following whom. For a recent story I was working on, the only contact information I could find for a business was through its Facebook page. I sent a cold message explaining my reason for contacting them and we were able to arrange a chat very quickly. 

Gathering News and Information
News breaks quickly on Twitter, and if it’s coming from a trusted organization — news or otherwise — it’s often considered legit unless later proven otherwise. But as a reporter working on your own beat or story, social postings, no matter the source, need to be treated like any other part of your reporting.

“The main risk of using social media for news gathering is accuracy. As for news distribution, you lose control over your information with each layer of transmission, as people condense, distort, interpret and comment on variations of the original report,” Roberto Coloma, Singapore Bureau Chief for Agence France Presse, told the Reuters Institute.

Beyond the information itself, most news organizations now embed Tweets directly into the online version of a story. You and your editor should strongly consider this when the subject of your story is posting on their own account (that you’ve verified to be real) or others are posting about a figure or topic you are writing about. Displaying the Tweet directly from the source, especially if it’s a source you were unable to contact directly, is an easy way to strengthen a particular point (it looks nice, too). 

Building Relationships 
Social media is all about immediacy, but it can also be used over time to develop important relationships within the beat you cover or with other media professionals.

If you’d like to get to know someone important to your profession, instead of just asking, “@nicolascage can we be friends? I loved you in Ghost Rider,” it’s best to play the long game.

Taking Twitter as an example, first, follow the account if you’re not already, retweet the person’s postings that you think your own audience would find value in, and also reply to some of these postings. Chances are, if this person sees you’re engaging and also sees that you’re a person of note (every reporter is!), there’s a good chance they’ll consider following you back and start interacting with you. Then, the next time you see Nicolas Cage at a movie premiere,  you can say: “Hey, Nic, it’s me, from Twitter!”

Building relationships with your audience may be even more important. Don’t be shy if you think your audience can contribute something valuable to what you’re working on. 

“Talk to them. Eg. Ask for contributions on a developing story and tell them you’ll feature the best ones online #bestpractice,” Tweeted Mark Frankel, social media editor for BBC News, during a live chat on how journalists can best use social media. 


Justin Sablich is a cross-platform journalist and social media strategist who is currently a contributing writer and editor at The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustinSablich. 

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