Journalism in a Social Media World #journoconf

I was perhaps a bit surprised to see just half the people raise their hands when Martin Thomas, author of Loose and co-author of Crowd Surfing – and chair of the Journalism in a Social Media World Conference – asked a room filled with 150 (ish) journalists who’s on Twitter. I don’t have anything to compare this to but I was expecting more hands to hit the air.

The conference, held last week in the trendy Broadgate Tower in London (one chap said: “I work in Canary Whaf and this place makes it look like an old barn”) was organised by the Social Media Academy and proved enjoyable, informative and inspiring. A good range of competent and interesting speakers filling half-hour slots worked well for my limited attention span and Martin Thomas got full marks for chairing – asking informed questions on behalf of the audience and encouraging intelligent discussion. I also followed – and contributed – to the conference’s Twitter commentary too – check out #journoconf if you’re interested (here’s a preview…)

Okay, so here’s the science… a round of up of what I learned and in no particular order…

“Turn your readers into collaborators… involve them with your research and trends. How to survive in a social media world? Be loose… trust your employees.”                                                              Martin Thomas

Twitter is the fastest place to get breaking news – but is it all true?

“If you want to be a good journalist you need to start using Google properly,” says Matthew Elthringham, Assistant Editor, Interactivity and Social Media Development, BBC.  We all start nodding our heads – of course we use Google properly! Or so we thought.

“Who uses Google?” Hands launch into the air, as expected. “Who uses Google realtime or Google advanced search?” A few hands go up, watched by lots of blank faces. “Then you really need to be using Google properly,” he adds.

Google advanced search and realtime are invaluable research tools, incredible useful and worthwhile, as are blog search and Google reader. “Journalists who can’t use Google properly are missing a big trick,” he adds, as most of our cheeks (those of us at the conference, that is) turn red. How could so many of us have missed this?

Journalism doesn’t change! The platforms do, but don’t lose sight of the journalism. What’s important is making sure a story is accurate before you go telling the world about it. And how many hacks get so excited by a story they forget to check it’s true? Classic examples – the polar bear on Bude beach and the Daily Mail iPhone recall story. Says Matt: “If there’s no truth in what you’re saying, what are you giving your followers?” Er… nowt?

Twitter is the fastest place to get breaking news and is superb for gathering intelligence but don’t forget the basic journalism. Twitter is a source, just like another other, and info needs authenticating. Just because it’s on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s true.

“The principles of journalism remain the same, it’s just a different landscape now,” he adds.

Matt’s top tips:

  • Engagement, comment and opinion is key
  • Check out Netvibes – a sharing source, pulling info into one place that you can share with others. Handy for my media relations colleagues me thinks
  • Check your facts and check them twice – it’s great to break news but even better to get it right

Blurred lines between personal and professional lives

What about the personal versus private thing in social media? While, as a rule, Facebook tends to be kept out of work, Twitter is very much a part of it. “I don’t bring the BBC into disrepute in my tweets. Would I say it on air? If I would then I’ll tweet it,” says Matt from the BBC.

Some BBC bods have corporate Twitter accounts – you’ll spot them as they’ll have BBC before their names, eg BBCjoebloggs, but others combine the two – personal and work tweeting – but with a careful eye on what they’re prepared to say in a public forum.

Charlote Dingle, Editor of G3 magazine, is heavily involved in the lives of her readers and has them as Facebook friends and Twitter followers. “I haven’t had a problem with it so far. I work for a community magazine, I love my job so it’s a part of what I do and I think it’s essential.”

To engage best with the community in a work capacity, do/should the lines blur?

Granualarity – what a great word

Joel Gunter, of, introduces us to the word “granularity” – a trait of social media, the ability to pull in coverage/information/pictures etc from different sources and paint a full picture; it’s a great curating/aggregating tool. He says Twitter is a superb customer service tool – engaging with and helping the users in your community, it gives them added value and lets people know your organisation is working to help them.

Interesting case studies/people:

Joel says Quora – the next big social media thang maybe? – is a really useful question and answers tool. But that’s about as far as he got with his talk. The poor chap ran out of time and both he and we were gutted not to hear the rest of his talk – an excellent speaker and I’d like to hear more from him.

If content is king, context is key

I’ve heard Meg Pickard, Head of Digital Engagement, Guardian News and Media, speak before, at the Guardian Media Summit a few years back and she repeated a line from her talk back then – and it’s one I now use regularly: “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” There’s no point recreating the wheel, if it’s already out there, link to it and spend your time on another angle.

A great speaker, Meg is not a journalist but confesses to blogging “since the word began with a w” and she knows her stuff when it comes to communities. And it’s communities we’re all trying to reach after all, with our products, our services and our journalism.

Communities have been engaging with newspapers since they first started rolling off the presses, when readers penned letters to the editor. Today is no different, says Meg, except that the landscape is changing and opens up more ways for the community to interact and engage with media outlets; there are so many more platforms. It’s all too easy for us to sit back and think “hey, wake up community, why aren’t you engaging with us?” even when the content is top notch.

Meg says communities need a helping hand. We need to ask what are the communities doing, what do they want and how can we help them? Creating is hard for many people, even if they do want to engage, so user-generated-content  – a phrase Megs hates for the robotic image it conjures up – can be sparse. We need to help people engage, encourage them to get involved and make it easier for them to do so – see the audit your own MP campaign. Is this getting the people to do your work for you? Yes. But does it matter when the content’s interesting and generated by the masses? Not one bit.

“Social media isn’t always social,” says Meg. It’s about leveraging other people’s experience to create a better experience for yourself… and it’s about engagement and visitor loyalty, not about page views and unique visitors.”

Meg’s top tips:

  • Reward positive users, don’t give too much attention to the naughty ones
  • Moderation – a journalist commenting within the first 25 comments can change the tone of the debate significantly
  • Community needs to take collective responsibility. What’s the point in moaning that a post has taken ages to remove when they didn’t report it themselves
  • Content used to be king, but now it’s all about context

More than just words

I’m not a stats gal, I’m more about the words than the numbers, but I’m really interested in finding out who reads what and the impact we have when we put our news stories out there. What’s the use in shouting about it if no one is listening?

Alberto Nardelli, Co-Founder of Tweetminster says it’s all about share of attention; lots of people reporting the same story in different ways, but which angle works best? Twitter’s great for finding out. He’s given me lots of inspiration to create more social media projects for work which involve easily tracking and documenting feedback – pouring data into Google maps, for example, is simples.

Handy hints include putting a + after any bit-ly URL to see the data behind it – a timeline of click throughs, where they came from, how many shares, Facebook likes and retweets. Clever!

He sings the praises of using hashtags and encouraging people to tweet information which can be piled into a Google map, for example, just like the campaign to help map the #UKvote

Influence was mentioned too, but what is influence? Stephen Fry on Twitter has a bigger following that all our national newspapers put together. That’s a huge audience. But, as Paul Bradshaw points out in a tweet…

How to check influence? Well, it all depends how and who you want influencing but check out Listorious – it’s not so much about followers these days than lists. If you’re listed, that’s a good thing.

Words of advice on Twitter? Don’t just share yourt own content, says Alberto, but share others’ too. Share stuff you think your followers will be interested in, build an audience so you have a bigger network when you do want to share your own messages. Grow your network!

Blogging, citizen journalism, whatever you want to call it

Apart from thinking, gosh, she’s young and I wouldn’t mind her borrowing her uber trendy wardrobe, I was interested to hear the views of Jess Markwood, Editorial Director of Aigua Media, on the slowing down in the growth of blogs. Is the blog dead? Hell no! Jess attributes it to the number of hobby bloggers realising it’s a time consuming activity – blogs need to be updated regularly with interesting content to attract and retain readers. Hear hear.

And she mentioned a great blogging success story – that of following the shutting down of

But it’s not about a single destination anymore; to send your messages you need to be using multiple platforms and collaborate,” says Jess. Aigua Media owns and runs several fashion blogs and websites – here’s one of them – and makes its money through advertising as well as utilising Twitter and Facebook as communication tools.

I don’t agree with Jess’s comment that good blogs are updated five or six times a day, that’s just not possible if you’re not a full time blogger and – shocker – there sometimes just aren’t that many things of interest to blog about. But I do agree that content is king, blogging style needs to be punchier than formal news reporting and the best blogs work because the bloggers’ personalities are injected into them.

How inflentual are bloggers? Jess pulls out a picture of a 13-year-old fashion blogger sitting next to the New York editor of Vogue Magazine at a catwalk show. Pretty influential, huh?

But is there a code of ethics for bloggers as there is for journalists? Hmmm, not really. Should there be?

Okay folks, my brain hurts with all that info. Some of it brand new to me, other stuff I knew but needed a reminder of and some stuff I’m trying and testing at work and home. Hope this post proves useful. A post on how my own work ties into all this social media gubbins may well follow…

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  • Reply adrianhiggins April 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Hi Robyn,
    Enjoyed the blog post, nicely laid-out and written. Good reminder of the useful stuff I learned on the day with its mix of speakers, links, tips and views. I’m currently trying to get my head round Empire Avenue which seems to have quite a buzz around it at the moment. Already using but making sure I use it for every link now. All the best.

  • Reply Scott April 27, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Brillliant round up of the day.

  • Reply robynbateman April 27, 2011 at 9:05 am

    And here’s more coverage by Eoghan O’Neill from the Social Media Academy, the conference organisers:

  • Reply Adrian Higgins April 27, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Love the way this is presented. A really useful round-up of an inspiring day. I’ve been “on” Twitter for a couple of years but only in a meaningful way since January, I think for many people there’s a “get-it” moment. That package of networking, research, sourcing and audience is a compelling one. The whole crowd-commissioning idea Meg mentioned end exampled through the MP expenses coverage is a great example.

  • Reply Adrian Higgins April 27, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Love this really well-presented round-up of an inspirational day. Social Media in general and Twitter in particular seems to come with a lightbulb moment for those who didn’t grow up with it. That mix of research-, crowd-,publication- tool is a compelling one. I particularly liked Meg’s crowd-commissioning example of the Guardian’s MP Expenses article. Powerful stuff

  • Reply robynbateman April 27, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks for your comments Adrian and apologies that you got caught in my spam filter – hence approving all three of your comments as you were so kind enough to keep trying :0) When I started out as a journalist at just 18 we had to get stories the old fashioned way – talking to people face to face and on the phone and driving out to check the village noticeboards for any hint of a story. It’s great to be part of such an exciting time – when journalism isn’t just for those of us lucky enough to have the qualifications or job titles, but for the whole community – be it as researchers, storytellers, writers, curators or disseminators. Love it.

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