Webb on the Web: Social Networking Myths
Networking Region: Worldwide
To continue our frank discussion of social networking, I've asked Chrys Wu to shed some light on how to become an online social star. I met Chrys a few years ago while helping to plan the Online News Association annual conferences. She introduced social media to the conferences and last year distributed comments, liveblogs and more to thousands of people over our two-day meeting.
Chrys is is the editorial strategist for multiplatform, multimethod content delivery and social media at WashingtonPost.com. Her official title is Content Distribution Manager. Her blog, which is separate from her work, is Ricochet. She also uses Twitter (@MacDivaONA), hosts a regular nightly music show on Blip.fm and has graciously offered to take your questions and comments directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Webb: The Internet is cluttered. One of your specialties is creating and harnessing communities online. What's your secret?
Chrys Wu: Lots of experience. I've been either part of or a creator and leader of communities online for about 20 years.
The funny thing about social media and social networking is people talk about it as though this is a phenomenon that's never online happened before. But think about what makes media and networks "social": it's the ability for people to connect to each other online. And that ability has been around for as long as the pre-Web Internet has existed.
What makes our present situation different is so many more people are online, online culture has changed, and there are systems and sites that let you easily search for and stay in touch with others on a massive scale and in a low-barrier, public way.
AW: Do you recommend using just one web tool, such as Blip.fm, or do you need to use lots of networks at once?
CW: It depends on what your goal is. In general, there's no silver bullet that will allow you to reach an audience that's instantly interested in what you're doing or asking. Becoming a part of an online community takes time, just like it does offline.
If you're a reporter on deadline trying to find sources, you need to be selective about which sites or tools you're going to use, because you don't have a lot of time.
If you're looking to build a long-term audience for your work and you want to talk with and listen to people who are interested your work or the subject you cover, you'll probably consider being a part of several sites or networks. And you'll want to find ways to reach people efficiently.
As an aside: You mention Blip.fm. I wouldn't use it for news -- except maybe for music journalism and critique. Blip.fm is meant for recommending music, though it does let you write short messages.
AW: Do you notice a lot of crossover between networks? What does that mean for how you disseminate your information?
CW: People have profiles on lots of different social sites. If you're asking whether you'll run into the same people from site to site, the answer is yes. Definitely.
When it comes to deciding where to disseminate your information, I think the primary thing you need to focus on is your own site -- and keep the user in mind. Make sure your content easy for users to find, easy to link to and easy to take elsewhere. The Web massive will do the distribution for you if you make it easy for them to find, link and take.
AW: If a journalist is trying to build a following for his/ her publication, what's the best way to get started?
CW: Produce interesting content and do it consistently. That's the most important thing. Make sure your content is findable -- in addition to applying good search engine optimization (SEO) practices, structure your site so it's easy for a visitor to see and navigate to what's on offer. Be sure you have RSS feeds available. Do a little research to find the communities (online and off) most interested in your work and become a part of those communities. And finally, promote your work without being heavy-handed.
AW: Should folks expect an overnight success, or will this take time?
CW: There is no such thing as an overnight success in my book. To expect otherwise is to set yourself up for disappointment. How much time it takes depends on a lot of factors, including how well-known you are to begin with. But even with buzz, building an audience takes time.
AW: It seems like a lot of hard work. Is there a way to automate audience building and maintenance?
CW: There are tools you can use and APIs that you can take advantage of that let you to send a link out to many locations when something's published. RSS feeds are tremendously helpful in that way.
AW: What about the potential for backlash? Is it possible to unintentionally develop a crowd that criticizes you or your work?
CW: Of course. That's always a risk and you have to accept it on the Web.
AW: Is there an easy way to track your success?
There are a few. You can put analytics codes into your links and on your pages and keep an eye on referral traffic, time spent on site and return visits. If you've already got a baseline for traffic, you'll have some idea of what how much concerted efforts will pay off. You can also measure what you do in terms of buzziness. That's a "softer" metric, but one that's used by PR professionals to monitor how often and just what people are saying about you.
AW: Are there any do's/ dont's for building an audience and online conversation?
CW: Lots of people who work in social media will give you all sorts of formalized rules of etiquette. Frankly, I think being part of a community online is the same as being part of a community offline. Other than that, imposing all sorts of rules unnecessarily constrains creativity.
But if your readers are looking for some general guidance, here are my tips:
1. Conversation requires questions. As journalists, we should be really good at this part.
2. Be sincerely interested in the answers.
3. Don't be a jerk.
AW: What examples would you point to as successes?
For a while now, people have held the Chicago Tribune and its online persona, Colonel Tribune, as an example of creative involvement in social media that's paid off in traffic and brand loyalty. But you don't have to invent an avatar to make the most of your role in a community.
Monica Guzman, the primary reporter for The Big Blog at Seattle P-I, has done really well in binding herself to Seattle. WCCO-TV reporter Jason DeRusha blogs, tweets and reports daily in Minneapolis and has a very loyal following. Executive editor, digital Alison Gow of the Liverpool Daily Post has done a lot to connect her news outlet to her readership. Among other efforts, she's taught reporters to use social media sites to mine for tips and sources, spread content and stay close to community in many more ways than before. And have a look at the Daily Post's Flickr pool, where people post terrific photos of the city.
These are just a few examples from professional media. Bloggers and students worldwide are constantly coming up with new and better ways to use social media to report, spread information and connect to community.
Here's the thing: We journalists have always been outnumbered by the population we cover. What makes social media so useful is that we now have more ways and methods to do our jobs, reach more readers, and get their help and feedback so we can continue to produce the finest journalism we're capable of.
By Amy Webb, IJNet Digital Media Consultant