One person in a newsroom might work to develop a voice for social media posts, but for it to be most effective, everyone involved must work at it.
The best practices suggested below have helped newsrooms of differing sizes integrate voice into their workflows.
The Arizona Daily Star’s entire newsroom underwent about two years of training, both one-on-one and newsroom-wide, to make sure everyone was on the same page about social media practices and how to best use digital tools. The company also set internal goals that were included on each employee’s year-end evaluation. But the training didn’t stop there, social media editor Irene McKisson said.
“It changes so fast that it’s a constant process; I don’t think you’re ever done,” she said.
Even if there’s one person primarily in charge of social media, other members of the newsroom should feel comfortable posting after business hours, said Sara Grant, social media editor at The Denver Post.
Social media training might especially be beneficial when trying to bridge the generational gap in posting styles. Members of older generations might not be as comfortable using a conversational tone when posting on social media for a news organization, said Jeff Kidd, audience engagement editor at The Island Packet, The Beaufort Gazette and The State.
[pullquote align=right]Even if there’s one person primarily in charge of social media, other members of the newsroom should feel comfortable posting after business hours.[/pullquote]
Training also can be beneficial for those contributing to smaller newsroom accounts. Grant held a training session for designers, reporters and producers about taking cellphone photos and live-tweeting daily for YourHub accounts, which host The Denver Post’s hyperlocal coverage. People experimented and figured out what they were comfortable with, and Grant gave them feedback on their work.
“They each now on assignment take pictures and tweet live, but they also say, ‘Check back in the newspaper on Thursday for the full story,’” she said. “That allows me to retweet that off the house YourHub account and paint a really big picture of our hyperlocal coverage.”
More people managing a social media account also can improve understanding of what does well on social media, which can influence other areas of the newsroom. For the Flint Journal, one of MLive Media Group’s accounts, there used to be one community engagement specialist publishing throughout the week, with some additional help during weekends. But the team has since expanded to include both editors and reporters, who take shifts throughout the week during which they’re responsible for posting a certain number of times.
“It’s been a challenge to make sure that every person is creating good content and posting using the best practices,” said Jen Eyer, director of engagement at MLive. “The upside of that is that when we get all of these people fully up to speed, they’re going to understand much better and much deeper what kind of content does really well on social media, and that’s going to start showing in the stories that they produce.”
Each new Las Vegas Review-Journal employee — both on the editorial side and in the sales and marketing department, which produces in-house promotional posts — receives an explainer about the brand’s tone and voice, audience development director Stephanie Grimes said. There’s also a detailed style guide.
“We use contractions instead of writing out (something like) ‘that is,’” she said.
The Des Moines Register even created a hashtag glossary for its newsroom.
“It kept track of events happening now in the area, longstanding hashtags, traffic issues, political coverage, sports teams, that kind of stuff,” engagement editor Brian Smith said. “It helped a lot; it really took away a barrier to entry.”
Even with periodic training and written guides, most agree that having newsroom conversations about specific posts is important.
“Our team is pretty tight-knit and sits next to each other, and we’ll bounce ideas off each other in the newsroom,” said Leia Mendoza, deputy online editor of engagement at the Omaha World-Herald. “We’ll look at posts and say, OK, this is maybe too one-sided or too much of your opinion. The good thing is that we can edit them and make them more aligned to how we’re trying to come across as a company and news organization.”
Grimes of the Las Vegas Review-Journal recalled a time when she, the person tweeting and the online director spent a while debating about whether one word in the tweet was OK to use.
[pullquote align=right]We know the impact that a single wrong word can have, so we put a lot of thought into everything we do just to make sure nothing that we do ever hurts our brand.[/pullquote]
“We know the impact that a single wrong word can have, so we put a lot of thought into everything we do just to make sure nothing that we do ever hurts our brand,” she said.
Conversations about how to cover news when it breaks can also be beneficial. When a murder broke one morning, the Omaha World-Herald’s team met that morning to decide its approach.
“We decided to be very straightforward and extra careful about looking at the comments from other Facebook users to make sure none are insensitive or targeting the family,” Mendoza said.
For larger newsroom projects, Martin Reynolds, senior editor of community engagement for the Bay Area News Group, suggests collaborating with reporters to create engagement strategies, such as finding Twitter accounts of people who might be interested in an issue and implementing a large push upon the project’s release, well before a week or two in advance. He also recommends coordinating efforts for colleagues to share the project as well.