What can you do now to create a social media team that’s ready for 2020? Here’s a quick list of ideas from experts in this report.

  • To build community interest and engagement, try starting the conversation on social media and continuing it in your publication or broadcast, rather than the other way around.

  • Resist the temptation to post every link to every piece of your content. Focus on fewer items and the best platforms for that content.

  • If no one on your hiring team has a deep understanding of social media in newsrooms, hire an outside consultant or bring in an expert from another part of your company to help interview social media job candidates.

  • Work with your local university to help update social journalism curriculum to match current and future newsroom needs.

  • A solid first step in getting to know your audience: Check the U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder for deep data about your town or region.

  • Create a closed, subscribers-only Facebook group for newsrooms that use a subscription model.

  • Can’t afford offsite conferences? Tap the experts in your own news organization for peer-to-peer training. API’s Changemaker Network can help.

  • Start building a cohesive voice and strategy — even if your social media duties are spread throughout the staff — by creating a comprehensive guidebook that can be updated easily.

  • To learn more about reaching audiences and producing engaging content, hire a smart “social influencer” from a social platform as a consultant or full-time staffer.

  • To develop better strategies to fight misinformation, study the strategies used by the purveyors of that misinformation: hyperpartisan sites, fake news creators, and trolls.

  • If you want to deeper understanding of the social media influencers in your community, try partnering with a local university on a “network mapping” project.

Some closing thoughts

Over the past decade, publishers and newsrooms have examined and improved a number of newsroom functions: video, metrics analysis, content management systems, blogs, longform journalism and more. Rethinking the role and structure of the newsroom social media team might be another time-consuming project on a long list, but here are some reasons that make it worthwhile:

  • The shrinking newsroom can’t afford social media silos — or any silos. Newsrooms need real participation from every staffer to report and produce significant journalism, to battle epic amounts of misinformation on social media, and to address the downward spiral of trust.
  • Social media has advanced past a basic delivery system for content links — a function that technology can now perform — but too many newsroom leaders have not fully recognized that.
  • The number of clicks on those links are no longer an accurate measurement of value or success.

The proposals for changing job responsibilities, training, hiring and structure may represent a sea change in most traditional newsrooms. And those changes don’t come without a price. But, as publishers have learned so well, difficult choices and smart strategies are constantly necessary in 21st-century journalism.

If you have success stories, examples or questions, please let us know.

And if you’d like to reimagine your social media team, we’d like to help. Contact us.


We’d like to thank all who were interviewed for this report and those who responded so thoughtfully to our social media survey. In addition, we appreciate the support and input from:

  • The Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowship Program
  • Joshua Benton, Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University
  • Ann Marie Lipinski, Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University
  • Tory Starr, WGBH social media director; and editors at PRI’s The World, NOVA, Frontline, and WGBH in Boston
  • Tim Schmitt, Gatehouse Media
  • Jessica Huff, The McClatchy Company

We’re also grateful to these experts who reviewed early drafts of this report and provided valuable feedback: Joy Mayer, leader of the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Trusting News Project; Michelle Amazeen, Boston University assistant professor of mass communication, advertising and public relations; and Carrie Brown, social journalism director at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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