Blog: The Educated Reporter

Six Tips for Using Twitter (and Other Social Media Platforms)
Twitter and Facebook can be useful reporting tools, not just places to post cat GIFs

For journalists already enduring understaffed newsrooms, shrinking news holes and daily deadlines, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter may seem more like an additional burden than a useful tool. But they don’t have to be.

Social media can be a powerful tool for culling sources, breaking news, and promoting your work, among other things.

Adam Harris, the former social media editor for ProPublica and now a breaking news reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, shared tips for mastering social media during an October webinar for EWA. Read on for some highlights of his suggestions, plus other tips for making the most of social media. (View Adam's presentation slides.)

1. Present a human face, not just a headline. Be conversational. Share some of your life and personality. “Your professional account should still reflect that a human operates it,” Harris said. “It shouldn’t just be something that an RSS feed could create.” Examples of reporters who do this well, he said, include David Fahrenthold and Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post, and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.

2. Use Twitter as your reporter’s notebook. Tweet news releases in a format that’s easily searchable and easy to catalog. For example, Harris said he tweets such information with the words “inbox” and a descriptive term. Use an advance search to go back and search through your tweets.

3. Thread tweets to create a mini story in your timeline. To thread tweets, just reply to your own tweets in succession, one after another. This displays them in linear order. It’s similar to jotting down ideas in your reporter’s notebook. This also helps you stay on top of the story, Harris said. You then can polish the tweets into the narrative of your story.

4. Know when you are in danger of crossing the line. As always, be professional and use your news judgement on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. “Know that you are in a public space still, so there should be some limits to what you’re saying,” Harris said. “Also, you want to continue to be fair, continue to be accurate.” Don’t rant about something you are covering or might cover in the future. Find your comfort level with what you’re willing to post, he said.

 5. Be creative with how you use Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media platforms. Reveal (The Center for Investigative Reporting) put together an entire investigative series on Instagram. The New York Times uses Instagram and a third-party platform to link back to stories on its website. You can use Snapchat to share mini-interviews when you’re on location. Facebook Live seems to be the go-to platform for live streaming. You can also use it for live Q&As, Harris suggested.

6. Don’t forget about Facebook. Twitter tends to be the go-to site for journalists to share and follow breaking news. But reporters neglect Facebook at their peril. The number of adults using Facebook still far exceeds the audience for other social media platforms, including Twitter, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

To engage with your audience on Facebook, be intentional about sharing photos (and even short videos). Monitor the analytics data on Facebook (and Twitter) to gauge what gets the strongest response from your audience.

When you create a Facebook Page, you also get access to data about the number of people your posts reach and how many people actually engage with the posts.

Similar information is available on Twitter (analytics.twitter.com). Here’s an example of what it looks like.



Have a question, comment or concern for the Educated Reporter? Contact Emily Richmond. Follow her on Twitter @EWAEmily.

Read other Educated Reporter articles.