Blog: The Educated Reporter

Using Social Media Tools to Share Stories

Journalists and other communicators must reach out to their audiences to share information, stories and messages, but that begs the question: Which social media tools are most effective, beyond Facebook and Twitter?

Several communications experts tackled this issue during the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar earlier this year.

The panelists said it’s critical to start by being clear about the target audience, or audiences, as well as the message they want to share. Those factors influence which platforms are most effective.

One powerful platform is the podcast, which has surged in popularity after the success of Serial. Panelists suggested that podcasts can be useful, but must be short (10 minutes is almost too long) and well edited.

Jack Fleming, a senior communications associate at the Education Trust, suggested listening to NPR to get a sense of how podcasts can be used effectively. Barbara McKenna, a director of public outreach at WestEd, noted that the podcast format is easy to use and can be inexpensive to produce. In addition, speaker Daren Briscoe, a senior vice president at GMMB, said the platform offers convenience as users can listen on their mobile phones.

Instagram is another platform cited that has potential to reach a wide audience, but that audience tends to skew young, McKenna noted. It is best for images and graphics, but can be used to build stories effectively. Michelle Lerner, the press secretary for the District of Columbia Public Schools, noted a recent campaign showcasing students who had been accepted to colleges reached a much larger audience than anticipated, including alumni of those colleges.

If you think Pinterest is only recipes and craft ideas, think again. Lerner said parents use Pinterest in search of parenting ideas and help with issues their children face. Meanwhile, Patrick Riccards, the chief communications officer for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, said teachers also are a strong audience on the platform. Lerner said there is no text length, which is helpful when sharing information that needs more than 140 characters.

The panel addressed three platforms in depth: Facebook, Medium and LinkedIn. Ashley Inman, the director of digital media at the Collaborative for Student Success, explained how to promote a post to reach a much larger audience and boost engagement. As an example, she showed how, even with 27,000 followers, posts can reach fewer than 1,000 of them. But boosting a post has extended its reach to up to 250,000 people, many of whom shared it with people on their own Facebook networks. You can target by demographics and interests and by geographic location, as well.

Inman offered the following tips:

  • Make your post intriguing.

  • Keep the text short.

  • Add a photo to the post.

  • Preview how the post will look in the mobile version.

  • Think about what your goals are.

Riccards noted that LinkedIn is an under-utilized resource. It provides a platform with tremendous reach for original content, and LinkedIn promotes posts.

“All of a sudden it is going out to everyone in your network that you have posted a new piece,” he said. “It’s showing up in their feeds. They’re putting it in emails, they’re flagging it for you.”

Additionally, LinkedIn followers are interested in your organization and your content. You also can cross-promote on Facebook and Twitter. Your work reaches a wide audience of professionals, from teachers to legislators to nonprofit and corporate executives to parents.

Briscoe said he finds Medium an excellent platform for longer-form original content. In addition to followers on Medium, content will be shared with people who have expressed an interest in the topic or issue. It has a simple design that is similar to a blog platform, and users can select up to three passages to highlight for followers to share.

Medium also generates tags for each post, and all comments are private until the author chooses to make them public. With about 24 million monthly unique views, the platform has a large audience and the average reading time for a post is about 3.5 minutes, much longer than most social media content.

Briscoe noted the audience includes legislators, educators and journalists, and that viewers tend to be college-educated. “In terms of higher education, opinion makers and lawmakers, it is the way to go,” he said.

Fleming, of the Education Trust, suggested users consider a social media platform to manage their campaigns and posts, and to track data analytics. In addition to Hootsuite, he mentioned SproutSocial, Silverpop, and Sendible. Fleming said that in-depth analytics aren’t free. That’s how the companies make money.

For those interested in seeing how organizations use a range of social media platforms effectively, the panelists suggested checking out The 74, Pew Research Center, Hechinger Report, Brookings Institution, and American Federation of Teachers.