Ask these questions before jumping onto a social platform

In my Participatory Journalism class last week, we did a whirlwind tour through a bunch of social platforms.

Before we looked through Pinterest, Quora, LinkedIn and other sites, we talked about how we as journalists (or really, anyone who uses social platforms to get a job done) should decide which ones we should invest in. We also talked about how the answer might be different when considering an overall brand strategy versus a specific topic or project.

Here’s my list. What would you add? 

  1. Is your audience there? You know, the people who follow you in general, or will be interested in the project you’re considering sharing there. Are they already there? (If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, here’s my list of questions to start with. And some advice from the brilliant Seth Godin.)
  2. Is your potential audience there? Think about audience growth. Who are the people you don’t currently reach but would love to reach? Are they there?
  3. What do people DO there, and do you fit in? Have you spent time studying the platform? Do you understand what the customs are, what the utility is and how people behave? Do you have content to offer that is genuinely consistent with all that? (Jeff Sonderman wrote about NPR’s advice to respect each platform’s culture.)
  4. Do you know what you want to accomplish, and how will you measure success? What do you hope will happen for you with this new adventure, and are you prepared to build in time for assessment? Each new platform takes time, and it’s better to do some things really well than to spread yourself too thin. What if you discover your audience really isn’t there? Or that what you thought you would do isn’t “working”? (More on why “what works on social media” isn’t a sophisticated enough question is here.) Whether you’re working for clicks, shares, crowdsourcing, community building, story ideas or something else, know how you’ll decide if the return on investment is worth it.

I have yet to work with journalists who I didn’t think could find good use with Facebook. (Here’s one of my favorite examples, from a small town Missouri newspaper.) But I’ve worked with some whose audiences just weren’t on Twitter, and plenty for whom Reddit, Pinterest or  Tumblr probably wouldn’t be very useful.

So when asked “should I be on Pinterest,” my answer is always “it depends.” (Actually, as my students will tell you, that’s my answer to most questions.)

The key is to ask the right questions. What would you add to this list?


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