Earning trust on social: Deploy your fans

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. It is part of a series. If you’re just tuning in, start here

What do we know about how trust and sharing on social media work? We know that people trust their own friends and families. They trust people who are already trusted by people they trust — much more than they trust brands.

We also know that social media is based on a culture of sharing. Users share their own lives, but they also share ideas, products and services that they find some sort of value in.

So, as you look to grow your brand’s network — to increase the number of users who trust you and have a relationship with you — it makes sense to tap into the network you already have.

Let’s explore how you might ask for the help of the people who already trust you. Can you ask them to declare their support for you? Would they be willing to encourage their friends to use you as a resource? Could you teach them to help you correct some of the world’s misinformation?

Why don’t journalists ask users more often to pass along their content? Done badly, that can be intrusive or feel like cheesy self-promotion. But done well, it can speak to a shared desire to make people smarter or an altruistic goal of getting needed information into as many hands as possible. So many informed news consumers cultivate a social identity as someone who helps keep their networks informed. How can we more strategically tap into that user goal? Social capital and influence are often used to contribute to the greater good and can contribute to more informed communities as well.

Continue reading “Earning trust on social: Deploy your fans”


Earning trust on social: Engage authentically

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. It is part of a series. If you’re just tuning in, start here. 

When we asked how trust is built on social media, we heard some consistent themes in interview after interview with journalists and nonjournalists.

Know who you are, know who your audience is and practice consistent, real interactions between the two parties. Be sure those interactions involve listening, reflecting back what you hear and responding.

We talked to Billy Penn’s Jim Brady while at a conference reception, over drinks and live music. He posed this question: Is your news organization up on stage like the band, or is it down on the floor with the rest of the party? Do you talk like the other partygoers talk? Do you catch on in a way that makes them want to tell their friends about you? Do you respond authentically when they talk to you?

Authenticity is key. So is consistency. Brady says it’s important to “be who you are every time you speak publicly.” (If you’re not sure who you are, revisit the first theme.) As you identify what your brand offers, share that value proposition with users. Maybe your most compelling story is independence from influence. Maybe it’s context and explanation. Maybe it’s action-oriented news.

Whatever that story is, realize you can’t fake it. Don’t sell yourself as an explainer if you’re not consistent at it. Don’t try to talk like the hip youngsters if you just don’t fit in. Like a mom at a party, it just won’t work.

Continue reading “Earning trust on social: Engage authentically”

Earning trust on social: Tell your story

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. It is part of a series. If you’re just tuning in, start here

Who are you, as a brand or an individual? Have you properly introduced yourself? Do you invite people to get to know you? What do you value and stand for? What can people expect from you? How do you make people feel? Do they like you? Do they believe you?

Journalists are good at helping the community get to know itself, but we don’t talk much about what we wish the community knew about us. Plus, we don’t really love talking about ourselves. We wish the stories — the products — could stand for themselves.

Too bad. Journalists need to accept that the information and stories hardly ever speak for themselves. Journalists and other communicators need to get more comfortable with and skilled at:

  • Inviting people to pay attention to them.
  • Persuading people to listen up.
  • Making themselves interesting and believable.
  • Marketing their work.

I know the idea of marketing themselves or their work can feel icky to some journalists. But check out this definition from Seth Godin: “Marketing is the name we use to describe the promises a company makes, the story it tells, the authentic way it delivers on that promise.” Not icky, right?

In a TED talk that’s been viewed 25 million times, Simon Sinek talks about the importance of beginning with “why,” not “what.” From Martin Luther King Jr.’s work to Apple devices, successful messages or products invite people to believe in a story first, buy a product second. Why does the message or product exist? Who’s behind it? How is it funded? What makes it different? What is it good at? These are all questions we would ask on behalf of our users about the companies we cover. It’s partly about disclosure, but it’s also about just painting a fuller picture of an organization. However, we rarely answer these questions about ourselves. Continue reading “Earning trust on social: Tell your story”

Trust us, you’re going to want to read this series about social media

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

How do news consumers decide what information to trust, and how can journalists teach users to be smarter consumers and sharers?

As our fellow community members — voters, neighbors, family members, co-workers — face more options for what to include in their information diet, I’d sure like to know what I might do as a journalist to encourage healthy choices. How can I influence what my followers pick to snack on?

Increasingly, those choices are made on social media platforms. Rather than seeking out a specific brand, consumers are watching a stream of information go by and reaching out to grab specific bits.

How do they decide which ones to click? How do they know what’s good for them? How can they tell what’s unusual, special and worth sharing? How do they choose which ones are, as marketing icon Seth Godin says, remarkable, or worth remarking on?

team of college students and I have been interviewing journalists and nonjournalists to get a sense of what creates trust and credibility between communicator and receiver. We’re working with the Trust Project and factoring in their extensive user research about indicators of trust.

In our talks with people in and out of the news industry about social media and credibility, three themes emerged: Journalists need to tell their own stories, engage authentically and deploy their fans. We’ll take a look at those three themes in three posts:

Our next step is to work with journalists to test how these strategies can be put to work for them. If you’re interested in participating, please get in touch with me.

How to analyze a brand’s social media use

If you want to be more sophisticated in your social media use, it can help to practice analyzing what other people do.

An assignment I use in one of my classes is to pick a news brand and analyze its social media activity. I’m always impressed with my students’ observations, and I thought I’d share the assignment here in case it’s useful for others. I’d love to see how other folks teach this. Drop me a line if you have an assignment you’d be willing to share.


Evaluate the social media use of a news organization of your choice. It can be a small community newsroom or an international staff, niche topic or general. Please choose an organization:

  • that is present and at least a little active on social media
  • that has room for improvement, so you can make suggestions
  • for which you can find at least two staff members connected to the organization who at least sometimes post about their work
  • that will allow you to answer all the questions posed in this assignment

You will be assessed based on how well you apply the breadth of our social media discussions in class to your analysis and on the thoughtfulness of that analysis. Consider social media guidelines, strategies and styles of writing. Also address the measurement of success.

PART ONE (10 points): Identify the primary audience for and mission of that news organization (either in their words or your own estimations). Find that news organization on as many social platforms as you can and link to all their accounts. Consider AT A  MINIMUM: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. Can you find any social media strategy or policy documents or related interviews? If so, link to them or attach them.

PART TWO (20 points): Answer these questions about at least two of those accounts, on two separate platforms (for example, the org’s main presence on Pinterestand Instagram, or the org’s main sports presence on Twitter and food presence on Facebook — you pick). 

  • How frequently does the account post?
  • Analyze the posts. Approximately what is the ratio of posts that link to or push newsroom content compared to posts that are replies, retweets or other contributions to conversations? 
  • What do you know and what can you surmise about the strategy for each of those two accounts? Discuss what you can tell about the goals, and link to at least three posts on each platform that back up what you’re saying.

PART THREE (20 points): Find at least two staff members who post about the work they do connected to the organization you’re evaluating. 

  • Link to their accounts/platforms that discuss their work. 
  • How much of what they post is directly related to their work?
  • What is the nature of their work-related posts? Describe how it relates to content, whether they demonstrate personality, whether/how they reply to followers, whether they show what’s going on behind the scenes of their jobs and whether anything they post could be considered controversial. 

PART FOUR (20 points): Think about the strategies we talked about in class for writing social posts. We wrote posts designed to get as many click thrus as possible, as much engagement as possible and as much worthwhile discussion as possible. (Related post: What “works” on social media? That’s a bad question.) Please pick one existing post that includes a link back to your org’s website. Link to the original post, and rewrite it three ways. You don’t have to think all three are the right way to promote that link. But show you understand the diversity of possible strategies by writing examples. Then indicate which you think would be most effective.

PART FIVE (30 points): Write suggestions for the news organization based on what you learned. Write it as if you’re sending it to the organization’s leadership, and address both brand accounts and individual journalists’ accounts. Acknowledge what is working and make suggestions for improvement and growth. Be sure to address why further investment in improvement and growth would be worthwhile and how the newsroom could measure success (what could be measured and what the newsroom would learn from those measurement efforts). Be prepared for it to be shared, either publicly or specifically with that staff. 


13 things I’ve learned about working from home

I’ve been working out of my new home office for almost six months, and I thought I’d share some observations about what it’s like.

The best part of my home office is the view. The rest is prettier about once a week when I clean off my desk.

1. Working alone doesn’t feel lonely when I have solo work to do. Even though I’m a socially oriented person, I love being by myself when I need to read, write, conduct interviews or do other work that is meant to be done alone. I don’t find myself wishing there were someone else nearby with these tasks. Plus, I have Bert.

2. Working alone feels extremely lonely when I’m working with others. I spent a few months still leading a team in a newsroom in another state, and I was faced with all the reasons journalism is a team sport. I missed naturally being able to participate in brainstorming, collaborative editing and the giving and getting of feedback. I also missed getting to know my team in the way that happens when you work side by side but is much harder via video chat. Next time I do significant work as part of a team, I’ll experiment more with how to feel in touch with each other.

3. I don’t work as much as I thought I did. I’m using a tool called Toggl to track my time, and it’s showing me exactly how much of my day is dedicated to completing specific tasks. (UPDATE: I wrote more about Toggl here.) I can surmise from what I’m learning that more of my newsroom workday than I realized was spent NOT completing specific work tasks … in meetings, chatting, surfing. The good news is that now that I work alone, other people don’t care how much I work, and I’m accountable only to myself for my surfing time. The other good news is that when I’ve accomplished what I need to accomplish, I can stop working.

4. I don’t mind interspersing home tasks with work ones. I can run the dog to the groomer, switch a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher without distracting myself from work. I also sometimes go to yoga or get a pedicure in the middle of the day. Except … it’s easy for days to disappear into errands, kids’ dentist appointments and getting an early start on dinner. I need to protect my time to make sure I accomplish what I most need to accomplish.

Continue reading “13 things I’ve learned about working from home”

My job teaching audience engagement is the best, and it could be yours

outreach team members

NOTE: This post was written before the intensity of recent events on Mizzou’s campus (events that came as less of a surprise to those of us invested in this community than they did to the larger world). The job might be even more interesting and important now than it was a few weeks ago.

It’s time for me to move on from what might be the most rewarding job I’ll ever have. For family reasons, I’ve moved from Missouri to Florida, and I’m teaching from afar this semester to bridge the gap between me and the lucky person chosen to do this job next. Will it be you?

THE JOB, PART ONE: I’m the director of community outreach at the Columbia Missourian, a newspaper that covers the community of Columbia (a very cool college town). We serve the town, not just the campus, and we do it with transparency, integrity and depth. We also do it with a staff of students that turns over every 16 weeks.

THE JOB, PART TWO: I’m an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism — part of the group of faculty members whose primary teaching duties lie in newsroom supervision. The professional/faculty editors who run the newsroom stay pretty darn consistent, with less turnover than any other newsroom I’ve worked in. But except for some paid students, the rest of the student staff is either brand new or in a new role every semester. It’s chaotic and crazy and so much damned fun.

Does it sound fun to …

  • Work in a teaching newsroom full of smart, optimistic, dedicated journalists?
  • Be given room to experiment and fail, with the understanding that the experiment is sometimes the highest good?
  • Stop defending why journalists should talk about their audiences and care who consumes their content, because the newsroom has already drunk the kool-aid?
  • Teach the next generation of journalists — the ones in your classes AND the 200+ every semester who work in your newsroom — that collaborative, audience-focused journalism is necessary, rewarding and fun?
  • Keep adding to a deep toolbox of ways to highlight diverse community voices?
  • Collaborate with dedicated colleagues, keeping your boss in the loop without having to ask permission for every idea?

The Missourian’s community outreach team is made up of students enrolled in the Participatory Journalism class. I see my staff (plus some non-staff students) in class twice a week, then also supervise them in the newsroom. So I have a staff of 8-15 every semester (depending on enrollment), but they each put in just 10 hours a week or so.

Our job on the team is to make the news more collaborative and social. And by “social,” I don’t just mean social media. I mean a genuine two-way experience and relationship. Feedback. Collaboration. Conversation. In-person socialization. Community voices. Measurement and analytics. Here are highlights of the kind of work we do. Some of it is work that stays with the outreach team, and some is designed to support and amplify the work of the rest of the newsroom.

outreach team members
The very first community outreach team at the Columbia Missourian, in the fall of 2011.

The community outreach team has been around since Fall 2011. I was the Missourian’s design editor for several years before I did a fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute and refocused my work on audience engagement. When I finished the yearlong fellowship, I created a new role for myself and a new department in the newsroom.

It’s been a helluva ride. I moved to Columbia in December 2003 with no intention of staying 12 years.  (It’s worth mentioning that I started teaching when I was still in my 20s, with just a bachelor’s degree. Youth is not a barrier.)

The students who’ve been on the ride with me can be seen in this Facebook album (semester by semester) and on this Twitter list. The alumni of the team often find themselves in leadership roles early in their careers because their newsrooms and other organizations so desperately need their knowledge and skills. (If you’re looking for an employee with these skills, hit me up … I bet I can find you someone.)

Okay, so now I’m feeling sappy.

You should also know that the job is demanding and challenging like nothing I’ve taken on professionally before. The pace can be relentless, especially early in each semester when the students truly have no idea what they’re doing. Thank goodness there are generous breaks and lots of flexibility. (That’s in comparison to newsrooms. It’s a year-round job, not an academic schedule. We work summers and breaks, being a community news source and all.)

People who are happy at the Missourian embrace the chaos and fluidity of it. They take more pride in their students’ work than in their own. And they are willing to fully invest in their work because the work matters … more than most daily journalism, if I may be so bold. The stakes are higher than just today’s news report. The work pays dividends for years to come, as hundreds of students a year (seriously, hundreds) take what they learn at the Missourian into the world and hear our voices in their heads as they work.

Personally, I want what they hear in their heads to include a relentless focus on the people the journalism is designed to serve. Can you help make that happen?

To read the official job description and apply, go through http://hrs.missouri.edu/find-a-job/academic/ and use job code 18140. I’m happy to answer your questions.

Checklist: How to edit for social media

We’re talking in my class this week about writing and editing behind social media posts. Here’s the list I use in my newsroom about what to look for when editing behind each other. 

  1. Do a typical copy edit … spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.
  2. Double check every fact against source material or story … proper name, number, gender pronouns, etc.
  3. Check the tone to see if it is a good fit for the story or topic. Also check the context. Is it accurate in spirit, not just fact?
  4. Ask what the post is designed to accomplish, and if the writing and frame are as compelling as possible. Does the post give users a reason to click? If there are questions posed, will those questions elicit interesting answers? Are you asking a question people are dying to answer? **Are you using appropriate tags and handles? ***Are there people/groups you could tag who might especially want to read/share? ****Would it be a good idea to give credit to anyone for having shared something first, written something, etc.?
  5. **Are there images in the post? If so, are they the right ones? If not, is there a photo, graphic, screen grab or quote that would add impact?
  6. Check links in the post if applicable. Make sure links send users to the right story. And make sure they’re publicly available links, not internal admin links.
  7. *Check the voice and content of the post to make sure they fit the platform they’re headed to.
  8. Double check the time the post is scheduled for. Does it match what’s intended (and what’s logged on your organization’s planning doc, if you use one)? Will the post still read correctly at the time it goes live (that time references like today or yesterday are still accurate, that we’re not being too specific predicting tomorrow’s weather, etc.)?
  9. Check that you’re on the right account, and not sending a tweet to Facebook (if you use a tool that covers both), a sports tweet to the news account or newsroom posts to your own accounts. 

What would you add?

*Thanks to Reuben Stern for adding this one.

**Thanks to Taylor Kasper, Makenzie Koch and Hellen Tian for adding other things we talk about in the newsroom!

***Thanks to Anika Anand for this elaboration.

****Thanks to Matt DeRienzo for this suggestion.

We’re in this together: Takeaways from Experience Engagement

I just spent an exhilarating four days in Portland at the Experience Engagement workshop, hosted by Journalism That Matters and the University of Oregon’s Agora Journalism Center.

Here are some quick highlights and lessons (besides that going from the west coast to the east coast on a red eye is ill advised). I’ll give credit when my notes are specific enough to do so, and otherwise credit goes to the collective wisdom of those gathered. (By the way, session notes for most of the conversations, which happened unconference style, are posted online.)

I was so impressed with the group that gathered. More and more people are doing engaged, social, audience-focused journalism.

One valuable sector of that group was made up of non-journalists. That’s right … people who were not journalists spent hours upon hours helping us talk about how news and engagement lead to more thriving communities. We had the incredible benefit of wrestling with the challenges of our work alongside people focused on civic engagement for government, advocacy and nonprofit work. A few of them said their participation in the workshop had restored their faith in journalism or made them feel more invested in it. So that’s cool, right?

As for the journalists, their jobs and perspectives were diverse, and it was gratifying to see so many types of journalism organizations that were supporting engagement work. It seemed most of the attendees had audience engagement at the center of their jobs, and an investment was made to send them to Portland. So that’s cool, too.

The flip side of that is one we as a community of practitioners needs to address: Engagement can be lonely work. Engagement specialists often work solo and don’t have mentors or advisers with expertise in the same work. They also are often called upon to be leaders and teachers in their newsrooms or organizations. They are persuading veteran journalists to ask new questions, use new tools and share control of their journalism with audiences. They are fundamentally working toward a shift in their organizational cultures.

That’s hard for anyone to do solo, and it’s especially hard for people early in their careers, as a lot of engagement editors are. I certainly am getting this message from alums of my community outreach team. They feel very qualified for the tasks of their job but didn’t expect to be thrust into the role of change agent in their first jobs.

That’s why I’m glad that a key goal and outcome for the workshop was to discuss plans for an interactive field guide for engagement. Tools are needed to support people working toward more engaged newsrooms, whether they were hired to do engagement work or are taking it upon themselves to dabble. I expect you’ll hear more about this planned field guide soon.

A few other highlights:

  • More and more, we’re looking at conversation and participation as a core product, not just a means to an end. We need to get better at reflecting those interactions IN our core products so the value is clear to our wider audiences. (Andrew Haeg put it this way: Journalists can be thought of as architects of participation.)
  • From Terry Parris: So much potential exists when we start with the people rather than a story. Let the people drive the story. Start with inquiry and listening.
  • From Linda Miller: Nothing about us without us. Don’t do community-focused work without the involvement of the people you aim to serve.
  • Related, also from Linda: We need to stop doing unicorn journalism … jumping up and down as if something is rare or unprecedented just because we found it. Those one-off efforts miss the context and make us look out of touch, and they can feel disrespectful to the other people doing the thing we’re touting.
  • From Sydette Harry: With just about any story, journalists should find and report on related online conversations. And don’t mistakenly think that that’s about giving people a voice. Lots of people have a voice on their own, we’re just not paying attention to what they’re saying and including them in our coverage. It takes work to find the conversation, but it’s important to make the effort if we want to stay relevant.

Cheers to gaining momentum and walking away inspired, my friends.

In comments, readers hold us accountable

I really enjoyed Jack Murtha’s piece in CJR today about how audience engagement editors are guiding online discussions. It covers a lot of the kind of work I do and also touches on some familiar tensions in newsrooms about how audience contributions do or don’t influence the traditional journalism.

I especially appreciate this lovely description of the job.

(Audience engagement editors) are the children of the copy editor, the public editor, and the paperboy. Instead of grammar and style, this new breed of editor crafts online tone and relationships with readers. Web traffic and, if subtly, advertising dollars depend on their work. Together, their efforts help tear down a perception that the media is declarative and deaf to how readers interact with its work.

I want to contribute a reason I love online comments and encourage my newsroom to invest in them: They help make our journalism better, and they are evidence that we’re being genuinely responsive to the information needs of the people we aim to serve.

We should want questions and ideas from readers, right? Even when they make us do more work?

Here are two examples of really constructive comments from my newsroom’s readers just last week.

One story got two follow-up questions that led to additional reporting from the two reporters. One of the reporters replied with detailed answers to both readers. Here’s what eager readers want to know about golf carts in Columbia. 

On another story, a reader actually questioned something we let a source get away with saying. After a shooting at a VFW, a source told us this:

Bart Belgya, 70, sat at the bar Tuesday and smoked a cigarette. The Vietnam vet said he didn’t think the shooter would have the guts — though he used a more colorful term — to come back when veterans were around. All the veterans are expert marksmen here, he said, and all know how to handle a situation with a gun.

But one of our frequent commenters questioned it:

That assumes that one or more of the veterans is carrying. Does the VFW allow its members to carry weapons in the building? It wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t.

It turns out they don’t allow guns — information our reporter learned and shared when prompted by the comment to follow up.

That’s readers holding us accountable. It’s commenting gold.