Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are some of the many social networking apps that the young flock to. According to CNBC, Instagram had more than 2 billion monthly active users worldwide in 2021. As reported by Forbes in 2020, people are turning to social media for news and moving away from traditional media sources. Newsrooms are adopting social media as an important medium, especially to reach younger audiences.
What does this mean for the future of journalism? Is traditional journalism on its way out? How can journalists incorporate social media into their reporting and use it to their advantage? These are important questions that both readers and journalists have to ask as the rise of social media platforms affects the way we produce and consume news.
Journalists may be tempted to adapt and structure their articles in a form that captures the youth’s attention to compete with the influx of information on social media or to build an online presence to learn more about their audience. For example, BBC Look North presenter Monika Plaha joined TikTok in 2020 and has acquired over 81,000 followers. On TikTok, she uses hashtags to share trending topics, interact with her audience, and build a relationship with her followers.
News sites such as The Washington Post have also hopped onto the bandwagon, being one of the earliest adopters of TikTok producing videos multiple times a day. With 1.4 million followers, The Washington Post posts funny skits, reactions to politicians, and reenactments of events in a satirical way. They even have a playlist featuring a series of videos on their interns.
This is known as “viral journalism,” defined as “the strategy and tactics to promote quality media stories on the internet to gain maximum exposure and sharing” in a research article published by Anastasia Denisova, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at CAMRI, University of Westminster. The article highlights tools and techniques that UK news media use to deliver their stories on social media.
In the research, journalists from publications like The Economist and The Guardian indicated that although viral tactics can lead to content visibility and distribution, UK newsrooms are hesitant to utilize these tactics for fear of reputational damage or alienating loyal readers, rejecting virality as a long-term strategy.
Nevertheless, since the audience is on social media and is less likely to go directly to an outlet’s website than before, journalists and newsrooms across the world have to adopt new ways of producing news to engage these readers. Fret not—compiled here is a detailed list of strategies to ‘work’ the social media algorithm to your advantage while maintaining credibility.
1. Content: Fact-checking, being aware of fraudulent news, and creating persuasive pieces.
a. The emergence of the internet and real-time information production has made it easy for media watchdogs, press critics, and other readers to expose an error, fact-check, and verify information. News companies such as BBC and CNN have social media teams to verify content from social media to maintain credibility.
b. Be aware of fraudulent social media accounts that create fake videos and images in hopes that news organizations and the public mistake them for real news. An article from the Nieman Foundation advises us to not only fact-check and verify our information, but also to ensure our pieces are “persuasive and shareable.”
c. Make your content social media friendly: the Neiman Foundation advises using “narrative, powerful images and visualization” and “appeals to emotion.” It is important to engage our readership in “ways that help them get past their biases” while sticking to the facts.
2. Outlet Presence: Updating your newsroom’s social media policy.
a. A helpful article from Poynter breaks down this process into four easy steps. First, establishing the newsroom’s goals for having a social media presence using specific examples such as expanding the brand name or acquiring an audience.
b. Second, draft a policy articulating how social media strategies should develop. Journalists should consider their professional presence on social media—do they want a large following? Some newsrooms prefer their journalists to have ‘clout’, while others don’t. Therefore, for journalists, it is beneficial to find a newsroom with shared priorities.
c. Third, create and explore the boundaries. For example, newsroom policies can include political neutrality or participation in public policy debates.
d. Lastly, create a small committee of representatives from key areas to review and update your policy intermittently. It is crucial to stay on top of trends and follow through with the policy.
3. Keeping up-to-date: Talk to your student media staff to learn about new social media sites.
a. Another helpful article from Poynter suggests having discussions with younger journalists who may have an alternative perspective on what social media means to their lives. Having this understanding allows for better engagement and content that appeals to the younger audience.
4. Twitter Spaces.
a. Using Twitter Spaces can increase your visibility. If you have an established presence on Twitter, tweeting a link to a scheduled Space before going live can increase your visibility, and more people will see it when they log into the app. These Spaces can be used for discussion on breaking news, opinion pieces, or a hot topic. They can also stay on your page through the ‘Recording’ function, which allows these discussions to be recorded and saved to your feed.
5. Use Canva: The app has templates for your social media posts and other useful functions.
a. Using the correct aspect ratio for images and videos is crucial to capturing your audience. Canva has a range of templates for different platforms as well as a variety of fonts for you to choose from. Social media runs on visuals—the graphics, images, and videos must be trendy and attention-grabbing.
b. Each app’s functions can boost engagement and create discussion. For example, using the ‘Poll’ or ‘Ask a Question’ stickers on stories can engage your audience and generate activity on your post.
In a nutshell: social media is a double-edged sword. Journalists and newsrooms must recognize the potential issues of misusing social media, find a way to maintain integrity while using these platforms, and reap the benefits. After that, don’t be afraid to use these social media apps to your advantage. Just as ‘new media’ seemed fleeting but now has become an integral way in which we consume news, traditional journalism may not be the ‘in’ thing anymore; in comes the new journalism.