One of my all time favorite TV journalism moments comes from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” when boss Lou Grant is looking over a story that Mary had poured her heart into.
As Lou reads the script, Mary nervously asks Lou what he thinks of it.
“It’s cute,” Lou calmly responds.
As Mary starts to gush and say thank you, Lou look up at her and gruffly booms: “I HATE CUTE!”
It’s a great metaphor for how journalists have long been envisioned by readers: grouchy, anti-social perfectionists who always seem to have a bug up their ass about something. And as a veteran of 30 years in the industry, I can attest there is a certain amount of truth in that depiction. It’s not necessarily that journalists are naturally grouchy and anti-social, it’s more that they’ve been trained to be that way: The disinterested third party. The one who tells you the story. The professional cynic.
That is why news executives with roots as editors and reporters have problems understanding the potential of social networking.
As more news organizations are seeing former and potential readers embrace sites such as Facebook and Twitter, they have recognized a need to be a part of it. Unfortunately, the results have been simply turning their social media presence into embellished RSS feeds. As a result, most news sites on Facebook and Twitter are like a first date with a pompous ass. They talk way too much about themselves, and aren’t interested in letting you have a say about anything. Then they can’t understand why you won’t go out with them again.
They’re missing the ‘social’ part of social networking.
News sites on social networks must be more engaging with their followers. This means going beyond telling everyone what’s the cool story of the day or linking live to a press conference or major announcement. It means listening to your followers as well. The conversation needs to be two-way.
But, as editors and reporters, we’ve been trained to be detached from the story, not be a part of it. As a result, most also become detached from their audiences as well. In order to make it in social media, we need to step down from the ivory tower and become an active participant in discussion and debate.
Engaging your followers doesn’t need to be you saying “what’s up today?” on your post. For example, why not run a daily news events or trivia quiz on Twitter or Facebook? Or post a closeup of a notable landmark in your community and ask readers what it is? The first reply back with the right answer wins a small prize. Isn’t building audience and loyalty worth a $10 Starbucks gift card every day?
Advertising could tweet coupons for advertisers. Bring this tweet into our snack shop before 2 p.m. and get a free drink with your lunch order.
Invite followers to post or tweet live from a local concert or key high school sports event. Make sure their responses are available for all to see. Conduct live interviews with notable people in your community, and invite questions and comments from your followers.
Listen to your followers. Respond to a question from a follower — let them know you’re listening. On Twitter, if someone tweets a fact or news bit that would be interesting to your followers, retweet them — even if that news is from a competitor. If you’ve built a good following, they won’t desert you.
Above all, have a bit of fun with your followers. That’s what socializing is all about.
This does mean that news organizations will need to commit manpower to their social network strategies. But, like all relationships, there needs to be a commitment involved. Ignore a relationship, and it goes away. Give it the basics and it may survive. Attend to and nurture a relationship, and it will blossom.
And haven’t we said enough about ourselves?