Today, journalists must readily use social media platforms such as Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn as part of their reporting process to connect with audiences and drive engagement with stories.
In a recent ICFJ Global Crisis Reporting Forum webinar, Zoe Leoudaki, a multimedia reporter and audience strategist at Voice of America (VOA), and Gesell Tobías, a multimedia producer at VOA, shared their expertise and provided insight on how they harness social media to augment their reporting.
Here are some key takeaways on using social media techniques to leverage journalists' reporting:
Engage audiences more
In the era of social media, journalists not only need to be familiar with their audience, but engage with it more frequently, said Tobías.
“[Journalists] want to [be able to] share messages to a big [group] of people. You only do this if you are engaging with the audience,” he said.
With more content available online creating more competition, media outlets are losing readers’ trust to social media personalities and influencers. “This is a natural process, because people trust in people,” Tobías said. He cited a 2020 Gallup and the Knight Foundation study, which found that 74% of Americans say news organizations they distrust are trying to persuade people to adopt a certain viewpoint.
Journalists can engage with audiences directly over social media to help mitigate this distrust. For example, when Jorge Agobian, a VOA Spanish White House correspondent, secured an interview with National Security Council advisor Juan González, he engaged his followers throughout the process. He announced the interview on social media and asked his audience for suggestions on topics to address and questions to ask.
“If I’m a follower and I see this journalist from the White House asking me to provide feedback or questions, I would definitely follow him. He is taking me into the process of the news of the day,” Tobías said. “[Agobian] engaged with his followers, [and] engaging very directly with followers is something many media houses are failing to do.”
Offering a behind-the-scenes look at the reporting process is another effective way to include your audiences in your reporting process. For example, if a journalist usually works on long-form feature stories, they can promote engagement by taking pictures of themselves as they do their work – such as a photo of them sitting at a computer or reporting in the field.
“Put people in your world as much as you can,” suggested Leoudaki.
Use social media for different purposes
The panelists noted that the inverted news pyramid, in which the most important information is placed first in a story, has traditionally been considered the best way to communicate information. Now, strategies that utilize the unique audiences of different social media platforms offer new opportunities to grab an audience's attention. Journalists should be willing to experiment with their posts to see what drives the most engagement.
Journalists no longer have to wait for their newsrooms to promote their stories, and should take it upon themselves to share their work. To build a strong following, journalists can leverage guests or sources that have high follower counts, and make sure to tag them in posts.
One major challenge to this approach, however, is that most people on social media are not primarily looking for news. “People aren't looking for news information, that’s a reality. Social media influencers have more following because they give the audience what they are looking for,” said Tobías.
“As a journalist, I should be asking myself what I can learn from the influencers,” he continued. “One reason they have more followers is because they are very natural. When people see them, they don't see a journalist trying to lecture them."
Journalists should operate more dynamically on social media and make their content more captivating to meet audiences where they are, the panelists said.
However, they should also be mindful that what they post on social media should be a true reflection of themselves and the outlet they work for. There's a need to avoid posting content that may discredit or embarrass themselves or their employer.
“Keep all your journalistic credibility, but learn from the influencers and grab something from them,” Tobías said.
Know your audience
Despite journalists becoming less engaged on X, the platform remains a very important tool for reporters to connect with their audience and fellow journalists, said Leoudaki. X also serves as a place to observe conversations, see what is happening in different parts of the world, and gain access to sources.
“I use it often to find guests for the [Straight Talk Africa] show. Every week, X and LinkedIn are the basic things that I use to find guests that I don't know personally,” she explained.
Journalists should explore different social media platforms, too, as some may be more popular in other countries than others. “Know where you are going with journalism. Use platforms that are popular in your country,” said Leoudaki.
She encouraged journalists to always experiment with social media, and assess whether their experimentation is having an impact. “Try to figure out which way you want to go. If you explore and it doesn't work, you can always see what [else will] work for you or not,” she said.