Archive for May, 2010


New SPJ.org seeks to toss the clutter

America’s largest journalism organization recently completed the first phase of ongoing efforts to transform its website from an information dumping ground to a user-friendly destination.

From its pioneering code of ethics to FOI lessons, the scope, breadth and quality of the resources offered by the 8,000+-member Society of Professional Journalists has always stood out. But SPJ.org has accumulated a glut of content since its launch 14 years ago, and the site sometimes snags users in a spider web of slow-loading, text-heavy, link-laden subpages hosted on outside servers.

The good news is that SPJ staff, including executive director Joe Skeel, say they recognize the site’s areas of improvement, and they promise more changes in the coming months (short of the time and expense of starting the site from scratch). So far, their progress has been encouraging.

SPJ.org’s new homepage and main portal subpages are cleaner thanks to fewer links and less text. The site’s menu toolbar is now visible atop every subpage, and the Society added a “breadcrumb trail” feature in the upper left corner of each webpage to let users know where they are at all times.

The Society also installed a main search box to transport users directly to the most relevant subpages. Plus, SPJ.org is now viewable on mobile phones, and users can share its content more easily via social networking sites, emails and instant messaging services.

Those using the organization’s famous ethics code and chapter/member resources shouldn’t have any trouble, and it’s still easy to join, donate to and learn about SPJ. But the new SPJ.org still has areas of improvement.

Parts of the site, such as its training sections, overflow with content, including outdated material. And it can be difficult to maneuver inside the site’s subpages, some of which display too many pieces of clip art, text and links. Other parts lack effective search tools and a central element on which users can focus.

Nonetheless, it’s clear SPJ’s leadership is trying hard to rectify the site’s problems. The result is SPJ.org has been transformed from a Greek labyrinth to a Halloween corn maze — users may still get unnerved or lost at times, but the site is dramatically easier to navigate, more fun and there’s no Minotaur.

Daniel Axelrod spent five years as a full-time newspaper reporter, most recently in Scranton, Pa., before moving into public relations in April 2009. Reach him at deaxelrod@msn.com

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Top 10 social media best practices

No matter if you’re new to social media or if you’ve been active for years, it’s always a great time to evaluate your efforts. Below are the 10 most popular suggestions I share when it comes to participating on social sites.

1. Start with a plan: Before you sign up for a social site, come up with a game plan. You should be able to answer these questions: What do you want to accomplish? How much time do you have to spend on maintaining a social profile? Who do you want to reach and where can you find them online? Those questions will help determine which tools and sites you should use. If you don’t know, start doing some research.

2. Fill out your profile: Adding a photo or filling out your bio may seem basic, but it shows the community that you care. Photos help users remember you, and bios allow them to find you easily.

3. Be transparent: Interacting with folks on social sites can be a very personal experience. Users want to trust you – so make sure your profiles honestly portray who you are, what company you work for and why you’re on that site.

4. Be genuine: Stay true to who you are. People will want to connect with you if they feel you offer an authentic relationship. Similarly, while setting up RSS feeds to accounts or connecting Twitter feeds to Facebook may save you time, they don’t offer the authentic relationships many users are looking for – or will want to interact with.

5. Stay active and commit time to building your profile: Creating a successful profile online can take weeks, if not months. During that time you’ll learn it’s important to maintain and update your profile every day. Posting often will remind your friends that you’re active on the site, and they’ll be more likely to interact with you. Note: Be careful not to post too often. You don’t want to clog up your friends’ feeds with all of your posts.

6. Listen and interact: For the most part, being active on social sites requires two things: participating and listening. Remember that your profile isn’t a one-sided conversation. If you want folks to comment and interact with you, you’ll need to spend the time interacting with them. Be engaging by posting interesting content, asking questions and being polite (saying thank you, etc.).

7. Follow people back: It’s a general courtesy to follow those who friend you. Mutual friendships offer several benefits like the ability to send private messages to one another. They also show the community that you’re interested in others, rather than keeping to yourself.

8. Edit your posts: Become familiar with the editing options each site offers. On Twitter you can determine how your Tweet reads; but did you also know that you can edit the headline, description and photo on a link posted in Facebook or a link submitted to Digg? This means you can take out the “ – website.com” text that often appears after the headline and customize the description to something that is appealing to your audience.

9. Track metrics: If you’re not sure how much of an impact you’re making, check your metrics. This could be as easy as setting up an account with bit.ly, a link shortening service. It tracks how many clicks each link receives and offers other analytics. It’ll help you figure out if your effort is yielding the response you want.

10. Mistakes happen: We all make mistakes online, but it’s important to learn from them and move on. If a message does go out that’s incorrect or inappropriate, take a moment to correct that mistake or apologize. The community will appreciate it.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

Amanda Maurer is a digital news editor at the Chicago Tribune, who specializes in social media. She blogs at acmaurer.com; you can also follow her on Twitter at @acmaurer.

Top 10 social media best practices
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Are you ready to use CoveritLive?

CoveritLive is a free live-blogging tool used by thousands of journalists, bloggers and news organizations around the world.

Whether you are breaking news, covering a sports game or running a Q & A CoveritLive brings your online reporting to your audience in real-time.

Top 3 reasons to use CoveritLive
1. It’s free. Yes, FREE! $0
2. Creating an account takes “two minutes”. Actually, depending on your typing skills, it may take you a tad bit longer, or shorter, it really depends…
3. Software to download = zero. Zero for you to host CiL or for your audience to participate!

Where do I sign up for a CoveritLive account?
Go to the CoveritLive registration page.

Why is CoveritLive a great tool for journalists?
CiL allows you to report breaking news in real-time, hold an interactive Q & A with experts or broadcast the play-by-play at a sporting events.

What type of software do I need to install CiL?
None. You don’t need to install any software.

Can I personalize my CiL account?
Yes. CiL allows you to custom brand your template. Whether it is as simple as having your name or company logo out front, customizing your CoveritLive template is an important step in building a connection with your audience.

Here is what the default template looks like:

CiL has a number of features to enhance your live-blogging event including:

  • streaming live video
  • incorporating Twitter posts
  • polls
  • News Flash and scoreboards

Want to experience a CiL event live now? Check out this list of continuously updated live CiL events.

Oh, and it’s Free (yes, I know I mentioned it before).

And yes, there is an iPhone app. It’s Free too.

Hilary Fosdal is the associate new media editor at the Law Bulletin Publishing Company located in Chicago, Illinois. You can follow her tweets @hilaryfosdal.

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