Social media can help you in your reporting, help you get out the word about your stories and help you build own brand as a journalist.
But there are so many social media and social networking sites these days, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed — like there are too many to update on a regular basis.
In many cases, it’s possible to update more than one social media site or service at a time with a single post using some tools we’ll talk about today. They might make your life easier in navigating social media.
Facebook Connect: This is the simplest way to update two services at once. On a lot of major social media sites today, you’ll be given an option to log in using your Facebook account. In some cases, doing this will publish your posts or updates on that service to your Facebook page as well.
For instance, I just told StumbleUpon that I liked a recent story in the Texas Observer. I have my StumbleUpon account linked to my Facebook account, and I have given SU permission to post the things I like on SU to my Facebook wall, so now my Facebook friends can see that I have shared the Observer story with them.
Ping.fm: This is a free service that lets you “ping” multiple social networking services at once with a single post or an update. Ping currently works with more than 30 services, including Twitter, Facebook (personal Facebook accounts and what used to be called Facebook “fan” pages), Delicious, Tumblr, WordPress and Blogger.
To use it, start by going to the Ping.fm site and registering for a free account. From there, pick the social media services you want Ping to be able to post to, and then you’ll be asked to enter your usernames/passwords for those accounts. (Important note: It’s possible to rig up these other services and later turn them off and on as desired.)
After it’s set up, you use it by going back to Ping.fm’s site and typing your update in the status box. When you update it, the message is pinged off to the other recipient sites and posts on your accounts there.
At Texas Watchdog, the nonprofit news site I work for in Houston, we use Ping.fm a great deal, though I usually post to it through the Twhirl Twitter client using a Ping app key. It allows our @TexasWatchdog tweets to go directly to our texaswatchdog account on Delicious (most of our tweets are about links to stories we think are cool), among other things.
For a time, we experimented with having Ping.fm send all of our tweets to our Facebook page wall, but that didn’t work for our purposes — when we began live-tweeting the local school board meetings, we found we were drowning our Facebook fans in status updates. We wound up disconnecting our Facebook page from Ping and using an alternative that I’ll talk more about in a minute. But Ping-to-Facebook might work very well for your purposes if you don’t firehose those tweets. (I’m currently using my it, and my own Ping app key, to post my @jpeebles tweets to my personal Facebook wall and to update my status on the Wired Journalists Ning, for instance.)
You can also set up your Ping account so that you can send out pings/tweets via SMS, or send out RSS feed blurbs or items you’re sharing on Google Reader.
HootSuite, Seesmic and the “social media dashboards”: These are services that integrate a Twitter client — often with tweets grouped into columns — with a Ping-like capability to send those same messages to Twitter and a slew of other social media services at once. Some of them also offer other services like contact management and analytics and useful helpers like built-in link shorteners.
I’m a HootSuite user, so I’ll focus on it. HootSuite has a couple of things going for it that Ping.fm doesn’t. For one thing, HootSuite gives you the capability to schedule your tweets in advance. That gives you the ability to space out your tweets over the course of a day or a week.
Once I caught on to HootSuite, I was able to stop sending out 18 tweets within an hour-long period each morning for all the cool stories that had popped up in my Google Reader overnight — instead, I could schedule those tweets ahead of time to space them out over a day so that our followers didn’t get deluged with @texaswatchdog tweets from us each morning.
HootSuite also gives you an easy method to pick which services you want each individual message to go out to. Just click the ones you want to broadcast that tweet on and hit the submit button — HootSuite’s process for this is much easier than Ping.fm’s method of turning services off and on.
When I’m using HootSuite to tweet as @texaswatchdog, I usually send out messages only to Twitter, but it gives me the option of also sending each message to our Facebook page as well — we do that only occassionally, but there are some times when it’s nice to have that option.
On the other hand, Ping.fm has some things going for it that HootSuite doesn’t. Ping.fm is totally free, as far as I can tell, and can work with dozens of services. HootSuite is mostly free, but you can only bring in up to five social media profiles under the free plan. To rig up more than that, you have to pay. Paid users can also have other “team members” posting to the same accounts, which might be handy if you have a slew of people in your office taking turns tweeting as @YourPublicationNameHere. (Just don’t let anything like this happen. Or this.)
Custom tabs on Facebook pages: Another method for bringing in material to your Facebook page followers is to use Facebook applications to create custom tabs on your Facebook page and funnel content from your other social media services on to those tabs.
For instance, we have all of our @texaswatchdog Twitter stream flowing onto a Twitter tab on our Facebook page thanks to a free app from the folks at Involver. You can find other FB apps that will create a Twitter tab, but some of them will want you to pay for it. Involver gives away some of its FB apps for free, and we’ve been very happy with using their tabs — our Facebook fans can still easily access our Twitter content regardless of whether they’re on Twitter or not, but the use of the tab means the tweets aren’t smothering our Facebook followers and cluttering up their FB news feeds. (For some more examples of people who successfully use Involver tabs on their Facebook page, check out the Texas Observer, which has a “blogs” tab that easily takes readers to any of several Observer blogs.) A second Involver-based tab brings our Facebook readers our recently liked content from YouTube, and in the past, we’ve used a custom tab for the Livestream service to also offer up our free monthly Webinar on open government.
Automatically import your site’s RSS feed into your Facebook page: Facebook has a built-in tools to do this — they’re free and pretty easy to use, and they can import the feed items to either the Wall or to FB Notes — but in my experience, Facebook’s tools are a bit flawed. I manage blogs and Facebook pages for a handful of journalism organizations I work with, and sometimes it can take three or four days for a new blog post to show up automatically on that group’s Facebook page. Other times, it may take only a few hours. I’m not sure what’s going on there, so I mention this with some hesitation. Instead, I would try some of the third-party Facebook apps that have been developed for this purpose, such as Social RSS or Involver’s free RSS app.
A word about the social bookmarking sites that basically offer link popularity contests, like Digg, Reddit, and, to some degree, StumbleUpon: It would be really efficient for us as journalists if there were a way to automate sending our fresh content to these sites, either through Ping.fm or some other conduit, but quite frankly, I have never figured out a way to do this. I’m not entirely sure it can be done — I really don’t think the people who run those sites, or the user communities on those sites, would want folks to be able to funnel even more potentially spam-driven or otherwise self-promoting content onto their screens.
I think they want to make it so that there’s some effort involved in submitting a link to their site, because that weeds out some of the people who aren’t serious about offering up good content. Granted, it doesn’t always work — maybe it’s just me, but for some reason, I always get what seems like an inordinate amount of “dugg” links for sites like MyAwesomeGutterRepair.com when I’m searching for content on Digg. But certainly those communities don’t want to make it easier for MyAwesomeGutterRepair and MyAwesomeDrivewaySealing to post even more junk there. (But if you know of a way to make it easier to post to these sites, by all means, please share in the comments below.)
These aren’t the only ways to combine the elements of your social-media-posting routine. I know there are others I’m forgetting, and still others I’ve not even familiar with. So, how do you manage your social media?
Jennifer Peebles is deputy editor at Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit online-only news site based in Houston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog.
Funnel photo by flickr user El Bibliomata, used under a Creative Commons license.