Posts Tagged ‘social media’


In social media, patience is spelled with five W’s

In a perfect world, our words shine like jewels the first time we write or say them.

The reality is, they demand special consideration before displaying them in public. For one thing, so many terms in English have multiple meanings; for another, so many readers own distinct perspectives and biases. Ask 10 people to read the same sentence, and they’re likely to offer 10 slightly different interpretations.

That’s why, in our electron-fast, social media age, extra seconds spent pondering our pedantry before tapping the Send button can prevent embarrassment and thus preserve credibility.

So, at a time we’re still weighing New Year’s resolutions, or wondering whether to uphold the ones we’ve made, consider putting patience high on the list. Armed with it, writers and editors more easily catch spelling errors, check or recheck facts, change tone, even adjust attitudes — particularly their own.

The trick, of course, is finding patience where none existed. Hours spent banging out social media posts as fast as they come to mind can cultivate writing that’s reflexive, not reflective.

It may help then to install social media speed bumps of a sort — a set of objectives that forces introspection. For this, we could adapt journalism’s famous five W’s:

Who — Think first, “Who am I trying to reach?” Though social media networks permit users to group their followers, most users don’t, and their networks are a mishmash of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The result: just one post intended for a small group of followers could send others packing. Craft posts with the broadest possible appeal, frame edgier posts with self-effacing humor or courtesy, and restrict the hardest commentary to direct messages.

What — Make sure the point of a post is clear and consistent with the facts. Go back through other people’s posts, check associated Web links and references to see whether those people are interpreting the information correctly, and whether you’re doing the same and not relying on conjecture. Only then can you safely answer the question, “What am I trying to say?”

When — Speed is a drug in social media; we assume the faster we post, the more certain we are to ride the leading edge of news. Blame this behavior in part on traditional media, which instilled the belief that “scoops” or “beats” on breaking news were just as important as the information itself. In truth, no newspaper shut down and no TV station went dark from not having enough scoops. Today, the Web is rife with humor and shame over errors by news organizations that moved too fast to gather facts. Thus, the answer to “When should I post?” ought to be, “After I have all the facts.”

Where — The term “social media” is as broad as the horizon. It encompasses numerous networks, each having its own best practices and tolerances. Still, we consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others to possess the same reach and intent. But there’s a saying: Facebook is for people you already know, Twitter is for people you want to know, and LinkedIn is for people you need to know. Learn the point and purpose of each social network, then you’ll be able to answer “Where should I post?”

Why — I’d like to think everything I say via social media is important. We all do. Nevertheless, each of us encounters users who think otherwise. That constituency dwindles though with solid answers to “Why should I post?” Whereas flippant or rhetorical commentary only attracts more of the same, social engagement founded on research and reportage is shared and re-shared more widely.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Make a resolution to do better on social media

The Christmas decorations are coming down and the New Year’s fireworks are going up. Also around this time, long lists of New Year’s resolutions go up, too.

Diet and exercise top most lists, as do stronger finances and better personal relationships. One thing also worth reviewing among freelancers and maybe revising for 2013 is the way they present themselves through social media.

Numbers are why. As 2012 wound down, Twitter users churned out 175 million tweets daily. An estimated 625,000 new users joined Google+ daily. Facebook garnered about 850 million active users monthly. And LinkedIn added 50 million members in one year; it needed six years to get its first 50 million.

In other words, social media has skipped well past the point of novelty and entered the realm of necessity, especially for freelancers intent on attracting attention. So then, it pays for freelancers to paint a clean, clear portrait of themselves online, if they haven’t already, to keep that attention coming.

A few crisp strokes can do that. These should encompass:

Profile photos — There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. Nevertheless, a lot of serious people trying to do serious business still hide behind the faceless default icon all social media platforms employ, the result being they don’t gain digital friends or, more importantly, win jobs, says Nicholas Salter, a professor of psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He led a recent study that found those people on LinkedIn with profile pictures are more likely to get hired than those without.

Susan Gunelius, a marketing communications executive who is the author of “Google Blogger for Dummies,” underscores the value. “It’s better to have 1,000 online connections who read, share and talk about your content with their own audiences than 10,000 connections who disappear after connecting with you for the first time.”

Headlines — In a newspaper or news website, headlines are concise declarations of pertinent information intended to announce, inform and attract. In a freelancing proposal, job application or social media campaign, writing with the crisp prose of headlines brings focus and adds clarity to one’s message. Studying the way headlines are written and following their form can do wonders at putting that message ahead of others.

Keywords — And speaking of headlines, keywords give those headlines punch. These keywords are the distinguishing terms lacing online business reports, blogs, and especially job postings, that search engines pluck out for categorization. Special attention paid to keywords helps turn heads and boost Web and social traffic. But keep them relevant; don’t trot out trendy terms just because everyone else has.

Research — Like the way a drip, drip, drip from a leaky faucet can be distracting, so too can social content designed to make more noise than sense. The best, most memorable content reflects an understanding of the intended audience and an appreciation for what that audience finds interesting. Invest time online in 2013 researching audience behavior and trends. Start by getting to know Google Analytics and Google Trends, and reading reports from Gartner, the Pew Research Center, and Poynter.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Widbook: A tool for collaborative journalism

As the market for freelance journalism grows, so too has interest in the evolving tools for that job.

That interest is acute where collaborative journalism is concerned, because simply pitching PDFs of Word documents back and forth via email tends to be a clunky way of doing business in this demanding age of digital interactivity. Now, no matter the distance or purpose, teams of people with shared goals all want to work together as if sitting in the same room.

A relatively new website called Widbook tries to provide that goal-oriented environment and foster a social network to supplement it. Widbook is a writing and editing space that lets people alone or in groups craft book-length projects and shorter stories; insert resources such as photos, videos and animations; and add to or augment contributions by other writers.

Widbook also invites writers and readers to share and tweak favorite developing works, and create libraries of published works whether self-written or from other authors.

Early reports on Widbook, still in beta, call it a “YouTube for books” because of its heavy emphasis on interactivity. The central theme and interface are better suited for collaboration on projects. Writers who prefer to work alone can use Widbook as well, but they’ll miss out on many of its features.

And Widbook is free of charge to register for and use — surely the most attractive feature to freelance writers and hopeful novelists working with meager budgets. The only things that first-time visitors to Widbook need to get started is to create a user name and password. Options include creating a personal profile, linking with Facebook, and selecting favorite literary genres from which to build a library. Members also can send messages and “follow” one another through the site.

Because it’s in beta, Widbook has limitations and quirks. For one thing, it’s not possible to export a finished project to another platform, though that’s expected to come later as the site matures, and it’s not obvious to early users how the social media aspect will supplement the collaboration tools. The interface is also a tad balky with projects of more than a few chapters.

Still, for collaborative writers and editors, Widbook presents an intriguing new way for journalists to exchange ideas and bring far-flung talent together in the same room.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

A one-stop shop for social media knowledge

The search for social media wisdom can be long and arduous, with trails and tips leading off in every direction. A frustrating day spent plumbing for facts can lead freelancers to believe they’re courting fiction.

A single source of reference would be better, and though no perfect thing like that exists Columbia Journalism School professor Sreenath “Sree” Sreenivasan has put together a generous, if not pretty, listing of social media links pointing to a wealth of information that includes basic as well as detailed information about Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and a host of other connectivity sites.

Included are links to strategies for best practices in social media and interesting multimedia demonstrating the use and misuse of it.

Today, effective freelancing requires also making a name, or “brand,” for oneself online. With Sree’s help, freelancers now can spend less time surfing and more time writing.

David Sheets is a sports editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Exercise care, and plan well, before freelancing

If you haven’t browsed the market for freelance writers and editors lately, take a look around. Even a glance on Google shows the horizon to be virtually limitless, with the scope of jobs available out there capable of keeping a person busy through this lifetime and perhaps another.

But how many of us want to dive that deep? A pool of bottomless opportunity, while inviting, may be difficult for some independent journalists to navigate for its potential to consume one’s life. So, before taking the plunge, weigh a few facts.

Time management is essential — The first thing newcomers to this line of work want to know is how much money they’ll make, and the answer is rather simple: as much as they want. If they throw themselves into their jobs, chances are the wages will satisfy. But we all have lives away from our careers, and those lives also must come into account. Therefore, set firm working hours and stick to them — avoid distractions during these hours such as Netflix and that new book just downloaded from Amazon.

It should go without saying that a good diet and plenty of rest are essential work tools as well, though even the most-committed among us need reminders of this from time to time. This usually happens when …

Sickness happens — There will be a day or two, probably more, when a scratchy throat in the morning devolves to low-grade fever by mid-afternoon, or a family member becomes ill, and working becomes impossible. Better to admit defeat and come back stronger the next day.

This means making allowances for sick time. Many businesses allow for up to 10 days of paid sick time per calendar year; use that amount as a guideline when drafting a work calendar. And by all means be honest and forward with clients when illness arises and threatens a deadline, so they can adjust their schedules, too.

Clients accept that sickness happens. Freelancers should be honest with themselves and accept it, too.

Bad clients are everywhere — Of course, for every five or 10 understanding clients, there’s one who’s impossible to please, or who’s lax giving instructions, or who’s shameless about taking freelancers’ ideas as their own. Like illness, these people require freelancers to make contingencies, but the key is to avoid them before they pose problems.

Prior to taking on a project, conduct plenty of homework. Find out some background about clients: scrutinize their websites to see who receives credit for content and how, and mine the freelance marketplace for feedback from other writers and editors for indications of trouble.

Then, when the time comes to discuss potential projects, insist that clients provide specifics instead of generalities. And listen carefully not just to what clients say, but also how they say it: rudeness or curt behavior may allude to larger problems later.

Self-promotion bolsters success — Freelancers can write or edit stories all day and still feel as though their careers are stuck in neutral. Thus, a measure of innovation may be required to move things forward.

To start, it helps to master social media — Facebook, Twitter, Quora, etc. — the fastest form of communication growing. Story sources and editing clients may prefer one of these venues to share basic information, pass along content changes and, in general, stay in touch. (Having said this, I must stress that phone calls are still the most meaningful form of direct communication apart from face-to-face meetings.)

Social media also is essential for self-promotion, though it takes considerable time and care to develop it for that purpose. For example, in the publishing world, the informal time-management rule nowadays for book authors is “80/20” — spending 80 percent of their time promoting themselves and 20 percent actually writing their books. This large percentage devoted to promotion includes such things as teaching workshops, speaking at engagements, and working with other authors and editors to develop their craft.

Granted, an 80/20 split may not suit most freelancers, given that their success depends largely on volume. Nevertheless, a nod toward innovation can boost potential and expand one’s reach in the marketplace.

Freelancers are their own bosses — the greatest perk of the business. They’re also entirely responsible for their own failures. Extensive care and planning, and the willingness to innovate, will go a long way toward keeping those failures to a minimum.

David Sheets is a sports editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

My Over-Networked Life

Every freelancer knows it’s important to use social media to stay connected with editors, sources and the general public.

But with so many networking sites out there –Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Yammer, Orkut, Plaxo, Jaiku, Bebo, Ning, Hi5, Multiply, Meetup.com, FriendFeed, Friendster, Flixster – the savvy freelancer needs to be choosy. Time is precious, and it’s far too easy to spend so much time updating your Twitter feed that you might not get around to sending out that all-important story pitch.

So which should a freelancer choose? Three tips:

1)  Divide your time between “broad” sites – like Facebook, which has 500 million users – and “specialty” sites, like Geni.com, which serves a very specific, narrow niche (in this case, people interested in genealogy). Aim for a 50-50 mix. But don’t overdo it! You might consider joining as few as two sites — one broad, one niche.

2)  When using that “broad” site, try to zone in on how it can help you connect with sources and ideas inside your reporting area. It might help more than your niche site does. For example, if you’re an entertainment writer, a “broad” site like MySpace might connect you with emerging musicians far better than a niche music site known only by industry insiders. Similarly, broad sites like Twitter can give you new ideas for entertainment stories.

3)   Think about WHY you’re on a social media site. Are you looking for a job? If so, groups that encourage face-to-face meetings – like Meetup, BigTent, or CouchSurfing – would be more beneficial than nationwide sites without local filters or groups. Are you busy juggling work and family, and you’ve joined social media only because your mentor said you should? Then join something quick and easy, like a micro-blogging site, which won’t impose the time demands of building an entire Facebook page complete with photos, or require the hours you’d need to build a LinkedIn page with your resume, detailed job history and references.

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