I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the media could leverage the expertise and interests of the public via social media long before a story is published.
What I imagine goes beyond standard crowd sourcing. I envision a strategic effort in which reporters and editors reach out to the public early on to identify sources, issues, anecdotes, etc. I hadn’t really thought much about what to call this plan, but after reading a recent social media marketing article, I now have a descriptive name for it: seeding.
Here’s how strategic seeding might work in a big project:
Reporters assigned to the project would develop robust RSS feeds and Twitter lists to develop better expertise on the topic and to determine valuable and credible sources. Once a valuable source is identified, reporters should start interacting with them through social media. The beauty of social media interaction is that it is transparent — so, for example, folks following the identified sources also would learn about the reporting project and join in on the conversation.
Creating an ongoing blog
Creating a reporting blog about the project would be serve as a central place where interested people would monitor updates about the project and contribute to the conversation. I envision the public working alongside reporters as the reporters start to develop stories and angles. This blog could become a forum where reporters could toss out an idea and get helpful feedback. Essentially, through the blog, the media organization shares with the online world what it is doing and encourages involvement. The blog would be RSS-enabled so interested people could receive updates with each new post.
The blog posts should be written for the audience that the outlet is trying to engage and develop. These posts should offer new information or insights. The goal is to get this new online community talking — and to solicit its help.
Engaging the community
Publicizing the blog is important so that new sources and interests are continually brought in to the conversation. Creating a separate Twitter account to tweet out new blog posts might be helpful. It also could serve as a “news source” for the issue. For example, when a reporter reads an interesting post from a blog, she could tweet that to the account.
Other ways to get engagement on the blog:
- Have reporters/editors comment on the blogs of others who have expertise or interest in the area.
- Have reporters/editors participate in Twitter and/or Facebook discussions, constantly sending out a link to the blog.
- Mention the blog prominently on the outlet’s home page.
If the online engagement becomes vigorous, reporters get valuable insight on the topic –- how to frame it, how to develop and pursue specific angles, how to develop stories and how to cultivate and identify sources.
This type of reporting strategy would work well for big issues, on-going stories and investigative pieces. Of course, devoting the time and energy for such an endeavor might be a hard sell in many newsrooms.
I’ll talk more about why I think this strategy would be beneficial for news organizations in a subsequent post.