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Why should journalists use social media?

Robin J. Phillips

For journalists, social-networking sites can be used as a communication tool, a source for news stories, a breaking-news platform, another place to publish content and a way to grow audience.

Robin J. Phillips, Web managing editor for BusinessJournalism.org, made those points to a combined lunch-time session of business journalists and business journalism professors during Reynolds Business Journalism Week.

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are just tools. We are the social media,” she said.

She noted that Twitter has carried the first reports of major news events, including the first photo of the USAirways crash in the Hudson River and the news of Michael Jackson’s death.

To get started, she suggests taking a look at what other business journalists are tweeting. Muck Rack has one of the better lists of business journalists who tweet. BusinessJournalism.org also maintains a list of business journalists on Twitter. See whom the journalists you like are following and follow them.

She offered several ways to search for sources using social media:

  • An Arizona Republic reporter found 1982 graduates for a story on how college grads did in the last big recession by searching Facebook for those identifying themselves in their profiles as having graduated that year.
  • www.search.twitter.com will search for specific words in tweets, such as unemployed, and can be parsed down to a specific geography by using the advanced search.
  • HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, offers a way to get specific sorts of people to respond. Using an URGHARO, or urgent HARO, Megan K. Scott at The Associated Press was able to get several skiers to respond to a question about their helmet use within a matter of hours for a folo on Natasha Richardson’s death.

She advised that users of social media are looking for loyalty, news, instant impact and real people. She said to lead with the good stuff, write killer heads and be real.

More than 300,000 businesses are on Facebook alone, and some larger companies, such as Ford Motor Co. and Virgin America, have employees assigned to monitoring what’s being said by their customers on social media and responding to it.

You can follow the Reynolds Center on Twitter @BizJournalism.

About the Author

Linda Austin is the executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. A former business editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, she spent a decade as a top newsroom leader, serving as the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky; executive editor of The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and managing editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. She offers business-story ideas and notes good #bizreads @LindaAustin_

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