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Social media: What is it good for?

November 4, 2013

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I was always an early adopter. My first blog began in 1998, although I think the term is out of date for what are online columns. When social media came along, I signed right up.

My experiences have been uneven at best. I’d love to hear from other journalists in the comments field. Remember one of my precepts: I don’t have all the answers.

Twitter (@jontalton) is most useful to me as a journalist and writer. I use it to promote (“share”) my columns and posts at the Seattle Times, my work on Rogue Columnist and news about my novels. I often get retweeted, although not necessarily what, to me, are the best columns.

I “live tweet” certain compelling news events, from meetings and luncheon speakers to presidential debates. In the latter, for example, I kept a running commentary of falsehoods, context and questions.

Twitter is the closest thing in the digital world to the old AP or UPI tickers. It’s a great feed of breaking news, with an important caveat. That being: Is the news being reported by a reputable journalist or being corroborated by others? If not, hold fire. I hesitate to immediately retweet the sensational. It can often prove wrong.

I follow a coven of economists, Federal Reserve banks and think tanks. These can provide important heads up for useful news and research, great insights or fuel to my insecurities and small-minded jealousy of great talent.

“Twitter is the closest thing in the digital world to the old AP or UPI tickers.”

I also follow journalists I admire. Any journalist who follows me, gets a courtesy follow back. Who I don’t follow: People who tweet about walking their dogs, etc. Twitter is part of my work. I need it to be useful. I already follow too many to keep up with.

I am not a Twitter star, although Twitter has now officially validated my location. At the moment, I have 2,446 followers and each one has been hard earned. My advice is not to obsess over your followers: Some will come and go. Do your best work and readers will find you. I also don’t claim the expertise to know the best SEO. One prejudice: Don’t overuse hash-tags.

Retweeting is something I reserve for the best work I see, and even this I try to do with discipline. I don’t want to douse my followers. Here, I am being an editor, a (gasp!) gatekeeper in a good way. Sometimes I get in conversations, playing off another tweet. My goal is to add some value or call out an incomplete or false story. Always be civil.

Facebook is different. I post my columns and this usually gets a strong response (I have 1,139 “friends”). I also use it for updates on book news. But it is of limited utility for journalism, except as an entity to cover (like Twitter, too).  | You might find other models here at the Facebook + Journalists group page.

On a personal level, it has allowed me to reconnect with friends going back to elementary school. But most of my “friends” aren’t. As a public figure, I feel obliged to accept any friend request from someone who 1) has a real “about” bio, and, generally, 2) has some mutual “friends.” The large following helps me spread the word about my work.

My Space, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Tagged — who has the time? Social networking can be a dangerous distraction from committing quality journalism: Talking to real people, thinking, planning, etc.

Has any journalist gotten a job from LinkedIn? Not me. But I do have 500-plus “connections,” and some are good sources.

None of these platforms has proven useful for “crowdsourcing” a story. Perhaps that’s just my beat. Twitter, especially, is probably better for breaking news.

What has your experience been?

Leave Jon a note below in comments of shoot him your thoughts on Twitter: @JonTalton. We like to use the hashtag #BizJ to show the conversation started here and make it easier to follow.


  • Jon Talton

    For more than 25 years Jon has covered business and finance, specializing in urban economies, energy, real estate and economics and public policy. Jon has been a columnist for the Arizona Republic, Charlotte Observer and Rocky Mountain News, and his...

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