Social media has become such a fabric of life that it is also now an intrinsic part of how reporters do their work. Stories regularly include analysis of popular responses to events (sometimes even including sophisticated mass analytic techniques), reporting on corporate social media strategies, and embedding consumer comments from various networks into stories.
Social platforms offer other potential tools, like the ability to act like search engines. Whether sources, information on companies, or more, the right choice of a social platform can offer great access to useful information.
Finding sources on social media
Whether you need an academic, a person who is currently or was in the past at a specific company, social activists, or topic experts, social media can lead you to them. LinkedIn is particularly good on the company and employee front, even if you don’t have full paid access. I’ve used the search engine to find people who had worked at a company in the past to locate those who could discuss internal dynamics, for example.
Twitter or Facebook can lead you to official company presences and offer at least one path to try reaching individuals or organizations, particularly given that many companies don’t offer direct forms of contact on their websites.
Locating experts on social media
Whether you want to speak with experts in technology, history, economics, manufacturing, law and regulation, kitchen management, or any other subject connected to business, Twitter is a good place to start. Start with topic hashtags and take the contents of what you turn up to further refine the search. You will eventually see certain names mentioned repeatedly. Look to the number of followers. Also, pay attention to whom you’re suggested to follow. It’s a fast way to start identify people who are considered notable in an area (although don’t take the suggestions at face value, because they are based on popularity and notoriety).
Facebook I find less useful for this type of search. LinkedIn, on the other hand, has many users who either are well-known experts or people trying to demonstrate their expertise. A second warning, though: People who post on subjects may actually employ ghostwriters who might do varying degrees of the organization, explanation, and even thinking and analysis.
Consumer views on social media
A common need in business journalism is to collect popular reaction to companies and their decisions and actions. Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram may seem obvious outlets. There are people always ready to hold forth, often with wit.
But this is where you must be most careful. Only a tiny portion of people regularly post on public forms like Twitter. When users pile on some poor unfortunate—or not so innocent business—you’re likely getting an overly negative collective take. Convenience shouldn’t be a limit on effort. Used smartly, though, social networks can become a repository of great resources that can inform your reporting.