In Social Media, First Be Where They Are
It's always easier to join a conversation than start one from scratch. This is especially true in social media. Whoever you want to connect with online, chances are that some of the most influential people in those groups already have their favorite social media hangouts: Facebook groups or fan pages, community sites, Twitter hashtags, LinkedIn groups, and more.
If you or your news organization are considering a new social media strategy or project, do you know where the people you need to reach are right now? It's a good idea to find out -- and go where they are before you try to build something new. Just as with journalism, to do social media right you've got to get out there and talk to people on their turf.
It's likely that several people in your newsroom and elsewhere in your organization already are active in social media. Ask them to let the people planning your social media moves know which online hangouts they think may offer relevance, synergies or opportunities. If you're not sure specifically which communities or demographics you should be connecting with online, go talk to the folks in your marketing department (or do some market research of your own, comparing demographic and community trends to your long-term goals).
This is one of the reasons I believe it's crucial for news organizations to strongly encourage their employees to be freely active in social media for personal and professional use. That activity is an important part of your R&D and business development. When employees feel supported in creative exploration of media, and when they are rewarded for sharing what they learn, they'll deliver ideas and insights that are good for the news business.
If you're doing that, someone in your news organization has likely connected through social media with at least a few individuals in your target community or demographic. A good way to find out where the people you want to reach already are online is to ask them. Chat up those individuals by phone, e-mail, instant message or in person. Ask them not just which social media services or community sites they frequent, but specifically where in those services they hang out. Then go join those groups, and join their current conversations. Those starting points usually will lead you to fertile ground.
Getting involved and entrenched in online communities and social media now will give your future efforts far more credibility and appeal. It'll also provide ample insight to help you plan and execute your social media strategy -- and probably avoid embarrassing (or costly) missteps. Most importantly, this strategy will ensure that you won't get ignored, and that when you "launch" you'll really know what you're doing.
Working to strategically build bridges to specific communities online is a key investment for the future of journalism and the news business.