7 keys to managing a great social media news team

As news organizations embrace Twitter and Facebook to distribute stories and engage their audiences, many have decided social media is no longer a one-person job.

Effective social media use now requires that you post and monitor almost all the time -- from early morning to late at night, and don’t forget weekends. Your social media editor needs a team, or at least some backup.

But that presents a new set of problems: How to coordinate, communicate and keep a consistent approach?

Here are some tips for managing an effective social media team, based on my own experience, as well as interviews with the chief social media strategists for @CNN (Victor Hernandez, director of domestic newsgathering) and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s renowned @AJC account (Allison Fabella, senior producer for SEO, social media and metrics).

Keep the group small. Help is great, but involving too many people makes it difficult to manage your direction and stay focused. The AJC has a team of five tweeters, Fabella said. CNN’s Hernandez also has a handful of editors in the newsroom he can hand the Twitter account to when needed. It’s notable that in both newsrooms the “social media team” doesn’t exclusively work on social media. Your team can include journalists tackling other reporting and editing duties simultaneously.

Identify your style. Even though there may be multiple people posting, you don’t want your main brand account to have multiple personalities. Readers should be able to expect a consistent behavior, voice and attitude.

It may help to define your Twitter account like you would a character in a book or movie, and have your team think like actors playing a shared part. Six different actors have portrayed the James Bond character in 22 movies over four decades. Each had his own style, but you still always know what to expect from 007.

Schedule specific shifts. At any given time, one person and only one person should be responsible for posting to and monitoring Twitter (or other social networks).

Without shifts, there will be times when no one remembers to pay attention, or when “you start to get too many hands in the cookie jar,” Hernandez said. That’s not to say other team members can’t get involved during someone else’s shift, but be sure the person on duty knows about all activity and coordinates it.

Have handoffs. When a new team member begins a shift, have the outgoing member brief her on three things: What happened recently, what’s developing now, and what needs to be done in the near future. Hernandez says this quick handoff discussion ensures that the new person won’t miss anything important or duplicate work.

Exchange ideas, results and feedback. Communication is vital for any team. Make sure the team members learn from one another’s experiences. Have frequent informal huddles with a few members, or sit down for a full team meeting once a week. Take the long view of what is working, and what isn’t. Share specific successes and failures and discuss what to learn from them.

Members of the tweeting team at CNN also meet about once a quarter to piece together their latest observations and lessons, which are then distributed to help the dozens of reporters, editors and anchors who also use personal or topic-based Twitter accounts in their work.

Write down best practices. As your team decides what it will and won’t do, and the best steps to take, write them down. Consider things like: When and how often you want to post items; how much time to leave between posts; what to do with news tips; how to handle complaints or requests for corrections; how to correct erroneous social media posts. Add these things to your organization’s social media guidelines, or use them to create training documents for new people who join your team someday.

Have the team members be part of, or closely tied to, the reporters and editors. Twitter is a reporting tool, so the people managing it need to be the ones doing the reporting, or at least need to be plugged in directly to reporters. The AJC’s five tweeters are experienced journalists who also are responsible for covering breaking news, so they can tweet the latest updates as they report. If the people managing your real-time engagement presence have to go through layers of editors to get information, they won’t be real-time anymore.

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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