Last week’s episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom” (titled: “Run”) tried to make a statement about journalists use of Twitter. In fact, it appears that TV journalists use of social media is going to be a theme this season.

In “Run” the character Hallie sends out a late night tweet from ACN’s account saying “Boston Marathon: Republicans rejoice that there’s finally a national tragedy that doesn’t involve guns.” When asked what made her even think of a tweet like that, the answer is “retweets.”

Ok, so we all know this is hypothetical and some might even say “All journalists know better than a posting a politically charged tweet like that one.” But just within the last several days a real TV network was called out for an insensitive tweet.

http://ftvlive.com/todays-news/2014/11/18/its-always-a-great-show-when

And if you read FTVLive or Huffington Post, then you have likely seen the site point out examples of countless insensitive tweets and inappropriate exchanges on the local level. Here are three recent examples:

http://ftvlive.com/todays-news/2014/11/11/everyone-smile-and-say-torture

http://ftvlive.com/todays-news/2014/11/11/this-is-not-how-to-use-social media

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/22/kansas-city-royals-kctv-world-series-tweet-baseball_n_6028090.html

Bottom line, journalists and industry leaders are struggling to have an edge on Twitter and other social media. Make fun of “The Newsroom” bringing up retweets all you like, but there’s truth in the not so thinly veiled critique. Journalists are getting a lot of pressure from their bosses to get lots of retweets, followers and influence on social media. So let’s talk about ways to get an edge without ending up embarrassed.

Let’s get something straight first. Journalists are tempted to go too far for two reasons. The influence of so called “citizen journalists” and pressure from above to be influential on social media. So let’s break those ideas down a bit.

Citizen journalists, are eyewitnesses, often with video or still images of newsworthy events. But they also often have biases. They are untrained in how to interpret situations, so they simply show what they see and then try to insert their OPINIONS on the issue.

Actual trained journalists, first and foremost need to keep their opinions off of their “official” social media accounts. That would have fixed several of the above scenarios as well. Now, I know this has been said before to you, but there’s the temptation to inject opinion because of the influence/retweet factor. With few exceptions the most influential “voices” on social media are full of opinions and very clearly state them. So how can you get that edge, and not follow in those same footsteps?

First and foremost, journalists must define their roles on social media. Just like a newsroom defines its news philosophy for its newscasts. Since many TV stations and companies are not willing or able to give you clear guidelines to define that role, let’s set up a framework for you to start doing it yourself.

What Is A Journalist On Twitter?
Educated Witness
Divulger of Information
Conversation Starter

What if journalists defined their roles with those three simple statements I just listed? Let’s dive in a little more.

As an educated witness, you need to fill up your social media accounts with images you see and characters you have met. You need to provide facts or explain you are searching for specific information as you showcase the images. Standing in front of a crime scene saying “We are first on the scene” is what a citizen journalist would do. They want to show off that they are there. A regular schmo, excited at a chance to be a part of something. You are a witness to many events, and go into those situations with some knowledge and the know how to get more information. See how the temptation to post a tweet like standing in front of a crime scene and saying “Here we are” is less likely to happen with the definition educated witness? I want to make sure you understand, viewers and folks on Twitter EXPECT you to be at the scene. And they expect more out of you than showing you are there. They want you to do something with your social media accounts that they can’t just do themselves.

Which leads to the next part of our definition, divulger of information. As you showcase the images you have (because you want to have an edge/influence and plenty of retweets) add a nugget of information.

“Firefighters fear these flames reach higher than their aerial ladder can go.”
“This accident scene looks awful but everyone walked away safely.”
“This pile of documents could change how your child is tested in school.”

Think extra details. Divulge information. Think how and why. Why does this image I am sending look this way? How will people be impacted by this picture? Why care about a pile of documents? What will firefighters face that a citizen journalist cannot easily notice or explain? These nuggets of information make you credible and valuable to follow. You gain an edge. You gain followers. You gain influence.

Finally, when you look at the most influential people on Twitter they are great at interacting with “their peeps.” They engage in conversation. So start some. You can bring up an issue without inserting your opinion. You can ask questions of your followers. Then retweet some of the reactions you get to engage people into talking more. If they see that you are interested in what they have to say, followers respect you more. They are more willing to bring things up to you. Engaging does not have to mean showing your breakfast donut and talking about how you exercise. If you are in an editorial meeting and thinking, does anyone care that city council is voting on allowing a new development, ask. See if you get hits. I know some of you are saying it tips off the competition if you do these things. But if you want to gain social media trust and influence, you have to start letting your followers in on the news of the day. There is a counter argument that they will let their friends know you are considering this story or that story, and encouraging them to tune in to see it. You need to establish credibility and create an edge. That means being willing to give up some nuggets to get the big prize.

So there you go. Define your role as a journalist on social media. How do you want to come across? How do you want the information you have to share to be viewed? If you focus on the information and allowing viewers to converse and engage you can avoid pitfalls. People retweet when they are interested in the topic. You do not have to be the voice of that topic. You can be the instrument by which the topic is explored, through images, nuggets of information and asking viewers to weigh in. You can have an edge on social media without the posts being about you. Remember, you are an educated witness who has information and knows how to get that information discussed. That will make you edgy, interesting and influential. Win, win and win!

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