- How Science Works
- Sources and Experts: Where to Find Them and How to Vet Them
- Making Sense of Science Stats
- Editing for Story
- Editing Controversial Science
- Holding Science to Account
- Covering Health Care
- Climate and the Environment
- Fact-Checking Science Journalism: How to Make Sure Your Stories Are True
Illustrating Complex Science Stories
- The Role of Visuals in Science Journalism
- The Process of Building Science-Centric Graphics
- Strategies for Using Visuals to Put Breaking Science in Context
- Special Considerations for Data Visualization
- Uncertainty and Misinformation
- Editorial Illustration, Photography, and Moving Images
- Additional Reading and Resources
- About the Author
- Social Media and Reader Engagement
- Popular Science
- Op-Eds and Essays
- About This Handbook
Collaborating on Social Media
By Katie Fleeman / 4 minute read
Social media, in its best iteration, requires a collaborative effort.
Reporters and editors are the experts on their stories and beats. They can identify important takeaways, flag nuances, and spot errors when it comes to packaging and promoting stories. But, they may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with social-media norms, lingo, best practices, or even having that sort of public presence.
Meanwhile, social-media editors are well-versed in the nuances of discourse on those platforms but don’t necessarily have a firm grasp of the nuances of every story.
So here are some tips for how newsroom colleagues can collaborate:
- Ask (and answer) the “dumb” questions. Writing for social often involves summarizing, paraphrasing, or drafting new copy that does not show up in the original story. Run new language — even small changes — past the original reporters or the editor if they didn’t write it, to make sure it is accurate.
- Bring audience in early. Include the social-media or audience editors in editorial and pitch meetings, so they can know what stories are in the queue, gain insight into how the editorial team thinks about them, and jump-start any engagement or promotion planning (e.g. researching keywords for SEO or putting out calls on social media for sources).
- Set up collaborative communication channels. A popular approach is using a designated Slack channel for workshopping headlines and social media posts.
- Find a work flow that works for your editorial team. The structure and dynamics of your newsroom shape what you can expect from colleagues. (For example, staff writers might be expected to participate more than freelancers.) Don’t be afraid to set up a process and then modify it as you learn.
- Test and retest. Develop theories about what works best for your content, voice, and audience, and test those ideas. You might find social-media posts that pose questions do better than those that summarize the story. But don’t assume it will always be that way. Keep testing your assumptions, and be prepared to modify your behavior based on the results.
- Make it clear that everyone is on the same team. Listen to and respect reporters’ wishes. The last thing any journalist wants is a misleading social-media post tied to a bylined story, and the last thing a social-media manager wants is post “fake news.”
Template — Social-Media and Engagement Plan
Created by Benji Rosen, of MIT Technology Review, and adapted from The Arizona Republic, the form pictured below helps reporters and editors plan for a social and audience engagement strategy for their big stories. The goal is to get reporters and editors thinking early and creatively, rather than resorting to the default actions at the end of the publishing process. Rosen recommends that newsrooms create similar forms for their staffs.
Case Study: STAT & Covid-19
Alexander Spinelli, social editor at STAT News, discusses how social media is a dynamic space that must be constantly monitored, and where newsrooms need to make adjustments as news developers. His reference point is the early days of what became known as Covid-19:
STAT started reporting on Corona back in December [of 2019], before it was Corona, before it was COVID-19: It was this mysterious pneumonia that was happening in Wuhan, China. And as the story progressed, different hashtags — different ways of phrasing — changed and evolved. In early posts, everything was #Wuhan, because that's what everyone was talking about. And then you realize, once this becomes a bigger, broader thing, your language changes, your approach changes. You want to make sure that you as a news organization have a sense of accountability; you don't want to perpetuate any kind of stereotype. And that can all come down to how you're hashtagging something and how you're talking about it in a post.That all happened [while] I was learning about how the situation was progressing, but also as my experts — my reporters and editors — were directing me and steering me: 'Let's not use this language anymore. Let's make sure that we're talking about it like this. Let's steer the narrative that way.'
The evolution of the terminology around the virus was reflected in STAT’s social-media accounts:
Developing a Plan in Case of Trolling
One of the dangers of engaging in social media as a journalist is the risk of being trolled, doxxed, threatened, or harassed — especially if you’re a woman or a person of color.
PEN America’s Online Harassment Field Manual provides strategies for journalists and colleagues, including steps for tightening cybersecurity, tips for dealing with harassing messages, and best practices for employers and HR departments.
One relevant nugget for headline and social-media editors: When a headline is inflammatory or divisive, the writers will bear the brunt of the criticism or harassment online, so inviting their input may reduce the risk of abuse directed at them.
Key tips include:
- Screenshot, archive, and/or print the message in case they are deleted and you need to show proof.
- Reach out to your colleagues if you see them being targeted online.
- Use a password manager and multifactor authentication. One of the best tools is 1Password, which makes its service free for journalists.
Read the entire field manual for a complete list of tips and best practices.