By Amanda Kerr, Consociate Media Writer and Media Strategist
Just three years after Harvard College student Mark Zuckerberg and three of his roommates launched a website to connect fellow students through the world wide web, a seminal media moment occurred immediately following the Virginia Tech shootings on April 16, 2007. A lone gunman murdered 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech and in the aftermath the press harnessed the reach and power of social media in new ways.
Reporters at The Washington Post used websites such as Facebook and Craigslist to quickly locate students connected to the tragedy. Messages students posted through Facebook were compiled in a story and names of victims appeared on The Washington Post’s website before they had even been released by authorities.
Facebook and other social mediums have become tools for the media to not only find people and contact them, but also to reach new and wider audiences. The very nature of Facebook — what was once meant to be a fun way for people to “socialize” on the Internet — has evolved and today it has become one of the leading ways younger audiences consume news.
Newspapers, magazines, blogs and television news stations use social media to promote stories and engage with readers and viewers. It started off simply enough, maybe a post teasing an upcoming weekend feature or a few links to breaking stories, but has since expanded to the widespread use of linking comment sections on articles to Facebook profiles, for example.
With the advent of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and others, including storytelling methods such as podcasting, the way in which reporters both report and gather the news has dramatically changed in the 12 years since the launch of Facebook.
What does that mean? For starters, social media has afforded reporters the opportunity to do a lot more reconnaissance on a subject, organization, business or person than just looking for a phone number on whitepages.com. Social media has become a go to place for local governments, school districts, businesses and nonprofits to promote events, share news and engage with customers and citizens.
With all that activity on social media, that’s where reporters are going first to look for the latest news on a company or organization.
It’s no longer just an obligation for businesses and organizations to throw up a few posts; social media is an essential part of a larger communications strategy.
Newshounds can track down supporters of a gun rights group, garden club, local business or school using social media. They can research social media channels to better understand an organization’s current projects, values or messaging. And they can use that trail to cast a wide net to find the best leads and the best stories.
Reporters, however, no longer passively use social media as voyeurs. The multimedia options available offer an entirely new platform for storytelling, whether it’s breaking news, photos, video, or abbreviated posts in the form of tweets. There are myriad ways to use social media to enhance a traditional newspaper, radio, or television story that helps give the audience another perspective.
That same approach can help a commercial real estate firm, apparel company or app developer engage customers through blog posts, social media campaigns and behind the scenes photos and video that tell their story and sell their brand.
Using social media to sell a brand isn’t something reserved for just traditional retail businesses. The various social media platforms allow media outlets and reporters to sell their news brand too, be it a newspaper, television i-Team, major news network, radio station or podcast.
The technology also gives reporters the opportunity to brand themselves. And it gives readers a more intimate perspective of their interests. Reporters can personalize posts by sharing a national news story that matters to them, or describing how a tornado has affected their own neighborhoods. That branding is good for engaging very distractible audiences who are bombarded by a host of competing media interests.
There’s something else, too. Social media allows reporters to actually connect with readers or viewers in real time. They can answer questions or respond to feedback. Reporters often use social media to connect with potential sources as well through Twitter direct message and Facebook messenger. The technology makes it easier than ever to reach out and connect.
The opportunities for generating story ideas over social media are endless. There are as many potential stories as there are social media users.
If businesses and organizations aren’t using social media to its fullest potential, there’s a good chance customers and clients won’t hear that message – and reporters won’t see it either.
It goes beyond just having things to post on Facebook and Twitter. Businesses, organizations and media outlets alike have to be present. They have to be relevant. They have to be accessible.
The world of mass media has been forever altered, going from a handful of Harvard students who wanted to connect socially on a website initially called “thefacebook” to a new media giant — just plain old “Facebook” — that has reshaped the world of news gathering, information dissemination and interaction.
What hasn’t changed, however, is connecting with people and sharing the stories of the world around us.