Every so often I find something online (or someone tells me about something) that makes me think, “Why didn’t I think of this?”
Whatthefuckismysocialmediastrategy is one such gem.
In the year I spent managing Kansan.com, our biggest goal was to get more traffic to the site and get readers involved. We started manually managing the paper’s Twitter account. We added more polls, asked for reader submissions and ideas and increased multimedia offerings. If Foursquare had been around in any significant capacity, I’m sure we could have done a hell of a lot with it.
I feel like “social media” was the main buzz phrase my senior year of college. I spent a significant amount of time that year, and this past year, carefully cultivating an online presence in the “right” places. While I avoid consuming tech products for their own sake (I don’t own an iPhone or other smart phone and only very recently bought an iPod Touch), I like to think I’m fairly “with it” technologically, lest this come off like the rantings of an old cat lady screaming at kids to get off my lawn. I “get” the new media infatuation. But there are some problems.
My biggest annoyance with social media is basically what the aforementioned site makes fun of: People seem to be building it up as something more grandiose than it really is. And I can’t really understand why. Most of the phrases found on the site are ones I actually recognize, either from someone’s CV I’ve seen, a company manifesto or a press release. Somewhere out there is a guy, God bless him, who earnestly believes he’s “providing brand ambassadors with compelling conversation hooks to enter into communities and fuel advocacy” (quoted from the site).
I’m trying to figure out if this is just good old-fashioned CV posturing/bragging (if so, if it wasn’t their mad tweeting skills it’d be something else), or if new media kids are deliberately trying to be arch and vague about what it is that they do to maintain an air of importance and indispensability. If it sounds that important, it must be difficult, right? Or at least, something very few other people are capable of doing. Imagine that you’re a middle-aged manager who’s never tweeted before and barely knows how to send e-mail. Wouldn’t you be slightly impressed if a young whippersnapper came in and told you how awesome social media was, using language like that?
Part of it too is just being as young as I am. The basic job of managing a Twitter feed, starting a Facebook group, running promotions using Foursquare and writing a blog doesn’t sound terribly impressive to me simply because I’m so used to doing it and seeing it done. Perhaps if I were older and less familiar with those applications, I’d be less cynical about flowery language and rhetoric used to describe it.
On the news side of things, I’m afraid that the usefulness of the social media hasn’t caught up to the technology. We have social media apps out the ying-yang, but people are still trying to figure out what to do with them. It also doesn’t do us any good if we raise a generation of journalists who can format an iPhone, edit random video clips and check in on Gowalla but don’t know how to edit, report, lay out a page (and in this digital era, design skills are necessary for the Web, too), compose a photo or communicate with people in, you know, person.
The technology should never be bigger than the story you’re trying to tell. You should also never shoot for shinier tech displays in story-telling when simpler ones will do. I’m out of J school now, but I have this fear that the current new media hype will result in tons of alumni with little to no skills in the basics. I’ve been asked for advice before — What would you tell new J school graduates? And my answer then was the same as it is now: You can know how to use all the technology and applications in the world, but if you don’t know basic reporting skills, you’re screwed. And yes, of course, there’s plenty of room for Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare and so on in journalism. But it all depends on how you use it.
I guess a good baseline for young journalists should be the answer to this question: “If the Internet broke down tomorrow and your iPhone/laptop turned into a paperweight, could you still report this story?”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go check my Twitter feed.