Facebook recently made changes that could alter the way people consume news, driving a lot of think-piece fodder about the implications it has on journalism.
But it’s possible the social media tool’s latest iterations could, in fact, help journalists. With roughly a fifth of the world logging on every month, a reporter potentially could increase their rolodex of sources to be about 1.4 billion strong.
During a recent seminar by the Poynter Institute, WGBH social media director Tory Starr shared her insights on how journalists can unlock the power of Facebook for their reporting.
Here are five steps to get you started.
1. Figure out who you are on Facebook and how you want to use it as a journalist.
Navigating the personal and professional divide on Facebook can be tricky. But with the right tools, your journalist self and your personal self can co-exist on the platform. The first decision to create the appropriate profile — a page or a personal profile with the follow button enabled.
There are benefits to both, says Starr.
With the personal profile plus follow button, you can engage in two-way conversation with followers and ultimately build a community. If there’s something more personal you want to share, you can alter your privacy settings with each post. On the flip side, creating a page allows you to focus solely on your personal brand to build an audience for one-way conversation. This allows readers to connect with your professional presence and provides you with analytics on your audience and their interests.
If you’re unsure, the best place to start is with a profile page plus follow button. Pages are better suited for major personalities, says Starr. To enable the follow button, go to settings > followers > select “everybody.”
2. Develop your beat on Facebook.
Keep people updated on what you’re covering and share relevant breaking news stories.
To grab attention, post behind-the-scenes photos and videos. Facebook is people-driven. Your followers want to hear your personal voice and, more importantly, your expert analysis on the story you’re sharing, Starr added.
Invest time in making it work for you and your reporting needs, too. Your followers are a powerful network of sources who can help you gather information for stories. When you’re trying to find specific sources, casting a wide net to your followers can be a good starting point to find people to interview.
3. Close the loop: Don’t just push out information. Treat the platform like a community.
Facebook can be the home for building on your reporting and finding new stories, says Starr. But, in order for it to work, you must engage with your followers. Post questions and respond to comments. Enable participatory journalism by creating groups on topics you cover.
Facebook is a great way to source commentary from your readers about a news event, Starr explained. “Whatever the content you’re looking to source from your community, make the prompt clear and simple,” she says. “Explain how you may use the content and follow-up with the user when you have additional questions or need clarification.”
4. Look for verified content in the right places.
There are a number of social-first organizations (FB Newswire, reported.ly and Storyful, to name a few) that are actively scraping content, verifying it, and putting it in front of you in real-time. Because of their existence, there are less rumors and false information circulating on social media, says Starr.
By using these trusted sources for information, you can separate the news from the noise and perhaps learn from their verification work.
5. Use Facebook to find sources and story ideas.
Facebook’s search engine is a powerful tool that “journalists don’t use enough,” Starr says.
Use it to find, follow and message people publicly speaking about a topic, or who post from the ground of a situation. Starr used coverage of the recent economic crisis in Greece as an example. The search string, “people who live in Athens and work at the National Bank of Greece,” would bring up those who’ve publicly identified themselves as such. You can then use the results to add friends or send private messages, requesting information or interviews.
To stay on top of hot-button issues, trending topics are featured on the right-hand side of your home screen. You also can try Facebook Interest lists. On the left-hand side of your home screen, click on “Interests” to add topics to follow. To further fine-tune the news, create a list on your own – just as you would on Twitter.
For a real-life example of a journalist using Facebook as a reporting tool, check out Connie Schultz. She’s adapted the classic newspaper column to her Facebook page. You also can read about Adrien Chen, who used Facebook to find leads while investigating a highly-coordinated disinformation campaign in Russia.
Stay up to date on media trends and best practices. Subscribe to Beyond Bylines to receive posts by email. Or if you’re looking for another way to find sources, try ProfNet – it can help you find the subject-matter experts you need for your reporting. The best part? It’s easy and free to submit a query. Get started now. Send a query.
Anna Jasinski is manager of audience relations at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter at @annamjasinski for expert tips on writing and social media. You can also catch her tweeting the latest news in journalism and blogging on @BeyondBylines.