If there is a question you can bank on coming up in your next job interview, it is going to be around social media.
It is often the case that employers are looking for fresh ideas to add to their newsroom. It is especially the case that employers are on the lookout for an injection of savvy social media insight to add to their ranks as well, considering how social media consumption is always changing.
That goes for reporters and how it can improve their workflow, or specialist positions and developing more meaningful relationships with their audience.
In fact, social media editor, CBC News, Tamara Baluja, said that an improved social media strategy can benefit five main areas of a news organisation: reporting, metrics and outcome, engagement, amplification of traffic and storytelling.
So before you head into your next job interview, Baluja suggests how you can show your potential employers how you would shake up their newsroom on social.
Do your homework
Before you do anything else, Baluja said you cannot make suggestions before understanding what the organisation is striving to achieve, and from there you can add depth.
"Employers want to see that you are thinking about what their overall goals are and how you can make those work," she said.
"Let’s say you’ve got a brand new magazine startup and they want to build social presence, then at that point I think focusing on reach and on longer video could work.
“At CBC News, we are experiencing market saturation. So it’s not necessarily just about growing subscribers, though we always want that, we want to ensure that people we do have are loyal, will keep coming back and we can count on those in the long run. Knowing what their needs are can really influence what you can offer up as examples."
Stop blowing the trumpet
One of the fundamental errors made by news organisations is using social media purely for amplification of traffic, she said.
"A lot of organisations are using social media purely as a trumpet for their work elsewhere, rather than work that lives on the platform and driving engagement, though there are exceptions of course."
What is the alternative and what could organisations do differently?
"Be authentic in that space, audiences can tell when you are posting as a plot purely to get clicks to a site.
"They can see that when you are in the comment section trying to have conversations with them. When there is no content, that does not resonate at all. Content sells more than broadcasting that you have content."
She warned that the organisation might hit back that social media does not play that role in their strategy. However, that should not stop you making the case for change and looking at how it can work for them.
Playing the long game
What else is social media good for besides tweeting out a link to the article you have just posted? Baluja said now is the time to use it to develop their next audience.
"The opportunity exists to ask who their future audience is. If you want your future audience to be loyal to your brand, then you could suggest trying working in a space like Instagram, or recommend putting resources there."
Far from getting ahead of themselves about the next phase that might fizzle out, she said that showing caution could also be effective.
"Maybe that’s not creating a whole new department and not making it part of your everyday strategy, but it should be something we are looking at and there is value even if it is not driving traffic back to your website, TV station or radio rating.
"There is value in having presence because eventually that audience is going to need a source of news, and by us being there ahead of time or a little late to the market, that will create some brand awareness. Play the long game."
Scrolling in the shadows
To wrap your head around social, you need to be immersed in that space, she adds — it would be the equivalent of trying to write for a newspaper when you rarely read them. But you do not necessarily need to be a perpetual poster.
"Pay attention to what people are doing. This is ironic for someone who works in social media, but I don’t like to broadcast my own life or my details. But I’m aware of what goes on there."
Silently scrolling and observing, Baluja makes notes of any new features or attention-grabbing styles that catch her eye. She plays around with features on private accounts before bringing them to the newsroom, and job applicants can do the same.
"Find a way to do it privately and see what works and does not work. Figure it out so that when you want to pitch a new idea, you know what you are doing.
"The key is being entrepreneurial and experimental. You have to enjoy innovation and those are key traits. That’s hard to learn if you are not automatically like that, you need to be curious about the technology and how people are consuming the news. If you are, then it should come naturally."
Staying on trend
Of course, what we all would love to know is what the next trend is around the corner and capitalise on it. But how do you identify trends and then act upon them? Baluja said that one person cannot hope to do this alone; really it is about keeping up with the top commentators and analysts in that market space.
"There’s a lot of great coverage in great tech magazines and reporters who focus on the developments on what social media platforms are doing, keep on top of that," she said.
"There are Facebook groups specifically for people who work in audience development and engagement — join those, interact with people who share those links, that’s how you keep on top of everything that can happen. Nobody can stay on top of everything, that’s how I keep on top of trends."
Understand the latest updates
Baluja stressed that you should be clued in on what these changes are and what it then means for the organisation.
"IGTV is the space to watch and see what Instagram does there, especially now they are releasing more detailed insights into what people are watching and what their retention rates are like. There is an opportunity to think about how content lives there.
"It’s interesting Facebook is encouraging longer video content. While they are being upranked in newsfeeds, I’m not necessarily seeing retention times increasing because we are serving longer video, it depends on what kind of a strategy are you chasing. Are you chasing reach or engagement?"
As well as the big players, editors often have one eye on the next trend and emerging platform.
But as we have seen with Snapchat, sometimes the hype fizzles out. TikTok is the next platform making noise, but how do we know if it is here to stay and worth pitching? Baluja said you simply have to venture out of your comfort zone, but approach with caution.
"I’ll be honest, I’m an older millennial, it does not necessarily make sense to me. Maybe it’s not a place we can post content on just yet," Baluja said.
"Even if it doesn’t work for you as a news strategy, it might be a great place to find content for you to report on."
One of biggest news stories right now for CBC News is how the Canadian basketball team Toronto Raptors reached the NBA finals. One particularly widely-shared CBC News story came from their Kids News division, and Baluja said this is a prime example where TikTok would not sound like a wild suggestion.
“What I would be wondering is how can we use this space for kids, even if it is not strictly for news as part of our strategy.
"It was shared by everybody on social media. If I was working on how to engage audiences, I would wonder if there was a way - because it's a young child asking a question - is there a way to make this on TikTok?
"I don’t know the answer yet, but in a job interview scenario, it is okay to say you don’t know the answer if you are showing you are thinking about exploring it.
"There’s a difference in level of investment. There’s lurking and watching the space, and there’s acknowledging it is real and thinking about its applications."
Limitations of social
If there is one other tip on what a job applicant can demonstrate in an interview scenario around social media, Baluja indicates it would be restraint and level-headedness.
"We need to be cognisant of the fact that these social media platforms have a desire to find ways to keep people in their space and not drive traffic away.
"They might be not be 100 per cent forthcoming about how they report metrics and analytics. We need to keep that in the back of our minds. Facebook is an example of that; in 2018 when reach started falling, there was this sense of 'what happened?'
"That was a lesson to be learned, they are there to serve their own purpose. They are not there to serve ours, we are separate entities. That’s the big takeaway, pay attention and think about how the goals align."
While warning not to be over-reliant on social, organisations also cannot afford not to be visible, active and experimental.
"I would say think about the story you want to tell, privilege the story over the platform, and when you do decide to tell it on that platform, be intentional and specific, that's the most important thing."
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