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Social media offers a platform for news organisations to distribute their content, but also an invaluable chance to engage with their audience and understand their readers or viewers better.

At the International Journalism Festival in Perugia today, four experts in community engagement shared their thoughts on where the field is going in the future: Amanda Zamora, senior engagement editor at ProPublica; Rafaella Menichini digital editor at La Reppublica; and media strategist Mafe de Baggis.

Segmenting content

"It's going to be important for all sites to use a broad sweep of social media sites," said Sarah Laitner, communities editor at the Financial Times, "but at the same time to go somewhere that's going to be useful for you and your readers."

She stressed that news organisations should "look at questions of crossover and segmenting content", identifying where communities around certain topics already exist and engaging with them there.

"There's a temptation to go with most popular route on some social media sites," she said, "but it's best to be true to yourself."


"It's really easy to assume that people get their news in the same way as you," continued Laitner, "but they may not read cover-to-cover or always be online."

She stressed that news organisations should show an "increasing amount of awareness" in getting news to people in a more "specific and personalised manner".

Continued importance of email

"We've not mentioned email at all," said Amanda Zamora, senior engagement editor at Pro Publica, "and I think that's a really critical tool".

"It's important to think about third party platforms as a way to initiate a relationship," she said, but email may be a better option for maintaining that relationship.

"Email remains the backbone for the way that many people communicate," agreed Laitner, so publications should be taking advantage of the opportunities it creates.

Some community engagement experts recently shared their advice with Journalism.co.uk on what makes people want to read a newsletter.

Journalists creating community around their work

"In the comment and opinion section, columnists are writing all the time and have loyal bands of readers with strong opinions about what is being written," said Laitner.

When these journalists are actively involved in the community and comments around the work it strengthens the relationship readers have with the content, but also serves as a source of ideas for future columns from the journalist.

At De Correspondent, a Dutch start-up that crowdfunded $1.7 million last April, the relationship between each author and their audience is integral to the editorial tone of the site and its business model.

"What we tried to look for in our correspondents is not so much traditional journalists but conversation leaders," Rob Wijnberg, editor-in-chief of De Correspondent, told delegates at the festival yesterday.

"What makes the community is the contents, not the tools," said media strategist Mafe de Baggis, "it's the people and content that drives it."

"My dream would be journalists who create communities around their work and that do so using social networks in a more proactive way," agreed Rafaella Menichini digital editor at La Reppublica, "so a more conscious interactive usage of social media by people who work in newsrooms."

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