Media cheat sheet: the social media questions to ask

Perturbed is not one of my favourite words.

But that’s how I’ve been feeling (or, to put it less politely, pissed off), after reading some recent press articles on social media. The articles have shown a lack of understanding of social media and – even more vexing – a lack of knowledge on behalf of the media’s sources.

One, from a guest magazine columnist and apparent ‘marketing expert’ who questioned how you can possibly brand an organisation in 140 characters (um, you do get to have more than ONE tweet, dear sir). He also challenged readers to name any organisation with success on YouTube (um, unless Coca Cola, Pepsi, BMW, the US Defence Forces, Qantas, Harley Davison et al have told him their sales are falling miserably because of the ‘millions’ they’re sinking into YouTube, I think we’re safe here …)

The other, within a national newspaper story on the #penrithdebate where some NSW pollies used Twitter to debate each other. The source, a PR agency manager, stated the Twitter debate was a waste of time because surely it’s just young people on Twitter. His quote didn’t even sound like he had himself convinced. He clearly has no idea that Twitter’s largest demographic is aged 30+. And in any case (and WTF?) aren’t young people interested in politics? Has he been to a uni campus recently? Are young people all vacuous things only interested in FCUK’s latest sale? Let’s give them some credit …

The art of 'social media interviews'
The art of 'social media interviews'

Now, I realise that this happens across industry sectors, and isn’t peculiar to social media. I’m sure the mining industry is sometimes frustrated by the media’s lack of understanding of their methods. Or an astrophysicist may be miffed by a journalist’s lack of knowledge of their scientific realm. And also, let me say, it’s impossible for a journalist to be an expert across every field. I’m sure that a lot of journalists are constantly researching and reading about their ‘beats’. But who can keep up, especially when your beat might change, just when you’ve become familiar with it?

So I’m going to try and be constructive. I’ve put together a list of some standard questions for journalists to ask when writing stories about social media. This may help them to ascertain whether their source is worth quoting, or is faking it. And I’m sure my blog readers will have plenty more to add.

Journalists Cheat Sheet: Twitter
If you’re interviewing someone about Twitter, ask them:
• How long have you been using Twitter? (If the answer is “I don’t waste my time with Twitter” or “I just read over my wife’s shoulder from time to time”, RUN AWAY )
• How many people do you follow on Twitter? (If the answer is “Five” or even “Twenty” RUN AWAY. Judging Twitter when you’ve only following a handful of people, is like judging an entire nation by three residents you met in an airport lounge. They should be following at least 50 .. roughly).
• How often do you tweet? (If they say “I don’t tweet, I only follow” that means they’ve never had a conversation. It means they haven’t unlocked 80 per cent of the power of Twitter. RUN AWAY. )

Journalists Cheat Sheet: Facebook

Facebook cops a lot of flak in the press. If someone’s opining on Facebook, ask them:

• How long have you been using Facebook? (If they say, “I don’t use it, but my teenage daughter spends hours on there” or “I’ve had a profile for years, but I rarely check it” RUN AWAY).
• Similarly, ask them how often they log onto Facebook. (If they say, “I haven’t gone on there for months” or “I check it every few weeks and there’s piles of Friends requests and I don’t even KNOW these people!” RUN AWAY. You need to be in regularly Facebook to understand it. It’s a community. You can’t pretend to know a community when you’re an apology to 99% of its meetings).
• What’s your favourite group on Facebook? (If they say, “I haven’t joined any groups, they’re a waste of time” RUN AWAY. Part of the power of Facebook is the sharing, networking and fun that occurs in groups).

Journalists Cheat Sheet: Social Media in General

Ask:   What are your favourite blogs/tweet accounts/YouTube channels? If they don’t have a favourite, they’re pretenders. If it’s nothing but negativity in their commentary, they’re pretenders. You can’t just generally be sceptical or cynical about social media in its whole entirety … it’s like being sceptical of the planet earth. Social media is made up of so many thousands of networks, blogs across all topics, photos and video and music for all tastes, that if you claim it’s all a load of bunk, you’re claiming life is a load of bunk.

And for the columnists/critics/commentators out there .. don’t write about a social media community unless you’ve “lived in there”.

Please don’t write about social media through some vague feeling or intuition you have about the realm being somewhat dangerous and a place for cyberbullies.

You wouldn’t write your top 10 recommendations for Tanzania if you hadn’t been there. You wouldn’t review a restaurant by squinting at its salt and pepper shakers through the windows. JUST DON’T DO IT. You’re only making a fool of yourself.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris Foster says:

    Glad someone is keeping an eye on this, it’s important that Social is promoted in a positive light to business owners that read this stuff.

    It seems the light bulb moment has not yet arrived for the majority of journalists.

    Is this in part, due to the demise of the investigative Journalist? Social is not yet a component of mainstream business strategy, so it’s not yet worthy of serious research by media outlets?

    I would have thought Social to have been an ideal platform for journalism to embrace itself and become self educated in the area.

    Maybe journalism will become crowdsourced eventually as some predict and the media outlets become merely curators of the news.

    1. Maybe you should get them they can just watch some video’s to explain it.

      Cup of tea or glass wine and here’s my 1/2 hour crash course in social media for beginners : )

      I love social media and think it can be used to help lots of people/groups/causes, businesses and more.

      Here’s our LinkedIN group asking, “How can we use Social Media for business & goodness in General?”

      I hope you like it,

      Daniel : )

  2. Tom Snyder says:

    As a guy who has been covered by the media a multitude of times over my various careers, I can tell you from my own experience, the mainstream media has trouble getting it right on just about anything they cover. Hate to be harsh (especially because I was in media myself for 15 years), but they have to cover so much, and so it’s hard for them to go from 0-60 on a concept or a story that they’re essentially unfamiliar with. It’s hard to speak accurately and authoritatively, especially when the topic is complex, and it’s just another of the million stories they cover from day to day. Virtually every time I’ve been interviewed for a story in print or electronic media, the edits, the lack of context, and the reporter’s “take” on the story have me scratching my head at the difference between what I said, and what they ended up publishing.

    The guys in our city actually do a pretty good job because they are active in Social Media themselves. See the videos in this piece:

    You’ve provided a great checklist for journalists. We can only hope they find it and use it!

    1. locspoc says:

      yes, i agree, journalists are employed mostly because of their ability to write and tell stories but because they are asked to cover so many different topics they are often missing the point, that has been the case for a long time now whether it be social media or any other topic

      1. Alex says:

        Journalists – write & tell stories? Are you sure? The Advertiser’s copy is something like 80% press releases and the number of depressing mistakes (in terms of language, rather than content) suggests that they can barely string two words together, let alone ‘write’.

  3. Rubina Carlson says:

    I’m in agreement with Tom, the pressures on journalists these days to be first (rather than correct) clearly is impacting of their coverage.

    However, now that Prakky has written this cheat sheet, hopefully these journo’s will be able to take that extra minute or two to read through it…

  4. Cate P says:

    Bravo Prakky, I’m not even remotely as involved in it as you, but I get sick of reading articles where I find myself shaking my head, muttering “You have no idea, do you?”

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