Journalism used to have solid walls, operating within a structured environment. There were two primary platforms – broadcast and print. News came in predictable cycles – the morning paper, then the evening broadcast news. Messaging was static, and generally targeted to the widest possible audience. Readers and listeners absorbed only what was reported – and the only further trajectory occurred by word of mouth.
Today, the walls are gone. There are multiple platforms in addition to the old ones: Twitter for breaking news, Facebook and YouTube for sharing and commentary on that news, blogs for non-journalists to report and opine. There are no predictable news cycles. Influence is no longer the domain of broadcast, it is also experienced in effective “nichecasting” – sending out information to specific audiences who have expressed interest in possibly narrow topics. Messaging is not static, and success is found in reaching the networks of your network – reliant on the participatory nature of social media.
The macro-reporting of yesterday – where a reporter files a story or stands in front of the camera – now includes the role of micro-reporting. Members of the media file stories in 140 characters all day long, providing commentary on specific topics. In addition, the business of media has changed the character of journalism and dramatically has changed the way traditional media platforms generate income. Journalists who specialized in areas such as healthcare or finance have been disappearing from staffs, replaced by a writer who may be more of a generalist who has to generate material on a wide range of topics.
So what’s a communicator to do in this environment?
To reach our target audiences – and do so in an increasingly competitive landscape – there is a much greater need for strategic understanding, thinking and planning than ever before. Although far from a comprehensive list, and derived particularly from experiences with healthcare organizations, here are a few basic lessons I’ve learned that are important to remember:
- A news release is still an effective tactic – but not nearly enough. The days of issuing a press release and capturing widespread pickup have yielded to a digital and social era that demands not only effective planning and thoughtful research, but an understanding of how to build digital and social media muscle. Aside from reaching an audience broadly, assess if there are networks that you need to reach via digital and make a plan.
- Know Your Terrain. To effectively plan, you need to know who among your audience has a following. How effective are they? How engaged? Get an idea of the social media landscape in which you are operating and know the strengths and opportunities. Where are your competitors?
- Like real muscle, it takes time to build social muscle. Just going to the gym isn’t enough. Nor is one hard week of work. Likewise, building up an individual’s or organization’s social community takes dedication, hard work and time. But by connecting with the time-starved journalists and detail-hungry followers, your messages increasingly will get through so much clearer – and the benefits of this are obvious. Develop a strategy for whom you follow on social media platforms and what material you engage with to help develop your own network.
- Don’t forget the social aspect of social media. Social media is not a one-way street. Assess when it might be possible to have a useful back and forth that begins to develop relationships with others, particularly reporters. Retweeting material or sending a tip can begin a relationship. One reporter and I began sharing jokes. People want to engage. You shouldn’t think that you can make friends simply by talking “at” others by sending your content.