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Social Media and News: A Match Made In Heaven

I can’t really think of another industry that’s a better fit for social media than the news industry. Think about it: high-quality content that’s produced on a consistent, timely basis, that users want, need, and crave.

But even the most perfect couples have problems they need to work through. I discovered some of the challenges that news organizations face at the Social Media Club of Salt Lake City’s event entitled, “The Newsroom Goes Social.” Besides just challenges, four of the brightest social media news professionals from KSL, Fox13, KUTV and The Salt Lake Tribune weighed in what’s working with social media and what’s in store for the future:

Media Organizations Have Differing Goals For Social

Much like marketers, news organization use social media for brand awareness and to promote their content. They are also using social media to find story ideas by staying in tune with the things their viewers are interested in. If there’s a topic that is trending locally on Twitter or a story being shared over and over again, those are strong indicators of what readers are craving. Scott Sherman, the New Media Content Editor at the Salt Lake Tribune used an example where he found one of his best story leads from a frustrated Twitter user who was pulled over by an under-cover cop right across the Utah border.

The news industry isn’t just using social media to promote their own content, they’re listening to what their followers are saying on each different platform and crafting their social media strategies around what the viewers want. For example, the panelists noted that Facebook fans like contests, photos and fun status updates whereas Twitter and Google+ users just want the dang news, unfiltered!

Social Media Faces Hurdles To Profitability

The biggest challenge that the news industry faces when it comes to social media, and the internet in general is how to monetize it. Let’s face it, marketers aren’t even making money off social media. When it comes to the newspaper industry, the advertising side of things and the journalism side of things are still very much separate. The problem with banner advertisements still remains, visitors rarely click on them. Although these news sites receive an ample amount of traffic to their website, the traffic doesn’t always convert to revenue. Traditional advertising models are still funding news organizations and a new model for how to improve their bottom line, via the internet, still doesn’t exist.

Mark Sternfield, of Fox 13 said one of the ways they’re monetizing social media is by co-sponsoring contests. For example, a smaller business with a small social following might use Fox as an avenue to promote their contest and in return receive a much larger reach. Much like the social media companies themselves will need figure out how to make money, so will the companies using them.

Jenni Stokes, the Web Producer at KUTV said one of the challenges they face is all of the new platforms and figuring out how to use each one effectively. News organizations are a little more cautious when it comes to jumping onto the next platform because they want to make sure they are doing it right in order to protect their brand. There is certainly a lot at stake. An entire news organization can be remembered by one dumb tweet rather than months of great content. But in my opinion, this is a conflict of conservatism with evolving media, that the previous generation needs to get over. If a news organization wants to remain the main provider of news, they have to offer their product (the news) in the spaces where their customers want to find it. They need to be social, be there first and innovate.

Social Strategies That Work

The good news is that these organizations are finding that a lot of their content promotion, brand awareness and engagement goals for social media are being met.

Organizations are figuring out how to master each platform by leveraging their top-notch content and employees. I found it interesting that news organizations don’t have strict social media guidelines about what their reporters should and shouldn’t say. As a rule of thumb, reporters don’t share anything they wouldn’t say on air (or in print). They are also not “forcing” their employees to own their social media personalities; if a reporter can’t stay consistent on Twitter, they shouldn’t use it at all. Although it should be noted, many younger journalists are using their news organization as a platform to further their career by building their name and following.

Natalie Wardel, the social media director of KSL has found creative ways to use Instagram by giving visitors a behind the scenes look of the newsroom and building renovations. KSL also uses Pinterest effectively by pinning hot tech items and recipes that are good for Sunday Night Football. The Salt Lake Tribune has also found success on Pinterest by posting historic photos from their “Look Back” series and photos from their food column, local events and restaurants.

The Salt Lake Tribune has devout readers online that like to continue the conversation in the comments section, and often times the comments take on a life of their own. According to Scott, some of these folks who comment actually get together and meet. They have created their own offline social group and discuss different topics.

Marketers can learn a lot from journalists about crafting great content that keeps their users coming back again and again. But there’s still a lot of things news organizations need to figure out as technology continues to rapidly change the way we communicate. Will TV, radio and newspaper reading be reduced due to social media, or will social media help ratings and reader/viewership? It will be interesting to see how the news organizations continue to work out these challenges of traditional news in a social media world.

What are your thoughts on how social media and the news compliment each other? Is there anything you would do different if you were running the show? Look forward to reading your comments below.