What’s your social media strategy?

Spoiler alert: this post contains extensive navel-gazing. It’s the end of a semester in journalism school and I’m susceptible to “reflections.” If this just isn’t your bag, please proceed to the next post. That is all.

If you’re confused about what “social media strategy” really means, you’re not alone. In fact, I was stumped when our j-school professor Sue Robinson asked us to write about our own strategies and how we use them to move toward our goals.

I assumed the term meant how organizations or people use Facebook,  Twitter or other forms of social media to spread awareness and connect with the public. I would call these things trendy, but it seems they’re here to stay.

But my strategy? Hmm. That’s a good question. I had to dig around a bit before I could answer.

If we see social media as a strategy instead of a tool, Tracy Playle declares in “Just do it: it’s time to burn your facebook strategy,” we’re going to sputter before we even begin.

Playle, who is actually a social media consultant though she dislikes the term, instead favors a pragmatic approach. Playle writes that we need to map our goals, determine which parts need work, beef those up, then decide who we need to reach and how we can best reach them.

At the beginning of the article, she introduces Jeff, a hypothetical (I’m  assuming) chef whose boss asks him one day about his knife strategy.

“What nonsense,” she writes. “A chef wouldn’t develop a strategy for using a knife any more than a gardener would develop a strategy for using his shovel or an accountant for using his calculator.”

I like Playle’s style. If nothing else, it gives me a good answer if I’m ever asked this question on a job interview. But on a deeper level, this philosophy reminds me to be unambiguous about my goals as a reporter and consider how I can be more effective at what I do.

Who I am as a journalist is as simple as the things I find important. Even less original than that is the fact that my values are pretty universal.

Take, for instance, education. We all agree it’s important to educate our children. Yes, even the president and the one before him. We all value justice and promote safe streets, we all like jobs and we support our troops abroad.

But the more interesting part is that few people seem to agree on just how we arrive at these ideals. Enter the reporter. It’s a stimulating job, but the gig’s not easy. The old cliche says there are two sides to every story, but most of the time, I feel like a photographer in a house of mirrors.

I often write about diversity, poverty and criminal justice. I might say that’s due to a certain moral disposition, but it wouldn’t be completely accurate. Let’s face it — these stories provide great drama. There’s often a winner, and a clear loser. Someone gets hurt, or someone needs help, and there’s usually something that can be done to improve the situation.

When my ego’s swollen, I think these stories might make a difference, might change the status quo. But in reality, my proudest accomplishments are simply telling stories that otherwise might not have been told.

I use Twitter to promote other journalists’ work and some of my own. The longer I’m at this, the less I see other reporters as competition and more as collaborators. I learn a few tricks from who I follow that I can apply to my own beat.

My blog is really a testing ground to measure which topics draw interest. It’s great to produce an exhaustive, thorough piece of work, but I know I really have something when non-journalists care about what I have to say. Mom might not offer many leads, but she’s pretty handy when I need to know if what I’m writing is interesting.

Besides, with the extensive investigative work I do at Wisconsin Watch, work that often takes several months to produce, it’s refreshing to kick out a short blog post every now and again.

I wouldn’t trade what I’m learning as a reporter. It suits me. In some ways, I’m actually kind of good at it. I get to take part in life and I’ve been truly inspired by the people I’ve met. But I don’t know if I’ll be a reporter forever.

I think careful journalism is a tremendously effective way to engage the public and promote social change. Yet, it’s not the only way. Lawyers, advocates, teachers are doing great work through different means day in day out.

The cool part is that the job skills I’ve gained — yes, even my “social media strategy” — are transferable to other lines of work. And I plan on staying in touch with you along the way.

So go ahead, fax me an email, tweet me a blog, it doesn’t really matter. You know where to find me.

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2 thoughts on “What’s your social media strategy?

  1. Strategy is the word that I have come to dread since all the “crises” started as it dominated all discourses around me. We are no longer thinking, acting or reacting. We are strategizing to outsmart others’ strategy. Life has turned into a war. Is it possible to just keep doing good work while everyone around is so irritatingly strategic? It always is, but it feels a bit like planting tomatoes while shot at. And, hey, military people would tell me, planting tomatoes requires a hell lots of strategy. Maybe “strategy” means just “thinking pragmatically” and forgetting all the distracting beauty of life or reducing it to the pleasures of a victory?

    • Kata,

      Once again, you’ve taken something mundane I’ve written to a deeper level and made it, well, interesting. I really liked your comparison. I’m not sure if this is what you meant, but thinking pragmatically or strategically — however you want to put it — is still my biggest challenge when I write news. I see the world more as a series of interconnected fragments. The linear way a news story is structured may not always accurately reflect reality. Last spring, I tried to write a story about how poverty, race and incarceration affect people of color in Madison. I tried to show how there’s no single cause to poverty and incarceration, but how there’s a sort of fluid interplay between the factors. Long story short, the story was never published. I pitched it, but there were no takers. I realized that as limited as a linear story may be, readers want order. We want to read stories that make sense out of the world around us. What I’ve tried to do is resign myself to the fact that I can never write a story that includes everything. But by peeling off small sections, and writing about them one at a time, I can slowly approach a fuller picture through my work. I wonder how any of this relates to writing fiction? I watched a movie the other day, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and I found myself thinking about the idea that fiction can sometimes approach the truth better than non-fiction can.

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