Social Media

For all the wisdom of how to do ‘social media’, surely only 4 rules are needed to keep out of trouble

This post popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, shared by a friend:

GMP Salford

As social media posts go on behalf of an organisation, it probably deserves a place in presentations about how to get it right.

It makes a serious point, is written in a friendly, engaging manner and achieves the right balance of humour with an underlying message: Fly tipping isn’t on.

In theory, such posts should be easy for anyone to do, regardless of their role in the organisation: Think like a human, talk like a human.


No, the 2015 general election was not the social media election


One of the many predications given ahead of the 2015 general election was that it was going to be ‘the social media election.’

Similar predictions were made in 2010, but in hindsight it really wasn’t. But what about 2015?

I suppose it depends how you define what it would it would take to remember a general election by the impact social media had on it. So my conclusion is that no, rather like 2010, social media did not define the general election. Therefore 2015 was not the social media election.

That’s not to say it didn’t have a much bigger impact on the journalism surrounding the 2015 general election than ever before. It certainly did. In 2010, Twitter was still treated with suspicion or outright contempt by many journalists. Facebook was still, for the majority of journalists, a personal, rather than professional, space.

In 2015, social media sat at the centre of media coverage of the general election. Sky News built a whole part of its election website around social discussion, breaking out sentiment by age and sex, for example. 

The Press Association ran a UK politics page for Facebook, Tweets were referenced in content everywhere, and politicians and political parties were alert to the fact any post from them on social media was likely to attract mainstream media attention quickly.

But that’s where I think it fell down somewhat. Social media, for many politicians, remains a broadcast tool. It might have sat at the heart of election strategies – the Tories are rumoured to have spent fortunes on Facebook advertising – but the communication was very much one way.

And until that changes, I struggle to see how we can ever have a social media election – because until politicians realise that they need to have individual conversations on social media in the same way they do on the doorstep, they won’t be harnessing the power of social media properly.

To say social media is a powerful tool for change is rather like remarking that water is wet. Campaigns are won within days. The Manchester Evening News raised £1.4m in 24 hours for a burning dogs homes, thanks largely to people sharing on social media. Petitions, such as the one for a parliamentary debate on Hillsborough, reach their 100,000 target in days thanks to sharing on Twitter. Yet faced with the potential to connect with a large number of people, politicians seem determined to keep just shouting at them.

Indeed, at times Twitter’s best attribute to politicians has seemed to be the 140-character limit, providing politicians with a way to say as little as possible, but still get their message across. It’s not supposed to be like that.

There are exceptions, of course. Nicola Sturgeon has been widely acclaimed for her use of Twitter. She’s far from the first to be good on social. Ed Balls used to be active too, once giving me directions to a football ground. So to was John Prescott, once balling me out for disagreeing with him. But for every great political Twitter account i mention to someone, I invariably get back the question: “Ah, but do you know if s/he writes it themselves?”

The answer is that I don’t know. But what I do know is that the big political parties treat social media the same way they do every other form of communication: The more people you can reach for the least amount of effort, the better.

And while that approach works when determining the merit of a wrap in a local newspaper, or buying Facebook advertising, it misses the point of social media entirely. And as a result, the likes of Sturgeon are few and far between.

This isn’t a ‘let’s bash social media’ blog. It’s hopefully a ‘let’s get real’ blog post. Social media works so well because it fits into people’s lives, and reflects the real world too. Treat Twitter like you would going into the pub is a common piece of advice. Reply to people, and listen to them, is another. Be useful is another. The political parties miss all of these points but probably pat themselves on the back for the reach of a Tweet or Facebook post.

An MP last autumn boasted to me: “My local newspaper only sells 10,000 copies a week but a post on my Facebook people can be seen by 40,000 people. What do you think of that?”

In hindsight, my reply should have been: “I think you should focus on talking to people locally, rather than getting carried away by meaningless global numbers, you nugget.” Sadly, it wasn’t.

Social media does have the power to determine an election in the future, in a far more democratic way than any traditional media outlet could ever claim to do (and let’s be frank, has The Sun really ever won an election, or has it just always ensured it’s backing the winning horse?)

The right party, with the right message, could do exactly what Barack Obama did a decade ago and bring together many people and secure a victory against the odds. But do so requires people to buy into the message, and buy into the person presenting that message. For that to happen requires personal relationships and engagement on social media.

As any newsroom social media editor will tell you, social media isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work to maintain relationships. But if you get it right, the rewards are there.

The social media election can happen – but only once politicians start treating networks as more than just an extra channel for an off-the-shelf party political broadcast.

So succeed at social, you need to succeed at being human. That’s where I fear our mainstream parties go wrong.

Try It Tuesday:

The aim of Try It Tuesday – if it can be as bold as an aim – is to share a tool a week which might be useful to journalists. It might be new, it might be old but forgotten, or it might be somewhere inbetween. It’ll be something I’ve found useful though and one I’d suggest spending 10 minutes getting to know. 


What? is social networking at its most hyperlocal. Those behind it have been busy writing to millions of homes across the UK urging people to sign up and share local information. Those receiving a letter get a code which automatically selects an area for them to be added to, with the option to opt in to some nearby ones too.

Why? For journalists, especially those with a district beat or patch, Streetlife has the potential to be a great source of stories. I’ve tried it for a few areas and the quality of comment and debate does vary, but in some cases is exceptional. I know of editors in London active on it in their communities, with the most successful ones being the journalists who add to conversations in a way which helps people, rather than just using it to source stories.

The daily update email has become something I read every day. If I’m doing that as a local resident, surely it’s useful to journalists?

Other Try It Tuesday ideas can be found here

18 tools for journalists covering elections

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1. Yatterbox

A great tool originally designed for marketing folk to keep up to date with what is being said about their brand. Select the people or places (eg constituencies) you want to be alerted about when they are referenced, and it’s job done. Works with several social networks but is at its best on Twitter.


2. Facebook interests

Facebook Interests are essentially like Twitter lists, allowing you to build up a list of pages around a particular theme which you can then find very quickly. Once an interests list is created, it should be easy to access on the left-hand side of your desktop page. All activity from the pages you add to an interest list then appear in the same way other posts do on your feed. Given Facebook’s feed generally tries to serve you what it thinks you want, rather than just everything (like Twitter), Facebook Interests ensures you have an easy way to see everything from pages which are important for the election, such as candidates or campaign groups. More details on interests here.


27 ways Yodel brings people together on Twitter

Followers on Twitter will know I’ve had two run-ins with Yodel this Christmas. On the first occasion, the delivery man didn’t knock or leave a card. It was only when I’d checked online I realised my parcel had been delivered to a house down the street. The customer services woman was surprised something like this could happen.

Had she looked on Twitter, she wouldn’t have been.

Then came my appalling attempt at sales shopping on Boxing Day. Gap sent the order out via Yodel. Nothing arrived. I checked online at 2.40pm and by chance the Yodel website told me it had been delivered at 2.34pm. Which was a surprise as the doorbell didn’t ring, no card was left and a quick check of the nearby neighbours revealed no parcel left there.

Yodel’s call centre people – who operate on a scale between friendly but useless and incompetent and rude – insisted I’d signed for it. I rang again, and was told it was at a house about five minutes walk away. Only it wasn’t. As I write this, Yodel are still to tell me where my parcel is because they are waiting to interview the driver, and they don’t work New Year’s Day.

But I’ve found my parcel. Or rather, a house down the street did. In the box they sell eggs from at the end of their drive. Silly me, why didn’t I think to look there for the parcel I’d never signed for which apparently was at a house up the street.

Still, I used to think that few things unite people quite like Christmas. Or a good Cup run. But it appears, searching for Yodel on Twitter, nothing unites people quite like having to deal with Yodel.

The 27 stages of Yodel Hell are outlined below. Merry Christmas. And thanks, Twitter!


Making Twitter work in print

Twitter, as most journalists know, is a great tool for journalists to get stories, share stories, form communities and get reaction.

But making Twitter work in print – a challenge for any newsroom which has to deal with the twin platforms of print and online – can often result in a disappointing experience for the reader.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that Twitter’s character limit – 140 characters per tweet – has resulted in a mini dictionary of short-cut terms which are fully understood on Twitter, but look a little odd out of context.


Still debating the merits of taking Facebook seriously as a journalist? Facebook might just be about to change your mind…

Facebook’s success depends entirely on the relevance of the feed which appears when people first log in, so it’s no surprise that the secret formula which lies behind that service is constantly under review.

Trying to work out how to make the most of that feed has much in common with some of the more darkish arts which surround making the most of search engine optimisation … with similar repercussions dished out by both Google and Facebook if it thinks people are gaming their systems to get a better show. 

Facebook today announced a couple of new changes to Facebook feeds which should be of particular interest to journalists seeking to ensure the content they produce reaches the widest possible audience.


Social media: How knowing how Jeff effs gives you a competitive advantage on social media


Using social media properly means that a last minute dash to the story won’t happen to you.

Swearing. Your parents might have told it’s not big or clever … but when it comes to getting the most out of Twitter, a tactical use of f***, f***ing or s**t could take you a very long way. Joanna Geary, head of news partnerships at Twitter, proved two things when she spoke at the Revival of Local Journalism conference in MediaCity on Wednesday. The first was that the best way to keep a conference audience awake as they enter their post-lunch sleepy phase is to say the thing they least expect. The second was that to get the most out of Twitter, you have to understand the people you are following and how they use Twitter. Which is why a clever Tweetdeck column with a selection of choice words set up as the filter can be the difference between you spotting that first reference to a big story, and just being part of the pack: (more…)

Spin doctors and social media: Can public bodies be trusted to tell it straight?

Harsh but true … but how many public bodies are getting social all wrong?

There’s a theory, normally floated by press officers at organisations who feel they get a raw deal from the the local Press that they don’t actually need the local press any more.

The theory goes that, well, no-one reads local newspapers any more so they don’t have much impact and, well, there’s social media. We’ll talk to people directly! We’re the council/police/hospital, people trust us. And so on.

Previously, that theory didn’t involve social media, it was the rationale for creating council newspapers, with the added benefit of being able to spend tens of thousands of pounds of council advertising budget on getting a one-sided message across.

Now, however, that theory is bust. Reporters who previously saw their stories read by a diminishing number of newspaper readers now know the number reading them online is going up by the day. A story which begins life in a local newsroom can go across the country within minutes. Tesco knows this – which is why its marketing director tells his teams to take queries from local journalists seriously.

Social media is a two-way street for journalists. It makes it easier to get past the myriad of press relation regulations local public organisations have in place,  but it also gives those public bodies the chance to speak to people directly.

The question I want to pose is this:  Is that access to the public being abused?