Five Keys to Authenticity

A few days ago at the annual APSE convention, I led two sessions on Networked Journalism.  On the way down to Pittsburgh from Rochester in the car, I tried to work out an idea I’ve been playing with for a while.

Authenticity.

Not authority, or reliability, or popularity, but a more difficult to quantify metric that I think is crucial for news organizations trying to engage their community in the social media world.

Here’s a few links I referenced in the discussion as I flipped back and forth between Keynote and Firefox. I’d post my slides, but as usual, my use of slideware rarely tells the whole story.

Later in this post, I’ll include the mp3 I recorded of me talking through the presentation in the car (if you can deal with my hoarse/coughing voice and a couple tollbooths on the Thruway, you might find it interesting, albeit rambling).  That certainly tells the whole story, and a few others as I change lanes and wander off on tangents.

So that’s the backstory.

Five Keys to Authenticity

  1. Be Human
  2. Be Honest
  3. Be Aware
  4. Be Everywhere
  5. Show Your Work

Simple, right?  OK, more details…

1. Be Human

Look, if you’re going to jump into Twitter and Facebook and whatever comes next, in an effort to report or to engage with the community on your beat, or just to have a conversation, you need a name.  And a voice.  Preferably your own.  @nytimes isn’t human, but @pogue certainly is.  @chicagotribune isn’t human, but @coloneltribune absolutely is, which is a bit of a twist since he’s a somewhat fictional character with more than one Tribune employee behind his avatar.  @ricksanchezcnn might be the most human journalist on Twitter.  Using your own name, image, and voice is step one to engaging with the online community on your beat or in your town.  Because if you’re not human, you’re just another robot.

2. Be Honest

It’s easy to treat social media channels like a comment thread or a letter to the editor or an e-mail inbox if you’re not careful.  And if you’re not careful, you might find yourself as defensive and unwilling to admit to a mistake, or a conflict of interest, or an oversight as you might in those other spaces.  Try that on Twitter and you’ll be eaten alive.  Own up to your errors, correct them in public, and disclose whatever needs disclosing without a whole lot of preamble.

3. Be Aware

If you’re the last one to know that your community is profoundly interested in a particular issue, you’ll look like a latecomer when you ask them what they think.  “Be Aware” means this: Listen.  Listen to what’s happening in your online community.  Do it using tools like Google Reader and Tweetdeck, or set up an online nerve center for your department or news organization.  Try using iGoogle, Netvibes, or even FriendFeed to build a one-stop bookmark where everyone in your newsroom can take a quick look at what’s hot in the local blogosphere and social media channels once or twice a day.  If you want to be an active node in your local network, it’s critical that you know what’s important — right now — in the community.

4. Be Everywhere

Once you’re listening for mentions of issues, beats, towns, and people you cover, it becomes infinitely easier to jump into those conversations.  Every time your name, a story you wrote, or your beat comes up in conversation online, you should have the option to drop in and answer questions, ask new ones, follow up, or high-five a member of your community.  Being ubiquitous is a huge part of succeeding in social media.  When every reader is themselves a producer of content and a manager of their own network of friends, followers, and fans, you need to show up like Beetlejuice when they say your name three times.

5. Show Your Work

In print, it’s your job to attribute quotes and information to your sources and provide readers with resources to find out more about the story.

On the Web, and especially in the short-form statusphere, links are the essential means and currency of sourcing your reporting, adding context, and providing your community with a curated stream of complementary content.

If your newsroom’s content management system allows you to add links directly into the text of your own story, you’re in luck.  Go for it.  If not, or if you want to integrate your stream of links into section pages, topic pages, blog sidebars, your Google Reader, Twitter, and Delicious accounts to bring your readers the best of the Web on any social media platform where you engage with them, the collaborative journalism tools at Publish2 have you covered.  [Full disclosure: I work for Publish2.]

Thanks to everyone who came to the sessions at APSE, asked great questions, and shared their successes and failures with the rest of the room.

As promised, here’s the audio of me talking to myself in the car fleshing out the presentation:

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Further reading

Some of the items in this list might look familiar if you spotted my social media guidelines post a few weeks back.  It’s short and sweet, if you’re interested.

If you still need background for newsroom conversations about why you should link to your sources and resources, here’s something I wrote as a guest post at BeatBlogging.org recently on that topic.

Most of what you’ll find on the Web re: authenticity in social media comes from a marketing/PR point of view, but even so, there’s a lot of solid thought on social media for businesses that applies to your news organization.  Try Jeremiah Oywang’s February 2008 post on what it means to be authentic, transparent, and human, for starters.

What’s next?

Get started.  Sign up for Twitter, use Twitter Search and Google Reader, among other tools, to find and follow the online community on your beat.

Participate, listen, and engage with the community every chance you get.  You’ll get as much out of it as you put into it, so find the workflow that works for you, and get started today.

Published by

Ryan Sholin

I'm that guy you know from the Internet.