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Social media for journalists: 10 essential tools

by Alex in |

This is the final post in a series, Social media for journalists.

We all know that social media is transforming the broadcast and publishing businesses. But social media offers journalists at as many useful opportunities as challenges.

This week, I’ve highlighted three of the tools that are most crucial to my own work as a freelance blogger for Oprah.com and Harvard Business Review. Today, I’m rounding those out with 7 more tools that have been essential to my research and writing:

  1. Evernote. My post on 10 ways for journalists to use Evernote explains how this note-taking tool can integrate your note-taking from your computer to the web to your smartphone, and back again.
  2. LinkedIn: This professional social-networking site can help you find sources; that’s just 1 of 5 ways for journalists to use LinkedIn.
  3. iGoogle: Google’s personalized home page can be used as a social media monitoring dashboard to track news and research stories; I identified 9 feeds for you to add to your dashboard.
  4. Delicious: If you are still relying on your web browser to keep track of the sites you visit or may need to reference, it’s time to switch to delicious. Delicious stores all your bookmarks in an online database, so you can access any of your bookmarks from any Internet-connected computer. Bookmarking your own stories is a great way to build up and manage a clippings file. And when you’re researching a topic that is so big or broad that you’re swimming in Google results, a delicious search can help you find just the most useful online resources — the web pages that lots of people have found useful enough to bookmark.
  5. Gist: Gist is the ultimate crib sheet for anyone who meets or speaks with a lot of people in the course of a week, and needs to know what they’re thinking about before the meeting. It creates a profile for anyone in your contact list or calendar, and shows you what they’ve been tweeting, blogging or facebooking. Read my overview of Gist here.
  6. Skitch: If you like to include images in your online stories, or simply capture online images as part of your research process, Skitch can make the process lots easier. Just use Skitch to select the part of your screen you want to snap, annotate it if you’d like, and save it or post it to the web. Once it’s been webposted, you can tweet it or embed it in a story. Mac-only, I’m afraid.
  7. Twitter: Just in case there are any journalists out there who have yet to create a Twitter account…go do it right now, and choose the shortest possible username that is still clearly you (i.e. use some variant of your byline, not a cute name like 2K00L2TWEET). Your readers want a way to refer to you in their tweets (e.g. Another great op-ed from @NYTimesRich on need for Obama to take on corporate interests destroying this country.”) even if you aren’t actively tweeting yourself, though ideally you will also use Twitter to let your loyal readers/viewers know about each new story of yours that goes live. You can also use Twitter to engage your audience and get help with your work by asking for examples, sources or other kinds of story input. And be sure to thank those fans who tweet and retweet your content! My Twitter 101 piece for Oprah.com is here if you need help getting started.
  8. Bit.ly: You should use a link shortener like bit.ly to create a memorable, relevant short link for every story you write or broadcast (assuming the story is available online). It’s a lot easier for people to tell their friends about a story at http://bit.ly/jrnlst than to remember http://yournewspapername.com/20101028/yourname/story-title-all-written-out And if your stories have staying power, you may want to tell people about them in the future — which is easier if you’ve given those classic pieces a memorable shortlink. See this blog post for more on URL shorteners.
  9. Topsy: You should keep track of (and as much as possible, respond to) people who mention you on Twitter. But lots of people may be sharing your stories without referring to you by your Twitter handle; seeing how much your content gets shared, and how people comment on it, can be both encouraging and useful to your work. Topsy is a site that lets you track how many people have tweeted about a particular URL; it works on shortened links, too, so your content includes everyone who has tweeted a bit.ly, tr.im or other URL-shortened version of your story. For example, here’s the Topsy page for my last HBR post: it shows me that it’s one of the 100 most-tweeted posts from HBR, and clicking on “influential” lets me see tweets from widely-followed tweeters; a nice thank-you to each of those tweeters lets them know the username behind the post they shared.
  10. Google Docs: Now that it’s got Etherpad-quality realtime collaborative editing, Google Docs is a fantastic tool for supporting collaboration among journalists or between journalists and editors. Scott Berinato at Harvard Business Review gave me an awesome crash course in turning oral interviews into great copy by editing my first draft in Google Docs while I watched; since he was in Boston and I was in Vancouver, it was the only way he could talk me through his edits in real time. More on the value of great editing here.

If these tools sound like they could be as useful to bloggers as they are to journalists — or for that matter, to a wide range of other professionals — they are. In fact, many of these are tools that I started using with one of my other hats on (social media strategist, research director, mother) but adopted and adapted for my work as a writer.

And that’s what it takes to make the most of social media today. Continuous exploration, continuous innovation, and a willingness to adapt tools until they suit your own purposes: that’s what will help you build your journalistic toolkit.

First posted on October 29,2010

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