AP Social Media Lessons

18 Jan

What’s the most important thing for journalists to remember when using social media? That the platforms are extensions of their jobs.

In the updated Associated Press Social Media Guidelines released Tuesday, the first sentence emphasizes this point:

AP’s Social Media Guidelines are based on our Statement of News Values and Principles.

Here are five more tips that journalists should be encouraged to follow, though some of the advice is universal to all social media users:

1. Assume your tweet will be seen by the target of your comment. The person or organization you’re deriding may be one that an AP colleague is trying to develop as a source.

Operating under the premise that this caution is being issued only for when you consider “deriding” someone: More often than not, high-profile tweeters (let’s say 10,000 or more followers) we tweet about don’t see our comments, even if we mention them. They’re receiving so many replies and mentions that it’s unlikely they see them unless A. they follow the person who said it or B. it’s elevated by a large group of people or a someone with a large audience.

“A” makes it more likely, because that person’s tweets will show up in their timeline. So unless you follow thousands of people, potentially making your timeline as hectic as a high-profile account’s mention/reply stream it is much more likely you see something one of your Follows says about you.

As for “B,” if you have a high-profile account yourself, or just say something so outrageous that it catches RT wildfire, it’s also more likely the person you discussed will see it. You never know when someone they follow will RT it into their stream, or when a friend might give them a heads up.

Now what about people who aren’t “high-profile”? Well you can bet they are much more likely to see any post you tag them in, and will care a lot more about the rare time they are discussed in a tweet, even if they aren’t tagged.

And if someone is that “low-profile,” you have to really ask yourself if what you plan to say about them is worth doing so publicly, since they don’t have “public figure” status.

High-profile or not, it usually isn’t worth it. Not only because of the reason AP gives, but also because it will tarnish your reputation. One of two things happen when you “deride” someone on Twitter and they find out. You either get into a public spat where you both look like children, or they take the high road, either by ignoring you or sending a measured response, like this one by SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott, who, by the way, is going through a battle with cancer (his response is outside the quotation marks):

Stuart Scott keeps it classy with one of his haters.

2. A [traditional] retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying.

This is one of my biggest Twitter pet peevers. First of all, if you don’t have anything to add to a tweet, just use the new(er) RT button and let it stand on its own. Unless someone has a protected account, there’s no reason to do a traditional “RT @UserX Tweet here” but not add anything.

When I see that, I think two things: A. The retweeter agrees with what the original tweeter said and has nothing to add. And if that’s the case, again, use the RT button and be down with it. B. This person still agrees with what the original tweeter said and has nothing to add, but they are trying to put their brand (username, headshot, etc.) on someone else’s thoughts. It’s like plagiarism. Call it Plitterism.

One of the most common offenders I see of this act is Nicholas Kristof, a Pulitzer-winning New York Times writer. He’s a social media maven, and I love the info he puts out, but too often he does this:

I can't figure out why Kristof never uses the "new" RT button.

Here was the original tweet:

Catherine Rampell, New York Times economics and theater reporter.

Now he did make some slight alterations (and should have written MT instead of RT, but that’s another story), but apparently only so he remained within the 140-character limit. It’s also worth nothing that this is one of his co-workers, (but that’s not always the case for his traditional RTs,) so it’s unlikely he’s trying to steal from her, rather, he’s promoting her work.

I did send Kristof a reply tweet asking him why he did it like that, but for the reasons mentioned above, he’s unlikely to respond. (He has more than 1.2 million followers.)

As AP also notes in its guidelines, you should be aware of how your RTs could be perceived, especially if you’re a journalist. Sometimes you do need to use a traditional RT to emphasize you are “reporting” the tweet, as opposed to endorsing it. Yes, even if you have that silly disclaimer in your biography that says RTs and follows are not endorsements.

3. …staffers should avoid friending and liking unless they have a true reporting reason for it. If we do friend or “like,” we should avoid interacting with newsmakers on their public pages – for instance, commenting on their posts.

Referring to Facebook, of course (in case “friending” and “like” weren’t dead giveaways), most high-profile politicians and celebrities aren’t going to have private Facebook profiles. If they do, you likely won’t find them, or ever have your friend request accepted. But in cases you do, or when dealing with small-town celebrities, officials, it’s best to heed AP’s advice.

If you do accept an incoming Facebook friendship request, it would be wise to put these people on a list you can easily filter from sensitive photos, status updates or personal information. Generally, though, the only reason you should want to be friends with a source is to monitor their status updates and gain insight into their interests. (And remember, just because you restrict something to a certain group of people, doesn’t mean it’s truly private or restricted.)

As for public pages, which anyone can “like,” you don’t need a request accepted. It’s much easier to monitor these for information and updates, though they are likely to be less personal and revealing. As for commenting on the page, you shouldn’t do so unless you’re crowdsourcing, and even then you should be cautious about tipping competitors off to your story ideas.

One more interesting AP note on this subject: AP managers should not issue friend requests to subordinates. It’s fine if employees want to initiate the friend process with their bosses.

4. Don’t break news on social networks that we haven’t published in AP’s news services.

I love this, but I know plenty of people would disagree. I say, why condition users to check your Twitter feed/Facebook page/other platform for breaking news when you can condition them to come to your site?

Yes, there is brand recognition, and timeliness, and allowing multiple avenues for readers to get breaking news, but advertisers pay you for the UVs and pageviews on your site, not your followers’ timelines.

I have no problem, however, with a tease tweet, or other status update to let people know you’re onto something big and they should head to the site. And nowadays it’s totally acceptable to write a two- or three-sentence post on your site to break news, and filter updates in as they become available. You don’t need to have the whole story to report the news.

Exceptions? If you’re using a service like Storify or CoveritLive, which will feed the messages onto your site automatically. This, of course, assumes you already have a post in progress and the tweets getting fed onto the site are merely updates.

5. Sources discovered [on social media] should be vetted in the same way as a source found by any other means. If a source you encounter on a social network claims to be an official from a company, organization or government agency, call the place of business to confirm the identity, just as you would if a source called on the phone.

I agree with this completely, and I hope it’s obvious to other journalists. There is one part of this section, though with which I disagree:

You must never simply lift quotes, photos or video from social networking sites and attribute them to the name on the profile or feed where you found the material.

My exceptions to this rule: A. If you have previously confirmed an official to be associated with a social media account from which you’re quoting. B. You’re gathering reactions from people who are not primary sources within the story.

For “A” scenarios, and any other time you quote someone via social media, you should attribute the quote as “[social media platform] user [Name/Handle] said…”

Yes, we must exercise caution…

Many athletes, celebrities and politicians have verified Twitter accounts, meaning that Twitter has determined that the account really does belong to that person. However, even Twitter’s verification process has been fooled, meaning we should still do our own checking with the newsmaker. Also, before you quote from newsmaker’s tweets, confirm who is managing the account. Is it the famous person? His or her handlers? A combination? Knowing the source of the information will help you determine just how newsworthy the tweet is and how to characterize it.

… but if you have previously gone through the proper verification process, these accounts are fair game.

I want to emphasize that I’m not encouraging people to use social media comments from unconfirmed accounts as the primary source for a post, just reactions that can supplement coverage, which brings me to…

For “B” scenarios, I’ll just provide you a link to what I consider to be an appropriate example from my time as Bel Air Patch editor.

Those were the five points I was most compelled to discuss, but I encourage you to read the complete guidelines here, and share tips/disagree with me in the comments.

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