Sree Sreenivasan levels the social media playing field

Sree Sreenivasan, social media expert and journalism professor at Columbia University. Photo by Rebecca Wickel.

Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at Columbia University, knows the Web. He was named one of Poynter’s 35 social media influencers, founded SreeTips to share his wisdom and considers himself a tech evangelist.

The media leader presented at the Society of Professional Journalist’s annual Excellence in Journalism Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Sept. 20, sharing his expertise with aspiring reporters and seasoned writers alike. He stressed the importance of understanding social media beyond the definitions of hashtag and follower, because it is the future of the reporting industry. According to him, social journalism, reporting in which audiences are participators, is here to stay.

“The future of journalism is digitized and specialized,” Sreenivasan said. “But it also is more socialized. You are responsible in part for your own audience.”

This specialized media landscape takes no prisoners–according to Sreenivasan, developing nations have the fastest Facebook growth rate and will continue to dominate the social media scene. Journalists must pay attention to the globalization of social media because it will bring international stories closer to home, and force the 24-hour news cycle to move even faster.

For example, when U.S. Adm. James Stavridis announced the end of NATO involvement in Libya, he did so on Facebook. More than 30 minutes before a press release was distributed and more than an hour before the first press conference, the news was interjected into the social stream. Why? Sreenivasan took a guess.

“By putting this on Facebook first, he made himself relevant,” he said. “He did an important thing to get attention and serviced the people who already follow him.”

Graphic by Rebecca Wickel.

Sreenivasan said this is the key to attracting new followers, a major concern for most journalists. He recommends reporters focus on providing content that interests the audiences that already rely on them. Once journalists are established as relevant and responsible, they will get more followers.

Although it may seem like Sreenivasan has mastered the social media success equation, he admits that there is no guarantee.

“Almost everyone will miss almost everything you do on social media,” he said.

But the upside, according to him, is this is nothing new. As a writer, most people will miss your stories. As a photographer, most people will probably never see them. He recommends not being discouraged, but seeing it as an opportunity to change the status quo. Social media allows journalists to drive audiences to their work, so everyone should be taking advantage.

Of course, audiences might miss the good stuff and find the mad. Social media comes with great responsibility, Sreenivasan said.  The best way to avoid being caught doing something bad is don’t do it at all. Never say anything bad on social media and stay independent. If a reporter must have a personal page, Sreenivasan said they must learn how to make groups.

“Mama lied,” he said. “Mama always told you don’t label people. But in social media, labels are a good thing.”

Sreenivasan recommended making separate groups, especially on platforms like Google+ and Facebook, and give each group different access.

He encouraged all journalists to change the media diet–spend time digesting and understanding social media trends. It brings eyeballs to a reporter’s work, and at the end of the day, if no one watches, reads or engages with content, he said there’s no reason to be a reporter at all.

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