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8 Things I Learned in a Newsroom That Apply to Social Media

As someone who spent the first 8 years of my career working in a couple of (fantastic) TV newsrooms, I feel fortunate to have landed in social media marketing. That’s because it offers many of the same characteristics I loved about news, as well as a constant stream of opportunities to learn something new. Each day I am amazed by just how many lessons I learned in the newsroom that are applicable to social media marketing, both in general and specifically for the elective healthcare industry. I wanted to share a few of these tidbits:

1. Be Conversational

Journalists are bombarded with press releases that are riddled with clichés and jargon. It’s necessary, of course, for law enforcement groups interested in accuracy and efficiency. But it’s difficult to use in a 20-second story. When writing for TV, one of the earliest (and toughest) lessons to learn is to see beyond the jargon and just say what happened. A few examples, with more conversational alternatives:

  • The subject was extricated from the vehicle. Rescue workers pulled the man from the car.
  • The suspect fled on foot with an unknown amount of money. He took off with some cash.
  • The structure fire remains under investigation. Investigators still aren’t sure what caused it.

This is also crucial when writing social media posts. It’s best to avoid wordy, passive sentences and just be yourself. It’s possible even if you’re a business or organization. Here’s an example I like from #ShareSLO, a group that uses social media to promote all things San Luis Obispo County.

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You don’t have to use big words. You don’t even need to use complete sentences. Just be honest, and be conversational. It’s a little tough … until one day, it’s not. Give it a try. Make your own list of banned phrases (promotional offer, limited time, etc.) and put it on your desk. Avoid them and watch your brand’s personality truly shine.

2. Be Concise

You’ve probably heard the quote that goes, “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.” Being concise is also important with news and especially with social media, where characters and time are often limited. I personally like to apply the old jewelry rule-of-thumb. Before you leave the house every day, take something off. Before you post it, take something out. It will be less tacky, I promise. Being concise shows respect for your Fans, and it’s also favored by our friends at Facebook lately, who say without News Feed algorithms, you’d potentially be shown 1,500 “stories” per day.

3. Put People First

Like news, social media is about people. For journalists, it means finding the “human angle” rather than just talking about the nuts and bolts. You can report about a fire in acres burned and dollars lost, but if you’re not showing the family of 5 displaced from their home, you don’t have the human angle, and viewers are less likely to feel connected. With social media, find the human angle. If you sell a product or service that helps people (as most businesses do), it won’t be difficult to pinpoint. (I also wrote about putting people first in this past blog post.)

4. Be Prepared for a 24/7 Cycle

I once saw a comic that read, “If they are vacuuming and you’re still at work, it’s time to look for a new job.” While I don’t necessarily agree with this, I did find humor in it during long shifts in the newsroom. The funny (and exciting) thing about news is that the “news” has a way of happening when people are off work. Journalists are conditioned to a 24/7 news cycle with the understanding that just because you are not at work, that doesn’t mean the work stops. Social media is like that. You never know when a timely comment on a Facebook post might strike, and it’s likely to happen when your Fans are on their off-time. When and how you respond may be the difference between earning — or not earning — the lead. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your Page, even if you aren’t at work.

5. “The Devil Is in the Details”

I had a news manager once who used this phrase. It’s as true with scripts as it is with social media posts, blog posts, and emails. It’s not likely to be the content of the newsletter that will sneak up to bite you, but the link that you didn’t test that is broken. As someone who is not naturally detail-oriented, I have to force myself to always check and double-check my work. I’ve always admired those who can do this on the fly, when the deadline is now. If you have written a series of Facebook posts, take them off the screen. Print them out, grab a pen, and take a closer look at your work. You can be fast without being hasty. It’s a skill that just takes a lot of sharpening.

6. Be Visual

My mom always said, “People eat with their eyes.” I think she meant don’t make a mess of the lasagna before the next person gets to it. But it also applies to news — and social media marketing. People digest your posts with their eyes before they dive in and read them. In the TV world, boring visuals will get you nowhere. No one wants to see the old, reused video (file video) of an empty city council chamber when talking about the council’s decision to save an endangered species. Show the beautiful bird instead, or the noisy construction putting it in danger. Unless of course your story is about the fact that the line to get into the city council meeting stretched down the street. In that case, you can show some of it. In social media, you need to find new, visual ways to tell your story. Don’t use file photos of your product. Be creative. Show your customers using it in unique places. I love how the makers of Tile, a tiny chip you can use to track just about anything, did this:

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7. (Please) Don’t Give It Away

One of the paramount benefits of social media for business is the opportunity to bring people from your business Page to your website, with the ultimate goal of having those people convert into customers. In news, I equate this to the so-called “teases” before the commercial break. This is your chance to get people to stick around and see more of what you have to offer. The mistake some writers will make is giving away the story in the tease. A couple of quick examples:

Bad: A local man who died last week gave away millions to charity. Coming up, we’ll hear from neighbors who say they had no idea he had any money saved at all.

Better: People in Arroyo Grande never paid much attention to their neighbor, who died after keeping mostly to himself. But coming up, just wait until you hear what they think of him now … after his attorney revealed his big secret.

In the second example, the viewer has a reason to stick around. When writing social media posts, give your Fans and Followers some of the information, but leave enough to the imagination so they’ll follow through and visit your site. Do tread lightly with strictly click-baiting phrases (“what happened next will shock you,” when it’s not actually shocking), which are now penalized by some sites, including Facebook. Oh, and when your Fans do get to your site, make sure the information they find is worth their time, so they pull up a chair and stay a while.

8. When in doubt, leave it out.

Finally, there is a little voice inside of you that will tell you when something may not be right. Believe me, it may tell you at the most inconvenient time, when “blowing up the rundown,” so to speak, is anything but convenient. There is a saying in news that goes, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Maybe you are making an assumption, or the information you have just seems to be off. Listen to that voice. Leave it out. It will save you a lot of sleep at the end of the day.

You may think social media marketing isn’t life-or-death, and that it’s “just Facebook.” But in my case, when a board-certified plastic surgeon’s reputation (or medical license) is on the line, it matters.


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