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10th March 2014
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Social media can ‘bypass’ journalists

Roger Waite, spokesperson for agriculture and rural development presents his case at the Social Media Seminar

Thanks to the suggestion of Leigh Radford, national editor at ABC Rural (part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) – who is Australia’s representative on IFAJ’s executive committee, attendees of International Green Week in Berlin, participated in a seminar on social media.

Radford told delegates that since beginning to post information on social media to make people aware of its programs, ABC Rural has attracted a more diverse audience, including more members of the general public, younger consumers and people from all over the world.

Here is what attendees learned from the seminar:

Social media can ‘bypass’ journalists

Social media channels make it possible for news givers to bypass journalists. This was one of the attention grabbing points made by Roger Waite (@ECspokesRoger), spokesperson for agriculture and rural development at the EU Commission. He was commenting on the use of Twitter in his role and the use of Facebook and Twitter by several EU Commissioners and their spokespersons.

The news giver can publish immediately and achieve a large audience with one tweet, said Waite – who was a journalist before taking on his current job. He strongly recommends journalists join Twitter and follow relevant agricultural accounts such as those of the EU Directorate General for agriculture and rural development (DG AGRI).

As a person involved in publicizing official policy, Waite has found a useful feature of Twitter is that organisations, such as the EU Commission, are able to quickly react to correct a tweet or article in which the writer has mis-informed people, possibly due to misunderstanding or mis-representing the message put out by the Commission. Corrections can be immediate and can achieve reasonable prominence (unlike some corrections that are published in newspapers and other publications).

Waite said, understanding our different audiences and the platforms they use is vital in determining how we communicate with that audience, and reaching them with useful content.

Real time news and information

Twitter is where many of us now go for news, especially political issues – often you’ll find the story there before it hits news sites or television. Tweets that give real-time information, from people who are in the room or other credible sources, are widely shared – the tweet by European Union president Herman van Rompuy straight after the Council summit is a great example of doing this well – it lets people know what happened, and gives an insight into his personal reaction to it. Timeliness, tweeting from events or in reaction to news is good practice. It’s good practice to plan your tweet. Even a press release about a new policy or campaign is news you can have tweets prepared for.

Waite indicated that one example of how DG AGRI is using Twitter to cover live events is by tweeting around the Citizens’ Dialogues events, and using Storify/Scribble live to correct tweets and make new content from the social media discussion.

Overall, participants learned that journalists need to be careful about reporting information picked up from social media – as with any other ‘sources’ of information you might want to report or quote. You must remain skeptical. As for how to verify information, Sue Llewellyn, social media strategist, recommended an online course on verification. For more information about the course contact Jenni Wardle at jenni[at]digitalskillshub.com. Llewellyn advised that this course is definitely not something for beginners.