Amy Bartner is social media editor at The Indianapolis Star. In this interview, conducted by email, she talks about her job, her transition into it from reporting and careers in social media.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?
A. My job is one part strategy and one part sitting behind the wheel of our main-branded accounts. Or, two parts strategy and one part account-manning (or the vice-versa), depending on the day.
I plan and brainstorm creative new ways for reporters to reach readers, wherever those readers might be. This ranges anywhere from a “check to see if you can find the subject of the story on Facebook” to a multi-faceted strategy for number of posts, fan engagement and acquisition like one we created for the Super Bowl.
When it’s not bigger-picture stuff, I’ll work to constantly feed the beast that is social media. It’s like laundry — it’s never done.
Q. You use a lot of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. How do you decide where to concentrate your efforts?
A. I’ll go where I know people are. Sound like a stupid answer? I have good reasons, I swear. If I hear multiple people (my friend? My family? If my mom knows, we’re too late) talking about a service, I’ll go there.
Then, I’ll watch the numbers. Number of users on any given site is tops, but number of interactions within the site is important, too. There are fewer users on Twitter than on Facebook, but the number of tweets sent out daily more than doubles that number of people with Twitter accounts, which gives it much more value.
Same goes for Google+ — its marketers/developers would have you believe it’s not as empty as we all might think, but the number of shares/interactions on it is pitiful compared with Facebook, Twitter — the big ones.
You have to also pay attention to new, rising sites. We should be early adopters, but there’s no reason to be first and waste resources. Watch the community for a little while — because, as we all know, each social media site has its own little ecosystem with built-in protocols and rules — and develop a start-up plan. THEN join. I’m not saying to wait months, but there’s no sense in rushing.
The next thing I’ll look at is the amount of traffic directed from those avenues to our site. A rising social media site will direct traffic to our news site, whether we’re there or not. Which brings me to the last thing to look for: It doesn’t matter if it does direct traffic to us. If our readers are there, we need to be there, too. Period. (And then figure out a way to get them to us.)
Q. You were a reporter before becoming a social media editor. What skills did you keep during that transition, and which ones did you have to learn in the new job?
A. I had heard all through college that it was important to be a reporter before moving to any other spot in the newsroom, and I don’t know that I really ever believed it until I became social media editor. But because of my background, I’m incredibly anal about the voice and tone of everything I push out on social media, whether it’s from my own account or The Star’s.
It’s in AP style. It’s in English. I triple-check every link I sent out. It’s vetted, verified and correct — just as it would be if it were in a story.
That’s what separates us from the rest of the world. We’ve been trained to be accurate and quick, above all else. I’m not sure why some view social media as a reason to throw all that we were taught in journalism school out the window, but it’s not.
As for skills I had to learn, I had to learn to be engaging and more or less (stealthily) demand the conversation. When I was a faceless byline on a newsprint page (or, even a webpage), I often didn’t see that conversation taking place.
So I’ve had to learn how our audience works and direct that interaction accordingly. And, speaking of interaction, social media is the epitome of a two-way street. Readers not only want journalists to be responsive, they expect them to be. This is a hard thing for many classically trained journalists who were never taught to be part of the story or to put their own voice in, or even to interact with readers.
Q. What advice do you have for someone looking to go into a career in social media?
This career is in great demand, and I don’t think we fully realize where it’s going to go. I’d love to have a team of people at my news organization who strategize and plan for each section of the newsroom and who are constantly on and interacting 24/7. Not only that, but because social media affects so much of our audience’s lives, I believe this is a missed beat opportunity in most newsrooms.
Many of the students I’ve met don’t know their value in this area and how much they can truly help journalists who were out in the field before social media. So, students: You’re invaluable and no matter how much you’ve been told that being on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. is a waste of time in class, stay current and read everything you can. When you’re in the real world, you’ll become a resource. Seriously.
Follow Amy Bartner on Twitter.