In the past three weeks I’ve found myself giving social media 101 lessons to coworkers.  Two thoughts simultaneously crashed in my mind.  “Aren’t we beyond 101?” SLAMS into “W00t! We’re here!”  Working with social media has become such a part of my daily life and work, that I forget that others are still testing the waters.

This is something I can’t forget.  As a journalist working to progressively move news beyond the traditional I can’t move forward independently while others are taking their first steps.  I can’t because it’s not all about me.  I’m not working just for me.  I am working to keep journalistic efforts relevant in many places.  This work may get me places but it won’t get the masses there without me and without other like me running back and forth to spread the good news.

I believe I and others need to push boundaries that make others shake in their boots.  Sure these boot shakers may be proven right in the end, but we may just end up finding the equivalent of the next great thing to peanut butter and jelly in this world of news we journalists love.  It’s sort of like every thinker and inventor who pushed to make even the smallest change that bettered our future.

Thomas Edison didn’t back down from perfecting the electric light bulb.  He built upon what was already out there, he went through thousands of tests, and eventually lighted the world.  He of course knew what he had achieved but then he took the time to explain it and show it. (Yes, I’ve been watching America The Story of Us.)

I still believe the beginning for any person, company, or organization looking at using social media, the beginning is answering the question of Why.  Once you know why you want to use these networks, then you can make goals and plans. (BTW social media is much more than Facebook and Twitter.)

At this point I ask myself as a journalist, “What’s next? And, how can I be a part of getting the news there?”  Is the answer in the delivery of the news, in the marketing of the news, or in collaboration of the news?  Yes to each of these.

Next I ask, “Is what I am doing relevant to the story?  Am I adding or detracting to the story?”  I gage my actions on these answers.  Social media only works in TV news when it adds value, gives the story context, for all viewers, but especially the viewer who doesn’t use social media.

For most TV news stations the beginning use of social media was showing Tweets and Facebook postings from viewers in relation to stories.  This practice continues and sometimes it adds to the story, sometimes it detracts.  TV producers have got to get past this practice alone be progressive in reaching current and potential viewers.

I have a couple of next steps producers can take:

Maps are used all the time in telling stories.  Take this one step further to use an interactive map (not just the cool traffic report graphics and maps stations use.)  During a large scale breaking news or developing news situation, always check to see if Project EPIC has a map started.  I sat and watched in amazement during the Four Mile Fire in Boulder as the map developed and grew.  It became a living tool that allowed everyone to contribute information.

Or start your own Google map where anyone can add to it.  A couple of months ago I created a Colorado Snow Report map.  During snow storms I add information I receive on the news desk to the map, which includes information and pictures.   I build up the map and encourage others to add their own content as well.  This map at any time can be shown during a newscast to help people visualize the storm beyond their own homes and beyond the live news crews reporting from the field.

View Colorado Snow Report in a larger map

Maps usually aren’t scary because they are controlled by the news department.  An interactive, collaborative map takes that control out of our hands.   Take a breath and realize this really is no different than taking witness sound during breaking news.  A reporter can’t confirm a witness report during that situation. 
When I run the interactive map I take the time and do the work necessary to confirm what others are posting on the map.  I also do what I can to keep the map clean by deleting posts that are no longer relevant, like a report of an accident after it is cleaned up.

Another step is to provide a play list of news because people want on-demand, buffet style news.  There are so many different online streams of news now, your story can get lost.  You can specialize the buffet by using an application or site like Storify to create one place for all your stories and information to be found.   Embed, post and share your buffet of news. 

Then use all of your resources (newscast, newspaper, social media accounts, etc.) to send people to your website to check out all you've been able to incorporate into the story.  Our journalism industry was built on the written word, then radio, then TV and now Internet.  Internet brings it all together.  Mobile technology is growing as fast as the TV makers did.  Apps for our websites are truly a necessity now, but if an App doesn’t exist, use existing outside Apps that can take your news mobile.

I can’t stress enough how much conversation and collaboration are necessary to be seen and heard out of all that exists online.  You must be willing to be unconventional and to work in ways you probably haven’t done before.  The online world is a monster that changes and evolves.  You can either be happy doing what others are doing, or you can be a part of the evolution.

Twitter and Facebook can power a revolution.  We journalists can power our own revolution.  Just remember, it's not just about you.  Take the time to share and to teach what you know.

What do you know?  What have you tried lately - fail or success?