Liz Heron of New York Times: How to be distinctive in social media

I’m doing my News Rewired blogging a bit out of order because I’m also doing moderator duty.

Liz Heron, the social media editor for the New York Times, kicked off News Rewired.

She succinctly summed up the goal of the New York Times with social media as:

Engaging users without wavering from our high journalistic standards.

She started by talking about how social media had moved into the mainstream in newsrooms. In 2010, she and her team were focused on evangelising, but in 2011, her team was in demand due to events such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Some 400 New York Times journalists are on Twitter, and she said that 50 journalists had enabled the subscribe feature in Facebook. She said that a Times’ reporter reached out to Facebook users for a story about students and depression. The reporter interviewed dozens of people on Facebook and had a sidebar focusing just on the comments on Facebook.

She gave another example of using social media to enhance New York Times’ journalism. On the recent story that they did looking at labour conditions at Apple contract manufacturer Foxconn in China, they translated the story into Mandarin and released this on Chinese social media, gathering comments there that then supplemented the main story.

As social media has moved to the mainstream of journalism she said it was becoming more of a challenge to become distinctive. Adam Tinworth, who has an excellent live blog of the session, had this great insight from Liz:

The question is no longer “wether to engage” on social media, but how to distinguish themselves from  others doing it. And how do they scale as new platforms emerge?

In focusing on being distinctive, she said that they had to pick and choose from new platforms. She said that Google+ originally “flummoxed” them. She said Google+ had a “very exciting but very uncertain future”. However, they have found that Google+ has some deep discussions and a “potentially revolutionary feature” with Hangouts.

The Times is also evaluating Tumblr and Quora.

Her three tips for news organisation social media success:

  • Be strategic.
  • Be different.
  • Strive for meaningful interactions. “Don’t be content to skate on social media’s surface.”

The first question came from Darren Waters of MSN who asked how to measure success.

A lot of people will focus on traffic, but they were looking more at engagement metrics. She also said the Times asked:

Did we get something out of journalistic value? Were we there first with the story? Did we start an excellent conversation? Did we get our content out there in the global conversation?