Social media skills and the decline of the fourth estate?

A survival guide for journalists and the marketing profession

The revelation that taking notes and time management are considered more important journalistic skills than understanding social media, has caused quite a stir.

The worrying conclusion from the National Council for the Training of Journalists has been described as a suicide note for the industry and angered the likes of Martin Belam, internet architect at the Guardian.

With the debate in full swing, we ask ourselves just what social media skills journalists – and for that matter PR people and the wider marketing industry – actually need? We do a lot of social media training for the likes of Sony, The Telegraph, Indesit and the General Medical Council and we are the official trainers for the IDM. We think the core social media survival skills are:

Master new technology

Laptop, iPhone and BlackBerry – what more technology does a PR or journalist need? A lot. Social media is built on technology, the user friendly technology that has turned millions of people into publishers and content creators. It means knowing WordPress from Drupal, a widget from a plugin, the difference between Pagerank and Edgerank. With the growth of social search, understanding SEO tools is another important area.

Develop stories into a content strategy

A good journalist and PR instinctively know what makes a good story. Harnessing the power of social media is about using these stories or content and making them sharable across the different social platforms. In other words the development of a content strategy – something you can’t do unless you actively participate in social media.

Harness the power of communities

Social media provides a platform for communities of interest, passion and profession to thrive. Understanding where to find these online communities, how to learn from them and how to engage with them is very important.

Understand social analytics

Column inches, circulation and the dodgy old advertising equivalent value have been the mainstay of PR measurement for far too long. In contrast social media provides hundreds of potential KPIs, covering not just reach but engagement, sentiment (it’s never perfect) and actions (i.e click-throughs). Understanding the value of social media means having a more analytical mind that can decipher the relationship between things like retweets, comments and authority. Most PR people and journalists didn’t choose the career option to deal with numbers, or pore over charts to extract their meaning, but optimisation is a key part of social media success.

Social media skills for the next generation

PR people and journalists are great communicators, they know how to build relationships and they know how to dig out compelling content. None-the-less, no one from any industry, let alone the marketing industry and journalism can afford not to up-skill. The impact of social media is already being felt on society and many of these changes will be irrevocable.

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