By Charles B. Wendt
Tasha Cain-Gray is the digital content producer for KXLY 4 News in Spokane, Washington. She has worked for WSTP news in Tampa Bay as their Brightside digital content producer working the morning shifts from 3 a.m, to noon. UM student Charles B. Wendt recently spoke with Cain-Gray on the best practices for social media and how journalists should handle today’s technological age. Below is a transcript of their conversation, edited slightly for clarity.
Q: What is your favorite platform to post stories to and how do you cater your content to different platforms?
A: My favorite platform to post stories to is Instagram. YouTube is a close second though. What I like about these platforms is the ability to curate your content a little better. With Facebook and Twitter, you get the newsfeed. Yay, I guess. But with Instagram and YouTube, you have the ability to get more creative. On IG you can use the “swipe up” (now link) feature in the stories. You can use a combination of photos and videos to market your hard work. Plus, I like to think of IG as a story “art gallery” where I’m the curator. Then with YouTube, I like how sharable it is. You can embed related videos into other stories and post the links to other social media platforms.
When it comes to catering to the different platforms, I just break it down into what I use each one for.
Facebook is for interactions. The stories I post there are more thoughts and feeling provoking. I pick stories that, how I like to say, “stir the pot but don’t get me caught in the kitchen.”
IG is a more laid back. It’s shorter, more consumable visual stories. What is the greatest photo or soundbite from this what will make people stop scrolling?
Twitter is for breaking news. It’s short, sweet and to the point. One thing I’m really working on at my new station is having one Twitter voice. That goes a long way when it comes to being consistent and giving your followers what they want. I mean, think about the Wendy’s [the restaurant chain] Twitter. Several people probably run it, but they keep the sass at a constant 10.
Q: When is the ideal time to post one of your stories to social media?
A: That depends on who your target audience is. Generally speaking though, I like to turn this question around on you. When do you look at Facebook, IG, Twitter and anything else? Do you grab your phone and end up scrolling for a few minutes in the morning when you check it? There you go.
Q: What are the most common mistakes to avoid when posting to social media?
A: Don’t try too hard. No, really. Don’t try to be too funny, or newsy, or my favorite right now “new age” or “hip.” You know? Summarize your story in a human way, in a way where you’d summarize it to your mom, but don’t get caught up making it OMG WOW worthy. People will barely even care, or they won’t get it. Or it’s too much and they will scroll on by.
Q: How do you respond to negativity on a post or a story?
A: This is a hard one. It depends. If somebody is spreading misinformation, being a racist or homophobic, I screen shot the comment and block them from the page. (The screen shot is if they try and argue. Always bring receipts.)
If they’re just being an asshole, I answer like a sarcastic asshole from the station account. “Slow news day?” “Yeah (insert name here) it is. Slow Facebook day??”
If it’s teetering the line of being an asshole and violating our terms and service, I hide the comment. If they get a second strike I hide the comment and message them a warning.
This is one of the hardest parts of my job. I’m a pretty positive person who sees the good in people, but something about the internet makes them horrible. But, it’s my duty as a digital content queen to moderate and make the news station’s community a safe(r) place to be.
Q: How might photos or videos posted to social media be biased and how do you avoid that?
A: Listen, social media is the competition for eyeballs and clicks. If we’re talking about the things I can control, I try to be as transparent as possible. If it’s a file photo of the place a crime took place, I am labeling it as a file photo in its description and maybe even in the story as an editor’s note — depending on what it depicts.
If that means how I analyze another post or something that a viewer saw and sent it, I have a whole process. Can I find the photo or video’s original source? Who posted it and why would they post it? Sometimes I will even reach out in the DMs and straight up ask for more information.
One that sticks out to me isn’t necessarily bias, but more misinformation-y. A police department in Oregon shared a photo of a sea lion on a car’s hood. The post was all about making sure you check to make sure there aren’t animals in or around your car trying to stay warm this winter. LOL it was hilarious. BUT one of our competitor’s ran with JUST THE POST. Now, I needed to know more, like where was this taken, when was this taken and honestly, I got such a good laugh I wanted to know more of the story. So, I slid into the police department’s DM’s and asked. Turns out, it was a photo they found on the internet and, like me, thought it was funny. So, they used it for their message. It turns out it was taken in Australia a while ago.
BUT my competitors ran with it like it was, no pun intended, the law. It’s just using those critical online thinking skills. If something’s fishy, ask or look into it.
Q: What is one mistake you’ve made on social media and how did you learn from it?
A: I was working the weekends in Florida and the highway patrol posted about how man was stuck by lightning while riding his motorcycle though a storm. They posted a photo of his helmet to show what could happen if you’re not careful in bad weather. They blurred some of it so I didn’t really look too closely at it, assuming they edited some of the more… hmm.. how to say it… I thought they had edited it, so it wouldn’t show anything bad. I saw one of our competitors had it on their social and it was doing well. So, I posted it.
Within minutes, people were in the comments saying, “how could you share this?” “Your station is terrible for posting this.” And, I couldn’t figure out why … until I looked at the comments under another station’s post and somebody said something along the lines of, “you shouldn’t post a photo that shows somebody’s blood.” That’s when it hit me: I had shared this grim moment about a real person dying and didn’t take out the blood pooled around it on the concrete.
What I learned was to be more careful. For me, personally, one of my biggest weaknesses is going too fast and needing to be first. This was a hard lesson in slowing down and seeing the bigger picture.
Q: How does your company keep up with current trends?
A: You have to be willing to change and listen. Some of the best trend and social media lessons I’ve learned aren’t from people in the news, but from people who are “influencers” or even gamers who get things like YouTube and IG. They do it for fun and take time to learn it. Listen to those people.
Q: How do you respond if a post garners more negative attention than it does positive?
A: You’re never going to make everyone happy, especially not online. You just have to let people express themselves. I try really hard not to take it personally. Sometimes, people are really mean. That’s on them. Just always do your best and know why you’re doing something.
Q: How should a professional account and a personal account bleed into each other?
A: OOF this is hard. I would say do what you want on your personal. That’s for you and as long as you’re not acting a fool and making the company look bad, that’s all yours.
Now, this is going to sound obvious but, when it comes to a professional account BE PROFESSIONAL. But also, be personable. People want to see you’re a real person. When I’m coaching out reporters and anchors on how to gain more followers and have better post engagements, the biggest piece of advice I give them is to let some of their real life show. Don’t post article after article after article. 1) Most algorithms don’t like that and won’t share as much of your posts into newsfeeds. You can post too much “news” and become a news aggregator. Don’t do that.
2) People like and follow you because they connect with your work. They want to see what you’re like. They want to feel connected. Ask them where they like to hike or eat. Post a photo of your pumpkin carvings. Be genuine. It goes a long way.
Charles B. Wendt is a student in the UM School of Journalism’s Social Media and Engagement class, which conducted Q&As this semester with more than 20 journalists as part of a research project on best practices for journalists on social media.