Stop the Presses! Social Media Means Having an Opinion! Damn!

Stop the Presses! Newspapers Don't Get Social!

Mathew Ingram posted about newspapers and social media yesterday at GIGAOM and observed that most of them still don’t get it. He was picking apart the Toronto Star’s staff guidebook for social media policy. He’s right of course, many of them don’t get it and don’t want to.

It should be noted (and Mathew does mention it) that he worked for a competing paper.

Some of the Toronto Star’s policies (as reported by Mathew) regarding the use of social media are indeed an excellent example of how many newspapers (it’s not just newspapers either) are missing the point. They’re use to a monologue where they push out the content and we consume it. There are very few Rapunzels staring out from the ivory towers of journalism waiting to let their hair down to readers.

Accessibility seems to be a scary thing for your average mainstream editor, publisher or reporter. They’ve become used to a reality where they have their say and you keep your thoughts to yourself. Perhaps, if you write a letter to the editor they will publish it, but keep in mind they reserve the right to edit your letter. It’s hard to break out of a habit of having total control on the conversation.

The Star’s policy basically tells its staff that social media is wonderful and marvy, but for god sake don’t use it to interact with our readers on the paper’s site or elsewhere. Why? Because they’re concerned this kind of interaction might lead to people getting the impression that their staff have their own opinions and they are biased in some way. Yeesh! Let’s be honest here, it’s a load of hooey to suggest that newspapers and media outlets carry no bias. The reality is that they all do, so let’s stop expecting them not to. Basically, papers came into being to promote certain political and social agendas and they still do. They’ve always been biased and they always will be. The trick for most of us is to find one which closely approximates our own biases.

OK, you wouldn’t encourage counter people or anyone who is customer facing to offer personal opinions on touchy subjects which are not related to your business – that’s understandable, but in the case of newspapers, it is related to their business. So, in this case it is one of those risks being social demands you take.

If your company wants to get something out of social then you have to accept the personal factor which will come into it. It’s a risk to be sure, but the payoffs can be huge if you hire good people and consistently demonstrate a sincere desire to engage people in a real dialog.

Being social takes a lot of work and at some point you’ll screw up. Mistakes are not the end of the world if you react to them in a positive and constructive manor and fix the problem. As my father likes to say: “How you fall is not as important as how you rise.”

Giving your staff clear social guidelines is certainly a good idea, but trying to enforce policy which hobbles your efforts to leverage social media is a bullet in your foot.