So You Want To Be A Digital Journalist

Hey, you — yeah, you, sharing all of those photos on Facebook with overlays of easy recipes or witty jokes about wine in a curly text. You might just be my grandmother — but you might also be looking to take your social media skills to the next level. If you want to make it in the field of digital journalism, take note of the following 5 best practices for the web.

1. Pick a good user name

In this case, “good” means easy to understand and spell, and also widely available on the digital platforms you’re interested in. I personally have multiple iterations of my name saved as user names or handles on a few different sites, just in case. This may seem like an obvious step, but one day you too could get locked out of your Instagram account forever because the password reset emails were sent to a defunct — and impossible to revive — email address.

2. Know what platform is best for your goals

A quick rundown:
Twitter: Good for sharing articles you’ve written, catching up on news, and seeing what others are talking about right now through Twitter Trends.
Facebook: Also good for sharing your work, but much less anonymous than Twitter. That guy from your high school with the monster truck is going to try to friend you here. On the flip side, Facebook is a great research tool — according to the Pew Internet Project, 71 percent of online adults have Facebook, compared to Twitter, which captures only 21 percent.
Tumblr: Hipster blogs. Tumblr has yet to be used to its full potential for news gathering or sharing, but that doesn’t mean it is not worth checking out. For example, NPR has a great Tumblr for its social media desk that you should definitely check out.
Instagram: The premier photo sharing app. Use it to follow interesting photographers, rather than official news organizations. Also, learn from that piece of advice! I just subtly told you that photos on Instagram need to be personal and fresh to do well. Experiment with long captions to tell a story.

3. Understand how people interact with your content online

To maximize your digital posts and interactions, you have to know how people react to them. More and more, businesses are turning to attention spans rather than pageviews to measure success online. Chartbeat calls this the Attention Web: “It is not traffic we monetize, but audience.” This is good news for people with quality content, because readers will be more likely to come back another time.

“Why Publishers Are Killing Pageviews to Capitalize on Reader Attention,” Chartbeat

In addition, scientists have determined Western users “read” online in an F-shape — that is, they read the first few paragraphs of a story in their entirety, scroll down and read a line or two, and continue scrolling down the left margin reading less and less on a page. That is one possible explanation for why BuzzFeed’s “listicles” are so successful (and it is also why this post is written as a list).

4. Understand how people interact with each other online

This is the big one. Researchers now know why people share, comment on, and “like” digital content, which is key to your digital success. A New York Times study found that people share content online for five main reasons: “to bring valuable and entertaining content to others, to define ourselves to others, to grow and nourish our relationships, self-fulfillment, and to get the word out about causes or brands.” What do these all have in common? Relationships. Keep this in mind to measure your success online — you want people interacting with each other in regards to your content, which will create reinforcing circuits of sharing. In The New York Times’ words, “[a]ppeal to consumers’ motivation to connect with each other — not just with your brand.”

5. Do not be afraid!

According to The New York Times study, 73 percent of consumers “process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully” as a result of sharing. Digital allows more content creators to reach more audience members than ever before, and vice versa. Do not be afraid to put yourself out there, and definitely do not be afraid to engage with others. A healthy rapport with followers or friends will give your profile more credibility and humanity.