Be your own voice

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to Win the Internal Social Media Struggle

I know. It's hard to believe. But there are still people out there who believe social media is a waste of time.

I've found in most organizations there is a mix of people who believe in the power and the benefit of social media and those who don't. Often, a few social media believers spend a lot of time trying to overcompensate for the time their co-workers won't commit to.

The internal struggle can be the hardest to overcome. But imagine how much more efficiently an organization could spread its message if all the professionals put in even half as much time on social media as they spend on e-mail.

To give proper credit, Jay Baer makes the great analogy to e-mail on his Convince and Convert. He says 15 years ago, no one was using e-mail and that was time consuming, too. Now people spend an hour or two each day reading and replying to e-mails because the benefits far outweigh the time cost.

Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you're already one of the converted. So let me share a few ways you can help evangelize for social media and overcome your organization's internal struggle:

Be nice. I know this sounds annoyingly trite, but it's true. You can't force someone to interact in social media, and if you do, it's not going to be the kind of interaction you want.

People are working more for less, frustrated by the struggling economy and already attached at the hip to their smartphones. Realize where they're coming from and why adding an item to their to-do list—a time-consuming item at that—might not sound that appealing to them.

• Share the metrics.
How much traffic has social media driven to your site? How many new friends or followers do you get each week? How many impressions did your social media interaction result in? What new business have you driven or what connections have you made? Use solid, tangible examples to prove that it's worthwhile.

• Make connections.
Be on the lookout for how your social media connections could help your co-workers and vice versa. It might only take an e-mail or two with a great suggestion, helpful tip or meaningful networking opportunity to convince a colleague how worthwhile social media can be.

• Create internal resources.
This can mean a variety of things. Maybe your company blog offers tips and professional development information, so people see how blogging can be beneficial. Maybe—like I'm working on at my organization—you hold education sessions to help people use social media more efficiently and effectively.

In fact, we decided to make 20-minute personalized sessions because people are at so many different levels in their decision to embrace social media. We didn't want to overwhelm beginners, but we also didn't want to bore the more advanced users. So we're going to have people sign up for different sessions that are more specific to their needs.

• Help people prioritize. This is easier, of course, if you're someone in a position of authority. You could relieve some part of an employee's workload to give them a little extra time to figure out their way around the social media arena. But there's also always something we can do as co-workers to help ease each other's schedules, support each other and encourage innovation.

• Welcome them with open arms when they do join.
Encourage people to follow the new user, interact with them, "Like" and share their items. Prove to them what a positive and supportive environment social media can foster.

Be encouraging and tell people that it takes the most work in the beginning to build an online community, but it won't be this much work forever. Putting in the effort in the front end will eventually save time and effort.

You can't win over everyone all at once. But you can be positive, supportive and welcoming and show people the results—seen and unseen—that come from engaging in these new ways.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The social life

Last night, I helped host a TribNation and TribLocal event with Lake County Tweetup.

It was almost surreal to meet so many of the great people I work with—primarily online and also over the phone—in person. And the community of local Twitterers is strong and vocal on my TweetDeck, but even more so live and in color.

Sharing pizza and drinks, exchanging business cards and thoughtful ideas about our community all reinforced to me what we know to be true: meeting in person can't be replaced by any other interaction. There's something about sharing a Chicago deep dish with people that makes those connections last.

But as one of social media's biggest advocates, there's another point I can't help but make. Without blogs, Twitter and the user-generated focus of TribLocal, I wouldn't know who most of those people are. I wouldn't know how much I wanted to finally meet them in person and establish friendships with Tweetup founders, entrepreneurs, foodies, world travelers and the sweetest person you'll ever meet.

That's what's so phenomenal about the new level of engagement social media allows for. It turns metropolitan areas—even an entire nation—into a community where, to quote a cliche, everyone knows your name, or at least your Twitter handle. So if we're smart, we'll use the new tools at our disposal to meet more people, hear more opinions and share more ideas online and in person.

As we exchanged hugs and handshakes, I felt like I was back in the small town where I grew up (Those tall structures aren't office buildings, by the way, they're silos).

It was just a longer commute home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Not just working—creating

I don't simply want to work in my job position—I want to help create it.

When I was recruited to help build Chicago Tribune's TribLocal, we were a team creating our own vision. I helped establish my job duties as I performed them. I learned as I went along, and I continue learning.

When I saw a lack of citizen contributors, I established a format for community workshops and began hosting them. That idea has spread and is now one of our most common—and most successful—practices.

I walked into my editor's office more than two years ago and told him we could no longer ignore this thing called Twitter and began recruiting and teaching anyone and everyone I could to learn how to use it and other forms of social media. Now we have nearly 15,000 followers collectively and gather story ideas, readers feedback and host Tweetups with other local Twitterers.

As I began to realize there weren't enough resources for our citizen contributors, I decided to start creating them. I conceived of the TribLocal: Inside the Newsroom blog, pitched it and now co-author a blog that offers a look inside of what I believe to be one of the country's most innovative newsrooms.

Because of my leadership in the newsroom, I was selected to be one of the members of the small TribLocal Ethics and Standards Committee, where we debate and engage with each other to ensure we are creative a quality product without stifling innovation or conversation. We address issues that don't exist most other places, such as designing a format for bringing blogs to print and developing standards for citizen bylines.

My journalism background is founded in traditional reporting. I worked for years as a crime reporter, where I won an Associated Press award covering gang crimes in southeastern New Mexico, and as an education reporter. I graduated from Michigan State University's J-school, and I loved returning there to talk to future journalists about the industry and their hopes for it.

And I believe fostering community engagement—an honest, true opportunity for community members to interact with and create their news. What I do not believe is that it's the future of the news industry. In fact, I believe it is a return to the roots of journalism and the democratic spirit in which it grew. The news began, and should continue, as a shared experience.

I hope other journalists committed to engagement will collaborate with each other as we pave this path.. I am working to begin an #engageme Twitter chat with me once per month so we can all come together, share ideas and support each other in finding new ways to engage our communities.

I hope you'll follow me @triblocaltara and feel free to contact me anytime if you're interested in engagement efforts.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Journalism from the other end of the world

While helping my husband edit a column for the newspaper in his home country of the Solomon Islands in the Melanesian South Pacific, we got to talking about the business of newspapers.

I wondered aloud how an economically struggling country—where many of the people live in what Americans would consider poverty—could support not just one newspaper, but several. I can't imagine the businesses there 't have much money for advertising and as a journalist, I'm constantly reminded of the newspaper business's woes here in the western hemisphere.

He barely glanced up from what he was reading to give me a quick reply. "Well, people buy the paper."

I was indignant. Subscriptions couldn't be the answer. It couldn't be that easy. Besides, what could people afford to pay for the paper? He said single-copy papers sell for $3 to $5 and with many mouths to feed and few jobs in each household, money is almost always tight in the Solomon homes.

"It doesn't matter," he said, shrugging his shoulders and ignoring my persistent questions. "Everyone has to read the newspaper. Everyone wants to know what's going on."

I continued investigating. His carefree island-style answers weren't settling well with my reporter persona (this wasn't the first time and won't be the last), especially when he was so quickly dismissing my disbelief. I started up a Facebook chat with Romulus Huta, a journalist at the Island Sun, an alternative paper in the country's capital, Honiara.

He seemed equally as nonchalant during my pelting of questions. Had things changed since they got online? No. (This didn't surprise me; time on the Internet is too costly for many in the Solomons). I knew they were on Facebook. Did they Twitter? No again. Did they accept citizen journalism? Reporters write stories, but they also accept contributions from local people.

I ended the conversation still feeling unsatisfied. It felt to me as if they were keeping a secret from me—as if the Solomon newspapers knew the secret ingredient to save the industry that means so much to me. But as fellow journalists, we made friends and promised to stay in touch. We both know about long hours, tough stories and unforgiving deadlines. And I knew going out what I knew coming in—that there was no easy answer.

Journalists aren't ones for easy answers, anyway. We know easy answers are rarely the truest ones. So we'll continue to work hard, impassioned about creating a strong product that is relevant to our readers, no matter what side of the International Dateline we're on.

Social media cheerleader

Do you believe in the power of social media? I do, and if you've met me, I've probably tried to convince you why you should, also. I'm a social media cheerleader—or evangelist, a term I first heard used by a friend of mine.

I'm going to continue to use the phrase social media for recognition purposes, but I'm of the same mind as this poster on Advertising Age that there's no need for the term—it's simply digital media.

I find those who are most doubtful are those who simply hopped on a site—be it Twitter, Facebook or Digg—looked around and left. "How can this benefit me?" they often ask me. Or even more frequently: "I want to, but I don't have time." And the truth is, yes, you have to invest time. But after becoming more engaged with the community and your audience, whether it's readers, customers or colleagues, you'll realize it's well worth it.

So here's some of my tips about how to use that time wisely and build and foster an engaged online community:

• Start by knowing why you're there. What do you want to get out of your social media interactions? Begin with a vision for the community you want to engage in and then put plans in place to create that ideal for yourself or your business. Be strategic in who you want to talk to, listen to and interact with and what topics are most pertinent.

• Once you've created your profile, reach out to other people. This is not a matter of register and they will come. You have to find your audience. Use services such as to find people near you geographically. Find out who the key influences are in your area. Use tags, hashtags or word searches to find people talking about the topics you are also interested in. Find other people in your industry and learn from them. Follow, friend and interact with these people.

This will take the most time commitment in the beginning, when you are getting started and seeking out the community. It's not going to build itself. I say about three or four weeks of really immersing yourself, and you will gotten yourself a great head start. After that it will be just enjoying the community and building on that strong foundation.

• Engage with the people in the community you've built, and do it regularly. No one expects you to be online every second, but be available and prompt, just as you would in every other form of communication. People are quick to realize who they can rely on and who they can't, so be someone reliable. It's as true in social media as it is in real life.

• Be genuinely interested in the people in your community. If you're not online because you're interested in connecting with other people, then reevaluate why you've signed on in the first place. I follow readers and community members because as a journalist and as a person, I'm genuinely interested in brainstorming and sharing ideas with them. Retweet or share their information that you find valuable or think others in your community might be interested. This makes people more willing to do the same for you. Just like in any other community, one good act usually yields many more.

As you become involved in the community, you'll quickly find that you get much more than you give. There's so many amazing people out there sharing ideas, engaging in conversations and supporting each other. Yes, there is some negativity—that's human nature and it's impossible to avoid. But there's so much more of the good stuff, if you're willing to open your mind and find it.

And I hope you'll be following me @triblocaltara or @taramaytesimu, so I can see how it goes for you. I'm out there cheering you on!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Deerfield group offers support 'without judgment'

The woman who started this group, Kristen Scott, contacted me to ask for her group to be put in the community calendar. Right away, I knew there was more of a story to tell. Not only did I get to write my own news story, I found out she was a beautiful writer herself and spent time after our interview teaching her how to start a blog and contribute her columns to TribLocal. Kristen is kind and intelligent, and I hope she finds great success in sharing her story.

By Tara May Tesimu
Chicago Tribune's TribLocal

When Marla Davishoff joined a Deerfield support group for parents of special needs children, she already had plenty of information.

She'd done the research, knew about the treatments and read the books.

She just wanted a place where she could talk about how she felt.

"We're at the group because of who we are, not because of who they are," said Davishoff, a Deerfield mom who belongs to the group. "It's a unique resources. There's lots of resources out there for the kids, and that's essential, but we're trying to deal with all of this, too.

"None of us would trade our children for anything. But we all have dark moments, and this group is a place where we can talk about that without judgment."

The group is celebrating its five-year anniversary in May. It meets at 7:30 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month at Christ United Methodist Church, 600 Deerfield Rd., Deerfield.

Kristen Scott, the Deerfield mother of an 18-year-old son with severe autism, started the group in May 2005 after meeting another parent of a newly diagnosed special needs child who was feeling alone.

"I thought I could make use of where I'd come from and the trauma I'd gone through," said Scott, whose then 13-year-old son, Daniel, had already been diagnosed with autism years ago.

Scott said for several years after her son's diagnosis, she lived in a state of denial. She brought her son to his therapy, nodded her head at the doctors and doing everything that needed to be done.

"But in my heart, I just couldn't understand—or accept—that this was going to be forever," Scott said. "That was a journey I had to take on my own time."

Read the full story on Chicago Tribune's TribLocal

About Me

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Stories are my passion—and I am an advocate for the new, engaging ways to share and create those stories. I grew up in a small town in Michigan and now live and work in the Chicago area.