National Press Club

Panel explores how media brands work to define social presence

March 18, 2016 | By Julia Haskins |

Now that social media is a key facet of most media outlets’ digital strategy, it’s up to journalists to understand how best to utilize it, panelists said at a National Press Club Digital event March 16.

Freelance journalist Carmen Russell moderated a panel of experts spanning the media landscape, all working to define their brands’ social media presence.

With more than 250 million followers across all of its social media platforms, National Geographic has cemented itself as an influential digital force. The organization has gained the most followers on Instagram of any non-celebrity brand and has also made a splash on Snapchat with striking visuals.

“It’s pretty amazing...that a 128-year-old brand like National Geographic can be on an emerging platform like Snapchat,” said Rajiv Mody, vice president of Social Media for National Geographic Partners.

Experimenting with up-and-coming platforms has paid off for National Geographic. “It really gives us a chance to have some fun with the brand,” Mody said.

As a senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, Shane Harris relies on social media for investigative journalism. He talked about how he uses social media to get scoops, connect with sources and keep a finger on the pulse of trending topics.

“I saw the emergence of social media from nothing into what we have now and I really try to relate to it like a tool,” Harris said. For him, that means using Facebook to stay on top of mass shootings or combing through LinkedIn for sources who can speak about cyber warfare.

While social media serves as a tool for journalism, it’s only one part of the equation, according to Margarita Noriega, director of social media at Newsweek. “Social media isn’t just a tool, it’s not just a medium, and it’s not just a product. It’s always been all three,” she said. But as social media increasingly becomes monetized, it is “turning into a product more and more,” making it “hard to know when something is valuable versus click-baity.”

It’s just one challenge that has surfaced in the rapid evolution of social media. Panelists addressed concerns about balancing quality with efficiency when content is put out so quickly on social media platforms, an issue that reflects the need for diligent fact-checking and sourcing.

“Every major social network has tried to replicate what newsrooms do and for most part failed.” Noriega said, which is why reporters have to take social media into their own hands.

And besides being factual, content needs to be meaningful, not simply created with the goal of amassing more followers.

Journalists need to consider “what are you trying to accomplish when you put this kind of stuff on social media?” said Nicholas Johnston, managing editor for breaking news at Bloomberg.

Fortunately for reporters, social media consistently provides immediate feedback, through both data analytics and user engagement, “that you can use to drive your conversation and do better,” Johnston said.

The panelists agreed that while invaluable, social media can’t completely replace traditional reporting. Rather, the two should work in tandem to create the most well-rounded and captivating digital experience.

“[Social media] doesn’t minimize the need for real reporting,...but it’s a ... very powerful tool,” Harris said.