#newsrw - Liz Heron and her hashtag science

Liz Heron tells the news:rewired audience that the social media landscape is changing so fast that it's unrecognizable year-to-year

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Liz Heron of the New York Times wants to talk about the new social media landscape we find ourselves in – and it’s very different than it was a year ago. There are burgeoning amounts of social networks, and Obama is using hangouts on Google+, driving by requests from ordinary people.

400+ NYT journos on Twitter, 50+ using Facebook Subscribe.

2011 was an incredibly newsy year, and brought social media into the new mainstream. The arab spring, natural disasters and the occupy movement all played our on social media. The NYT is using a huge range of social media to push our quality content, while remaining sceptical in their reporting. Slew of training, best practices and worked on social media verification. She’s not the only one with platform fatigue… The question is no longer “wether to engage” on social media, but how to distinguish themselves from  others doing it. And how do they scale as new platforms emerge?

The US Presidential Elections are driving this. Livetweeting the debates and primaries is no longer enough. Everyone is doing it. There’s noise from other journalists, from everyone else. Instead, they’re trying to report in real time. They have a real time fact-checking team, for example. She has a dozen (!) interactive developers on her team. They’ve built their liveblogs into a one-stop shop for news on the debates as they happen. Tweets are curated from a pre-defined list of people close to the debate. They also pull out the best readers’ tweets on the homepage. The media cacophony also deserves its own coverage. Two reporters analyse the media coverage and Storify it – a liveblog of liveblogs. They are using both Facebook and Google+ to gee the readers direct access to the candidates. They also enable genuine two-way conversation between their readers and their journalists.

As the November election approaches, they know they have to keep innovating.

The iEconomy investigative series that looked at the human cost of Apple’s manufacturing practices. The name was chosen because it would make a good hashtag – they call this “hashtag science”. For this story, they put material out on Chinese networks, and them reverse translated the responses for the US audience.

The key with emerging platforms? Be strategic.

  • What are the strengths of the platform?
  • What are the big topics?
  • How can we distinguish ourselves?

Facebook is a larger network than Twitter – that’s why they have been experimenting with Facebook Subscribe, especially foreign correspondents, and the “how you live” desk. The foreign correspondents have a wide audience who are grateful for the chance to interact. One Facebook query on Liz’s account garnered 500 responses for a story on depression.

Google+? Its strengths are deep discussion and Hangouts. They’re pretty excited about the Hangouts in particular. They’re also being strategic on Tumblr and Quora.

Three pieces of advice:

  1. Be stragetic
  2. Be different
  3. Strive for meaningful interactions.


Using a tool called Mass Relevance – plugin what you want, and out comes a beautiful queue of Tweets. Haven’t really looked heavily at archiving.

Lots of debate about measurement of success.  The NYT has journalistic measures and referral measure. And the pay”fence” is designed to be social media-friendly, so all links from social media go straight through. And digital subscriptions are exceeding expectations.

Time spent on social media? It should be integrated into your process, not in addition to it.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.