15 social media tips and tools for journalists

Journalists are used to promoting their work on social media. But there’s also lots of scope for journalists to use social media as a reporting tool — to find stories, for newsgathering, research, finding interviewees and more.

But where to start? At a recent presentation I gave in Italy, I included a slide on this, and noted a lot of furious scribbling. There’s clearly appetite for this. So here’s a list of tips and tools that I find useful. Please note, this selection is entirely subjective and is by no means exhaustive! Many of the tools are free. The $ sign indicates that there is a cost — but most companies offer a free initial trial.

Tame ($)

Overwhelmed by the stream of tweets on your timeline? Just want to check in from time to time to get a snapshot of what’s been going on? If so, Tame will appeal to you. It’s easy-to-use and pretty addictive (in a good way). It has a simple interface with three columns – most shared stories from people you follow, most used terms or hashtags among this group, and top Twitter handles. The timeframe is adjustable. Tame can also analyze any of your Twitter lists. TwXplorer is a similar tool. It’s not as sleek, but it’s free.

Twitter lists

Twitter lists are a great way of following a specific beat. The Twitter app is terrible for both creating and reading lists, but Tweetlogix works well. One of the good things about lists is they allow you to keep an eye on accounts, without actually following them (you need to make the list “private”). This is useful if you are doing investigative work, as this example shows. You can find lists others have created within Twitter (type what you are looking for in the search bar, and then hit “timelines” on the left), or hunt around manually to find lists created by experts in a given field.

Tweetdeck’s “magic button”

When the stream of tweets is unmanageably fast, Tweetdeck’s filter button is your friend. It’s the button at the top right of a column (two lines with circles on them), and it opens up a number of advanced options. You can exclude words, filter out retweets, only view tweets with images, or see just the most popular tweets. There are some handy notes on the filter button.

Topsy

Topsy allows you to quickly trace the origin of how a hashtag started (click “all time” on the left, and “sort by oldest” at the top). The Pro version used to be a big favorite of the BBC Trending team, as it also came with great graphs, and lots of useful data. But since it was bought by Apple no contracts have been renewed. The free version is still online (for now). It’s limited, but does the basics. For example, you can see the number of tweets on a given hashtag or term over the past 30 days.

Trendsmap

Want to know what’s trending on Twitter around the world? Or in a specific country or city? Trendsmap shows this at a glance, and it’s free to do a basic search.

TinEye & Google Reverse Image

One of the most important things to remember when working with social media is that nothing is verified. Rumors spread like wildfire, and images are very often taken out of context (knowingly or unknowingly), or manipulated. Be suspicious of anything that looks too good to be true. There are two simple ways of checking whether an image has been around before – right-click on the picture and select “search Google for this image” or drop it into TinEye, and select the biggest version of the image (this is most likely to be the original). The Verification Handbook is a fantastic guide for all things to do with social media verification.

CrowdTangle ($)

CrowdTangle is one of the only tools with a real focus on helping you navigate Facebook. Loved by many social media managers (for the data it gives on your own posts and those of your competitors), it’s also useful for story discovery, thanks to a very simple concept – that of “overperforming” posts. These are drawn from around 75,000 Facebook pages CrowdTangle monitors. This includes virtually every news organization in the US – big or small – as well as lists arranged by theme (international news, health, business, etc). Based on the past history of a particular account, CrowdTangle highlights the posts that are doing substantially better than expected – which is often the case when news breaks.

Gramfeed

Gramfeed is a really easy way to search Instagram – by location, keyword, or hashtag. One of the great things about Instagram is that so many of the posts are geo-located, making it one way to find people posting from the scene of a news event (e.g. an earthquake or demonstration). One of the most useful tools for finding social media from a specific location is Geofeedia ($).

Nuzzel & Newsle

Nuzzel shows you news trending among your friends and contacts. It connects to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, so if you follow a lot of people for professional reasons, your feed should get interesting. Like Tame, it’s a quick way of keeping up with the main talking points within your network. Newsle does the opposite – alerting you to news stories about, or by, your friends and social media contacts.

LinkedIn

Don’t forget about LinkedIn! It’s one of the fastest-growing social networks, and if you’re a journalist you can get a free upgrade to a premium account after taking a short web tutorial. It’s well worth doing as you can then send “InMail” to people you are not connected to – perfect for those times when you are trying to get in touch with a potential contributor, but can’t find their contact info listed anywhere.

Another very useful thing is LinkedIn’s advanced search (click “advanced” next to the search bar at the top of the screen). The keyword search is helpful when you are looking for an expert on a certain topic. You can also refine by location, by company and more.

Facebook Graph Search

Ok, so it’s not the most intuitive, but Facebook’s own Graph Search can be helpful for finding guests/interviewees. It tends to work best when you combine terms — e.g. “People who live in x, and work at y”. You can also do a “recent images from x” search. There’s a good summary on how to make the most of Graph Search here. Remember that if you send a message to someone you’re not connected to on Facebook, it goes to their “other” folder rather than their inbox – meaning they probably won’t see it! You can get round this by paying $1 (the option will come up when you are about to send the message).

Dataminr ($)

Dataminr is a breaking news alert system based on Twitter, specifically designed for journalists, and is probably the “hottest” tool out there right now. If you work in breaking news this may work for you. If you don’t, you might want to read on. Their algorithm detects tweets which are gathering momentum fast – at a very early stage. This gives you an early tip-off on stories. Dataminr has been working with news organizations around the world to refine the service, and there are many examples of their alerts “beating” standard news agencies. But – and it’s a big but – none of the information is verified. Some journalists rave about Dataminr. Others complain the number of false positives, and the quantity of alerts, mean you risk missing the gems when they come in.

Storyful Newswire ($)

Verification can take a lot of time and many newsrooms don’t have the time or expertise to do this, which is where Storyful really holds its own. They source news-related content from social media, using a number of proprietary tools, and then do the legwork of verification and clearance for use. They specialize in international news and have recently moved into licensing viral videos and identifying trends on social media. They have a couple of free services – Facebook Newswire – which highlights newsworthy content on Facebook, and the Open Newsroom where journalists and researchers are invited to help verify content, and share information. They also have a free Chrome extension, called Storyful Multisearch, which scans across Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and other sites with one click.

SAM ($)

SAM is useful for teams working on the social media content, as you can share your work, and add notes — for example on whether a picture or video has been verified. It searches across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, saving you from having multiple windows open at the same time. It also integrates with Tweetdeck, so you can send tweets direct from there to your SAM account.

Sysomos ($)

Sysomos is great for analyzing social media conversations. What are people talking about? Where? What are they saying? But it’s the dark horse in this list, as not many journalists have heard of it. That’s because it’s mainly aimed at companies keen to monitor their brand. Oh, and because it comes with a hefty price tag ($33,000 per year) putting it way out of reach of most newsrooms. But if you can afford it – or persuade your marketing department to get it – it’s a powerful research tool for exploring social media conversations, and has the benefit of covering Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, as well as blogs and regular news sites. You can make the search as broad or narrow as you like, and filter the results by country or language. Keyhole covers some similar ground, and is free for a basic search.

Cordelia Hebblethwaite is a 2015 JSK Fellow at Stanford University exploring how journalists can exploit the full potential of social media. Most recently, she helped launch — and was the main blogger – for BBC Trending, the BBC’s new social media team, which reports on stories trending around the world for a global audience.