Even for the most tech savvy of us, getting the most out of social media can be a thankless task.

Which networks should you use? How long should you spend on them? Just how many followers is really enough?

Jem Collins, founder of Journo Resources, runs through the four key areas to think about when planning your own social media strategy.

These tips were originally delivered as part of Women in Journalism’s low-cost workshop series. You can see more upcoming events on the events page. The latest Journo Resources events are available here.

Split Your Resources Wisely

There are a lot of different of different social networks out there, and, quite frankly, it would be impossible to do them all well, especially if you actually want to get some paid work done at some point.

It’s easy to forget when you’re looking at an account with tens of thousands of followers that, for the most part, this isn’t just luck. Building an account takes a lot of time and effort, as well as working out what works. Basically, you need to pick a few sites to invest your time in, instead of a lack-lustre scattergun approach.

When you’re thinking about what networks might work for you or your publication, start by thinking of the benefits. Good social media can help you in three ways:

• It provides a window for potential clients and hiring editors to get a sense of you and your work
• It gives you the opportunity to build a loyal and engaged audience
• It can be a great resource for finding case studies for your stories

Trends change daily, but think about where your audience lives and prioritise those networks. As a journalist, you’ll probably want to be where other journalists such as your editors are, so a Twitter account is worth considering. If you’re looking for corporate work, LinkedIn might be a key account to get set up. If you’re interested in building a younger audience, it might be worth ramping up your Instagram.

At most, you won’t want to be investing in more than three platforms as a priority – all of us have other things we need to be doing which are tweeting. If you’d like a warm up, or want to see what other networks there are out there, you can use our free ‘what network does what’ ice breaker here.

Get Using Boolean Search

Finding case studies is one of the most essential parts of a journalist’s job, though it can also end up being one of the most gruelling, especially when you’re looking for something sensitive or bizarre.

Enter the world of Boolean search, which is disappointingly nothing to do with pirate’s  treasure. Put simply, boolean is a set of instruction you can use to ramp up your search terms on both Google and Twitter.

You can tell the platform a whole number of things – perhaps you only want to see tweets from people in Scotland? Or maybe you’re only interested in posts between a certain date, with certain phrases?

A couple of the most useful key commands are:

• NEAR:“Location Goes Here”
• SINCE:“2019-04-05”
• UNTIL:“2019-06-20”
• AND
• OR
• “use quote marks to look for an exact phrase”
• -to exclude tweets with these words

In practice this means you can really drill down into what you want. For this piece in Debut Careers, for example, I was looking for people who’d received an unconditional offer to study at a university this year. The search looked a little bit like this:

“unconditional offer” AND university OR uni NEAR:”United Kingdom” SINCE:”2019-01-01”. This let me bring up all of the people who’d excitedly tweeted about getting an unconditional offer in the UK since the start of the year, who I then easily got in touch with and interviewed.

You can also use these kind of searches in Google, if you’re doing research for a piece, as well as on LinkedIn, and there are some basic Boolean terms you can use on Facebook too.

You can see our full guide to Boolean search terms here, in a handy print-out.

Have A Healthy Does Of Scepticism

Hands up who’s ever looked at a viral tweet, shrugged and gone, well that didn’t really happen did it? If you’ve spent a lot of time online, chances are you’ve come across some content you’re not entirely sure about.

Fakery is abound everywhere, whether it’s a failed coup which didn’t really exist, or a man allegedly arrested for putting fake IKEA arrows on the floor (spoiler: he didn’t and he wasn’t.) Whatever area of journalism you work in, always have your journalist sense checker in the back of your mind – just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s real.

A lot of social media verification follows the same rules as normal journalism – try to get hold of the poster to have a chat. Take a look at the account – does it look real? Is it the first time they’ve posted? What other topics have they covered?

Alongside this, there are some easy ways to check out images and videos. You can right click on any image in Google Chrome and select ‘Search Image in Google’ which will pull up any time the image has appeared before. You can equally upload images on Google’s Homepage, or using TinEye. You’re also able to check historical weather conditions on Weather Underground, and Amnesty’s YouTube Data Viewer will check stills from YouTube videos to see if they’ve been used before.

If you’re able to get original copies of images via email, you can also run them through an EXIF data checker, which will tell you where the image was taken. Bear in mind though, this won’t work with images you pull from social media – you’ll need the original copy.

There are a million other ways to go more in-depth in fact checking, but these techniques alone are a super quick way to spot the most obvious fakes. If you feel like a deep dive, it’s worth taking a look at First Draft News.

Build Your Brand & Personality

Finally, do make sure when you’re setting up your social accounts you take time to think about your branding and personality. If you think about the accounts that you follow, you’ll probably have decided to follow them for a reason, whether that’s the type of content they post or their personality. Therefore, it goes without saying, you need to give people a reason to follow you.

Nothing fills me with needless rage more than journalist’s social media account that only ever tweets out #journorequests or links with no context. When you’re thinking about what to post, there are a few easy rules to bear in mind:

Consistency: If you’ve got accounts across several places, make sure you’re consistent. Use the same username, bio, and headshot on all your accounts. Try to use platform regularly – you don’t need to throw hours of time down the drain, but a couple of posts a week shows you’re active and using them.
Show Your Personality: We may live in an online world where everything lives forever, but while it’s all well and good worrying what an editor will think, people won’t follow you if you’re formulaic and robotic. People like to follow people. Use your common sense – it’s fine to show off a bit of personality, and no one is going to be offended if you mention you side hustle of baking amazing cakes.
Add Value: When you’re sharing links to your own work or that of others, don’t just copy the headline as the sell. People will be looking for you to add value every time you post, so think about what commentary you would add, or how your insight adds to a story.
Engage With Others: Social media isn’t just about self promotion – it’s also about engaging with others (which in itself can also lead to building your own profile). You’ll find groups of people talking about areas you’re interested in, so also take time to join in and reply to conversations.

It goes without saying there are a million other things which can be done with your social media, but it’s a process of experimentation. Take the time to see what works for you and your audience – but do take care to monitor how long you spend on it. While social networks can be a useful tool for work, you need to balance your outlay with the rewards.

Jem Collins is the founder and director of Journo Resources, a start-up which helps people get into and progress in journalism. You can visit their site here.