Ask, and you shall receive — with help from social media

Discussion on the Facebook group for Tidbits readers.

This Sunday my colleague Barb Iverson and I will give a workshop called “Web Productivity and Tech Tools Workout” at the Society of Professional Journalists conference in Washington, DC.

We’ve mapped out several cool topics to cover. This is the first of a few posts that will serve as “living handouts” for that workshop.

In my work as a journalist, consultant, blogger, trainer, and speaker, I’ve often found that the smartest thing I can do is surround myself with smart and relevant people. Therefore, for me, the main concrete benefit I’ve experienced from participating in social networking sites is the ability to quickly share knowledge with a trusted network of friends and colleagues.

I currently use two popular social networking services: LinkedIn and Facebook. One very useful feature of both services is that they allow you to easily pose questions within your personal network of contacts, or to other selected groups. Yeah, you could do this by personal e-mail, but it would be a major hassle.

Here’s how this can help your work and career (especially if you’re a journalist), and the basics of how to do it…


LinkedIn Answers: Available to any LinkedIn user. Here’s the FAQ.

  • Pose any business-related question except requests for contacts, either to all LinkedIn users, to your personal contact network, or to selected people within your contact network. (Personally, I find I tend to answer only questions that come from my network, I don’t browse the public questions, but YMMV.)
  • Questions remain live (can accept responses) for seven days.
  • People can choose to respond publicly or privately to you.
  • You have the option to display on your LinkedIn profile the questions you’ve asked or answered. This could help demonstrate your expertise and helpfulness, as well as the quality of your network.

Example: On Thursday I posed this question via LinkedIn Answers, “Which online tools or services do you find absolutely indispensable for organizing and doing your work, especially for work in the news/media biz?” As of this writing, I have 13 public responses (plus some private ones) from my network — all thoughtful and useful. I’ll summarize them later.

Facebook Questions: Very similar to LinkedIn Answers, except your questions need not be business-related. You’ll need to install a Facebook application for your account to pose questions to your network. Each has its own features and interface, including privacy and response options. Several question applications can be found here. I use MyQuestions.

Example: I posed the same question as above to my Facebook friends using Facebook MyQuestions. I have a smaller and different Facebook network than on LinkedIn. As of this writing I have one answer via this system. YMMV, of course.

Facebook Groups: Rather than occasionally contact your existing network, this allows you to form an ongoing community of interest around anything — an issue, an event, an activity, a site or blog, a geographic region or community, etc. This is useful if you want to foster an ongoing sense of mutual interaction and sharing, rather than just occasionally posing questions. Facebook Groups FAQ.

There are already tons of Facebook Groups, so don’t reinvent the wheel. Before you start a group, see whether an existing group is already looking at the things you want to explore, and if the character of the community suits you. It’s always easier to join a conversation than start one.

As an experiment, last night I started a Facebook group for Tidbits readers. (Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits is a team blog that I edit.). As of this writing it has 48 members and several posts. I think this could be very useful for honing this blog’s content strategy, finding new contributors, and making sure we’re serving our community.


  • Connect with relevant communities. This is especially true of Facebook groups. It can enhance your reporting and help your work gain traction. For example, check out the savvy way the Orlando Sentinel connects with its community via Facebook groups.
  • Developing story ideas. While many journalists are fiercely competitive and therefore secretive about story ideas, the truth is that most story ideas aren’t very original and therefore don’t warrant secrecy. Reaching out to your network or a community can be a fast way to find useful, unexpected angles, anecdotes, sources, and leads.
  • Explore career options. Asking questions through these tools can help you gain context and insight on beats, types of work, your industry, your work, or your abilities. This doesn’t necessarily mean shopping for a new employer; it could mean evolving your role within your company. More information is better, since it helps you steer your career (rather than the reverse).
  • Support and fuel your projects. If you regularly publish a blog, column, news stories, editorials, etc., a social-media network or community can help pool people’s energy, creativity, and insight. This can make your job easier by giving you good ideas, having a sounding board, and developing a fairly safe space for critique. Although many journalists are loners, in fact our work improves when we don’t try to do it all ourselves.
  • Humility and transparency. Too often, IMHO, journalists lose credibility in their communities because they prefer to hold themselves apart from public discourse. They ask their questions and conduct their research in private, they strive to conceal their own views, they only publicly present packaged answers (in the form of stories), and they generally don’t acknowledge or engage with critics.Actively engaging with your community, listening to them, being transparent with them doesn’t “lower” you in any way. In fact, it demonstrates respect and enhances credibility. Sure, it’s uncomfortable at first (just one day into the Tidbits Facebook Group, and I’ve already had my credibility challenged), but you learn to take it in stride — and it has a lot of benefits.

…OK, that’s enough on this topic for now. I’ve got other stuff to cover, I’ll revisit this.

4 thoughts on Ask, and you shall receive — with help from social media

  1. Discovered your blog via Google. Fascinated to see that you are covering some of the same ground as I do in my blog Becoming A Writer Seriously. I also just installed GTCinbox and joined Facebook within the past two weeks, and the early romance with these facilities continues. I found your post about Facebook & LinkedIn insightful, prodding me to look more deeply into them. Sure wish I could attend yr workshop, but I’m way too far away. Will start following yr blog instead.

  2. Pingback: Becoming A Writer Seriously » Social Media: A Tool For Writers

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