WSJ experiments with social media to tell narratives

Zach Seward, outreach editor of The Wall Street Journal Online, explained at a conference session on social media storytelling how the Wall Street Journal has experimented with using the popular social networking sites Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to tell narratives.

A package on one man’s struggle to return to Haiti to find his family after the January 2010 earthquakes appeared as an article in the paper, as posts on the Dispatch blog, and in real time as a status update stream on a Facebook page created specifically for the story. On Facebook, The Wall Street Journal stuck to the conventions of the social networking site, distilling all its posts into updates of three sentences or less and including photos.

According to a Pew Research Center poll from March cited by Yahoo’s Anna Robertson, another panelist at the session,  75 percent of people in the U.S. who get their news online get it forwarded through e-mail and social networking sites, and 52 percent share news links with others through social media.

Seward said Foursquare provides another tool for social media storytelling. The Wall Street Journal has experimented with ways to allow its audience to “check into news” by adding “tips” to certain locations that link to Journal stories, he said.

The Wall Street Journal also monitors its Twitter handle, @WSJ, and tries to reply to the tweets, especially those that pose specific questions to the paper and its reporters. The responses supplement reporters’ coverage and further readers’ understanding, Seward said of the exchanges.

The news organization also tries to reply to more acerbic questions, he said, giving gracious replies that sometimes elicit apologies.  In one case, a reader tweeted, “Suppose it would be too much for you to read today’s news, …” ending with the hash tags, “#lazy #reporting.”

The Journal replied, “Thanks for pointing that out. We’ll let the reporters know, if they’re not already aware.”

To which the initially disgruntled tweeter responded, “Sorry for the snark! :-)”