By Mary Kenney
The Working Press
Sree Sreenivasan – better known as @sree to more than 36,000 followers on twitter – revealed his prescription social media success to a room of students, professors and professionals.
He just waited an hour to do so.
“I’m going to share with you my social media success formula today, but I’m not going to do it until the end of the session, because I know you won’t stay,” he said.
Sreenivasan, Columbia University’s first chief digital officer, teaches in the digital media program and has written for major news sources, including The New York Times, Rolling Stone and BusinessWeek.
At a “super session” Thursday, Sreenivasan outlined the uses of social media and ways to maximize its use.
He outlined four things social media can do for journalists: identify ideas and sources, connect with audiences, bring traffic to work and build professional brands.
He spent a bulk of the session talking about how social media has changed the way journalists and other communicators reach out to their audiences. The U.S. Department of Defense uses Facebook posts and tweets as well as traditional speeches and press conferences.
After explaining the many ways in which social media is growing, he talked about its “dirty secret.”
“Almost everyone will miss almost everything you do on social media,” he said as the same message flashed on two screens behind him. This is true for every form of media, he said.
He spent time explaining how to deal with this challenge by optimizing the use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media sources.
Sreenivasan said he uses hashtracking.com, a small startup in California, to track the use of hashtags on Twitter.
He displayed the statistics for #eij12 used for Excellence in Journalism 2012. At the beginning of his talk, 166 tweets from 83 Twitter accounts using that hashtag had been posted since 1:30 p.m. Multiplying followers per account, these tweets had reached 125,000 people, according to hashtracking.com.
By the end of his talk, there were 829 tweets from 232 Twitter accounts who had used the hashtag, reaching about 286,000 people.
Sreenivasan referenced an October 2010 article Malcolm Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker that said social media cannot be used for real activist. He disagrees with that.
“What he was saying was that social media can’t really impact the world,” said Sreenivasan, displaying a tweet from Egypt during last year’s Arab Spring.
“I think that what happened last spring is an example of what social media can do.”
With social media growing in reach and influence, Sreenivasan cautioned the audience against being too free with tweets and posts.
“Anything you share can and will be used against you,” Sreenivasan said. Journalists can be accused of bias for posts made long before they worked on a story or topic, he added.
Social media, he said, is the only thing he does every day that could get him fired or divorced, and it’s the only thing he publishes daily that is recorded in the Library of Congress. Because of this, he spends three to six minutes on every tweet, when the average is less than a minute.
“And you say, ‘boy, you don’t have a life, do you?’ And no, I don’t have a life,” Sreenivasan said. The crowd chuckled. “Every time I send a tweet, I’m setting myself up for trouble.”
Walter Middlebrook, assistant managing editor at The Detroit News, said he attended the super session to “soak up” information about social media and spread it to his staff. Many staffers use social media, and he uses Facebook, LinkedIn and occasionally Twitter, he said.
“Are we doing it as best we can?” Middlebrook asked. “I don’t know. That’s why we come to these things.”
Dennis Kellogg, news director for NET News in Nebraska, said he wants to present Sreenivasan’s lecture to his staff so they can evaluate their social media presence. He said NET News uses social media often, and his news source was the first in Nebraska to have a Tumblr.
Still, he said, his staff could do better. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Kym Fox, senior lecturer and coordinator at Texas State University-San Marcos and campus adviser at-large for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), attended because she’s seen Sreenivasan speak several times and always learns something new from him, she said.
Branko Veselinovic, a doctoral student at Arizona State University and the youngest primetime news anchor at Radio Television of Serbia, says his news station is in the “Middle Ages” in social media use.
Veselinovic, who also produces and anchors a popular weekend morning show, hopes to learn to use social media for himself and his company to drive up traffic.
At 5:06 p.m., Sreenivasan finally revealed his formula for social media success:
He asked the crowd to read a list of words on the screens behind him, loud enough to reach a higher power. He told them to imagine they were in church and inserted “hallelujah” and “sing it, sister” as they read.
At the end, Sreenivasan intoned in a low voice, “Amen.”