It is shortsighted to believe that one journalist can beat the public to news gathering, social media expert Emanuel Karlsten says. Mr. Karlsten was voted the ninth most influential Swede on Twitter in a recent study.

"Be where your readers are, and be relevant," was one of the many significant statements made by Emanuel Karlsten, journalist and consultant, at the two day WAN-IFRA workshop on 'Social Media Strategies for News Publishers' at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi this week.

Ordinary citizens no longer turn to traditional media for their news, said social media expert Karlsten, who was voted the ninth most influential Swede on the microblogging site Twitter recently in a study called the "G20 influencers" conducted by Burson-Marsteller, a leading global public relations agency. Karlsten says the dramatic growth in social media since the Orkut days has ensured that people update information and news every minute of the day on the medium of their choice, be it Facebook, Twitter or blogs. "Indeed, much of the breaking news can be found on Twitter," he conceded.

Can social media help news websites create better journalism? Karlsten thinks so. In 2011, tweets from victims during the Norway massacre by Anders Behring Breivik, and videos of horrific scenes from the tsunami in Japan amply illustrated the fact that the common man had quicker and wider reach, even with fewer resources than traditional news agencies.

Reader engagement, citizen journalism

Engaging the reader via social media in the process of news publishing is crucial in increasing the 'sticky factor'. Showing that a paper cares for its readers' ideas and opinions is bound to bridge the gap between the two. To illustrate, Karlsten recounted how a tweet from him that sought information on a story led to many useful responses from readers, eventually helping him write a well-informed piece.

"You never know what people out there know, the information they have," said Karlsten, adding that it is shortsighted to believe that one journalist can beat the public to news gathering. "Why call your one source when many more in the public realm are likely to know more about it?" he reasoned.

The concept of calling on citizens to upload stories, pictures, videos on social media that is easily displayed and streamed on news websites, is slowly catching on.

"The idea of social media is to embrace communities that think alike or have the same interests. Why not capitalise on this and get citizens involved in a real sense?" asked Karlsten.

While this is a surefire way of engaging the public, Karlsten cautioned that a robust system of verification is necessary to uphold reliability.

Personalisation

"Be a person to your reader and he will come back to you for more," suggested Karlsten. At a time when social media has overwhelmed the internet, news sites could reflect on whether speaking to their readers in a distant and impersonal voice is still a good idea. Personalisation is key and, in the context of social media, being open, and thereby 'human', with readers, becomes at once relevant and interesting.

Karlsten also discussed ways in which websites could be created to make the reader a part of journalism. He touched on the many social media tools available today to make this a reality. Other topics included the challenges in development and operation, newsroom dynamics and social media policy. The workshop concluded with a discussion on the future landscape of media.

Karlsten signed off saying, "Don't re-invent the wheel. Do what you do best and work with experts who are the best at what they do."

The workshop was attended by 10 representatives of various media publications from Bangladesh, New Delhi, Calicut, Bangalore and Chennai.