How Journalists, Community Can Connect With Google+

Chances are if you read 10,000 Words, you’re a journalist of some stripe and you’re also familiar with — and likely already belong to — the latest social network: Google Plus. I’m no longer a news beat reporter, but I immediately saw an awesome opportunity for a specific journalist or even better a whole news organization to make this site into something awesome and useful to connect with their community. Here’s how:

Set up an account and create circles based on specific beats and topics. That’s basically it.

But what will make this useful is how you set up these circles and what you post and share with each. This is the part that I see as an interesting opportunity to build community.

Those circles are important because they will define who gets what news. You can go as deep or as broad as you like. If you cover education, your list will probably be broken down by school district or even individual school level (or maybe just high schools). If you cover city or county government, you could go down to the specific cities/counties, or if it’s just one city/county it could be broken down further to some of the departments or committees — city council, public works, street maintenance, etc. If you cover state legislature, you could take it down to parts of the state, counties or specific districts. If you’re creating this account for your entire news organization, you can do all of these or stick with broader circles for all education, city, county, crime, etc.

Now comes the fun part. Add people to those circles. Add all of your school administrators and teachers to the circles that affect them. (If you have both a general education and a specific school they belong to, put them in two circles!) Add your PTO and parents sources to their appropriate circle. Add the city councilors and mayor to their appropriate circles. Add the fire chief, police chief, judges and prosecutor to their circles. Add your sources who’ve expressed interest in these topics to the appropriate circle.

Create a general public “everything” circle that gets all the items you post — and place everyone you add (or who adds you) here by default. Tell people that these other specific circles exist, and give them the option to be included there and also to exclude themselves from other circles (including your everything list). Yes, this is absolutely going to take time, especially at first and especially if you’re a large news organization. But think of the usefulness.

With this general set-up, you’ll be able to target relevant news directly to the stream of people most interested in it. Rather than have multiple Facebook pages to keep track of, you can simply select which circle each post is shared with each time you post.

Think of the comment threads that can be developed among only people specifically interested in that area of news. Also, if you’re looking for news tips or sources, post a message to that circle. It only goes to relevant folks and other people don’t feel bombarded with pleas.

Beyond sharing your news and seeking sources and added commentary, there are a few other Google+ features that have great potential as news tools.

First, encourage eye-witnesses to tag your organization in photos from the scene on Google+. This gives you some ready-made sources to contact and also potentially some firsthand photos. Also with the photo albums, you could engage people in a caption contest, post photo galleries, or even seek photos for specific stories (maybe historic photos of buildings, pictures for a local feature about hoarders or just awesome Halloween costumes or Christmas light displays). Picasa is probably an easier tool for regular users to master than most news organization photo uploading tools.