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Q&A: The evolution of the social media editor

There has been some debate recently that the role of social media editor, a position created in response to the rise in popularity of sites like Twitter and Facebook, is passé, dead. Buzzfeed’s Ron Fishman certainly believes the position has had its day in the sun, noting that social media responsibilities are now more frequently parceled out throughout the newsroom. In a response article, the Poynter Institute spoke with several editors on the topic, and noted it’s more of an evolving title. Slate social media editor Jeremy Stahl has experienced the changes the role has undergone firsthand, and he shares the significance of his position in a Q&A with inVocus.

Q: How long have you served as social media editor? What do your duties entail?

Jeremy Stahl (JS): Three years. Before that I was Slate’s community editor. I manage our social feeds, including Slate’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. I also write occasionally and encourage staff use of social media, including Facebook chats and Reddit AMAs. I also try to come up with fun crowd-sourcing projects and uses of social media like our live instant spin room during last year’s election.

Q: How involved in social media are Slate journalists?

JS: Slate’s journalists are incredibly involved. In addition to our main Facebook account with 317,000-plus followers and our main Twitter account with 610,000-plus followers, we have dozens of subsidiary accounts (@browbeat, @futuretensenow, @slatebooks, @slategabfest), most of them managed by Slate staff. Across our entire network of Slate Facebook feeds we have 19 Facebook accounts, run by 14 different people with a total of more than 450,000 likes. On Twitter we have 15 Slate branded accounts with a total of more than one million followers.

Most of our biggest name correspondents are also on Facebook and Twitter with popular personal accounts as well. Emily Yoffe, Farhad Manjoo, John Dickerson and Dave Weigel all have extensive Facebook followings, while Dickerson, Manjoo and Weigel have three incredibly popular Twitter accounts. Dickerson was one of the first adapters on Twitter and has more than a million followers.

And our writers have done a number of Ask Me Anything live chats on Reddit. We’ve even been cited by Reddit’s general manager in print for our use of the AMA format.

Q: Has the position changed at all since you first took on the role? If so, how?

JS: The position has evolved. At first it was a smaller role that left more time for work on side projects, now it is a role that dominates each day. There’s really so much to do in terms of social promotion, and working with social partners, and just generally making sure Slate’s content gets read and spread on social networks. I would say that the job has become bigger, busier, and more important, if anything.

Q: What do you think is the significance of a social media editor?

JS: A social media editor is just another editor who can make sure that your content is being seen by as large a number of people as possible. In that way, we’re kind of like old front page editors on newspapers: we craft the first impression an audience sees of a news organization’s product. First impressions are important, and in that respect the role is incredibly important. It becomes even more important when there’s breaking news and very extensive audiences are looking to Slate’s Twitter feed for updated information. I wrote a bit about that during the Boston bombing.

Q: How does the addition of new social media platforms impact your job?

JS: We are very focused on making sure we’re maximizing the platforms that we know work already. In the past, that has meant Facebook and Twitter, though we do also have a Google+ page. Unless a medium takes off, it’s hard to say that new platforms impact how we do social media here. We’re constantly paying attention to things like Instagram, and Pinterest, and broader social media trends obviously, but unless a medium seems ripe for content distribution to a wide audience, then it doesn’t have that wide of an impact on what we do. Reddit is an area that has expanded like crazy in the past year and a half or so, and that’s one new platform that we have tried to focus on heavily, just by making sure our authors are involved in that conversation by asking them to respond in the comments when they have popular Reddit articles or do Reddit AMAs.

Q: Do you believe the position is going obsolete or is it becoming more important for outlets to hire a social media editor? Why or why not?

JS: More important. Facebook and Twitter are still behemoths, and they are becoming an even greater audience source across the Web each year. Our Facebook referrals doubled in the first quarter the year and our traffic referrals only keep growing. The idea that having somebody at a media organization who is specifically focused on maximizing that publication’s social media presence and audience share is somehow becoming obsolete or less important doesn’t make sense to me given the sheer numbers of audience volume that is coming from these sites.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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