Let’s face it—everyone in your newsroom probably has an account on LinkedIn. The site started slowly back in 2003, with as little as 20 new members a day logging on to create potential connects with other professionals. But the little social media site has done a lot of growing up in recent years, boasting over 330 million users in 200 countries, 40 percent of whom use the site on a daily basis.
Other than tweaking their resumes and looking for jobs, what are all those people doing on LinkedIn? More importantly, what value does it have to offer to a reporter already bogged down with Twitter and Facebook?
It turns out, as LinkedIn has grown users, it has also evolved into an important tool that has allowed journalists to break big news stories.
Former USA Today reporter Scott Martin decided to use LinkedIn to keep tabs on companies he was covering as part of his beat. His method involved creating saved searches for new job postings for specific companies that would ping him whenever a new job was advertised.
Along comes Twitter, one of the companies Martin was covering, who were being dismissive about the prospect of filing an IPO. Quietly, they posted a job opening for a financial reporting manager who could handle filing the company’s preliminary IPO document when the company was “ready to go public.”
Martin instantly received a notification of the job opening, and he used the information to scoop everyone on Twitter’s plans.
Martin is far from alone. The New York Times broke the story that JPMorgan’s corporate race site was hacked thanks to LinkedIn. GeekWire used LinkedIn to first report the news about Apple’s new engineering office in Seattle. The Puget Sound Business Journal uncovered data that showed Amazon was getting serious about its drone delivery program.
It’s not only big national news stories that have been uncovered. Amid news that Costco was considering three sites for their first location in Mississippi, Clarion Ledger reporter Dawn Dugle used LinkedIn to find a job posting for an opening at a Ridgeland, Miss. location.
“For reporters, it’s a must-have tool,” said May Chow, a former television reporter who runs the LinkedIn for Journalists program. “You can go break the scoop, share the content, get people to contact you for future scoops and share insights into your job, all on one site.”
So, where should you start? Probably on your own profile page.
LinkedIn has added a bevy of new features to make your profile page look professional and polished, which could help establish your credibility when chasing down a story or trying to find sources. There are also important aspects of your profile, like the basic summary, that LinkedIn’s algorithms use to pull keywords for search results.
It goes against the nature of a lot of journalists who find self promotion uncomfortable, but as Chow noted, “It’s a missed opportunity when a reporter doesn’t optimize their profile, whether it’s losing a source over trust issues or remaining hidden from potential story tips or ideas.”
Once you’ve gotten your feet wet tidying up your profile, the next step should be making connections with fellow reporters, editors and potential sources. Chow said 50 connections is the ideal number to start, otherwise you just won’t have enough contacts to take full advantage of all the tools the site has to offer.
Fifty should be a relatively modest goal to attain for any journalists, so once you’ve got them, I’d suggest giving LinkedIn’s powerful search tool a whirl.
LinkedIn’s Advanced People Search allows you to search profiles by company name, keywords, job titles and location. Become a premium member (which reporters can do for free for a year by taking LinkedIn’s free journalist class) and you can even drill down those search results into function, seniority level, company size and many more.
For instance, you could look for accountants at a local business that may give you a potential scoop on a land dealing or rumored business strategy. Limiting the job experience parameters could help you find a new hire that may be willing to reveal facts a spokesperson is reluctant to. You can even search for former employees who may be more comfortable talking to a reporter than current employees would.
“Reporters can use Boolean strategies to narrow down their searches even more,” Chow said, allowing reporters to add and even exclude certain keywords create the perfect search for you to drill down on the specific expert or contact you’re looking for.
Searches aren’t just useful for business and tech reporters following a particular beat or company. Using LinkedIn to find local experts and sources during a breaking news event, like a train derailment or industrial accident, could be highly useful to a reporter on a tight deadline.
LinkedIn also gives you the ability to save searches, like Martin did with Twitter, when you have a specific beat or business you’re trying to keep track of. Imagine being a tech reporter living in Philadelphia and keeping tabs on all of Comcast’s moves, or following the business beat in Omaha and getting automatic updates about jobs Berkshire Hathaway just posted?
Another way to use LinkedIn to gather sources is to join a specific group for your industry or the beat you cover. LinkedIn allows users to join up to 50 groups, and once you’re a member, you can contact other members directly, regardless if you have no other connection with them, a service LinkedIn normally charges for.
Similar to Facebook, LinkedIn has company pages that can help promote the organization. But where LinkedIn differs is the emphasis it places on promoting the journalists working for an organization, which simultaneously helps establish a reporter’s credibility and helps the newspaper promote the content they create. It can also say a lot to potential recruits considering applying for an opening.
USA Today used their LinkedIn company page to promote their effort on Make a Difference Day, eventually assembling more than 6,200 food packs they distributed to hungry children near their corporate headquarters in Virginia.
“By letting your readers know who the company is, it humanizes the byline,” Chow said. “Not only does it help promote the brand, it helps highlight the people behind USA Today.”
In addition, media companies can also use LinkedIn like any other social media tool, promoting stories and driving traffic to their websites. The Wall Street Journal has more than 330,000 followers on LinkedIn, and while that may pale in comparison to their followers on Facebook and Twitter, it’s still a significant chunk of potential eyeballs they can bring to their content.
Yes, LinkedIn is yet another social media platform that promises to suck away your time, but if you want to stay ahead of the curve, it may be a great time to give it another chance. At the very least, it could open up doors for your reporting, not to mention a potential new job offer. Not that I would mention that to your bosses.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor and Publisher. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.