Social media reporting tool: a pyramid

Say you want to do a story (or start a beat) on how students at your campus spend their money. No one has studied this, and you need more than just a few students’ spending patterns. It’s unlikely you’re going to find a large number of students walking around campus who are willing to stop and think long enough about how much they spend on rent, utilities, food, beer, clothing, etc.  And that’s time-consuming.

So here’s a great suggestion from Kimberly Boim, publisher of the Dawson News and Advertiser: Pick six friends. Ask them to fill out your spending survey. And ask them to send it to six of their social media friends. Boim, who helped a student develop this idea at the Georgia College Press Association annual meeting Saturday, explained why this probably will work. Everyone in this social media (and honest) version of a pyramid scheme is helping a friend, not just taking a survey.

I love it! The pyramid allows you get some traction quickly on an idea that would benefit from a large number of responses.  You could even use it if you’re wondering if something really is a trend. Then the question you send out is, “Are you obsessed with [whatever]?” If nobody is, maybe it’s not a trend.

But let’s assume you get a lot of responses to your spending survey.  What do you have? Not a scientifically valid sample, of course, but a good baseline to start your reporting. You now can go to your whole social media audience and say, “Hey, I got 42 students to tell me how they spend money, and here’s their average budget. Does it look right to you? Do you spend more or less on beer, movies, gas?” Subsequent tweets (Twitter is my vice) might zero in on certain aspects, “The average student I found spends $50 a week on beer and entertainment. High or low? Tell me your story!”

You still don’t have data ready for a scientific journal, but you’ve got far more anecdotal evidence than a typical news story. Some of the social media responses will be worth quoting. And some of the people will be worth following up with an interview. You can find some national statistics for comparison and of course talk to experts if appropriate.

Once you publish your story (and/or a great infographic), that pyramid of sources likely will grow and bring you more story ideas.


About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on February 4, 2013, in Digital/social, Reporting. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is Kimberly Boim, the publisher David mentioned in his story. For those students lucky enough to attend his GCPA class on Saturday, here’s more food for your story. How students spend money on and off campus is — to use his word — your AVATAR. It’s your big story. However, you can also spin-off smaller Avatars, and perhaps even more interesting stories, by breaking spending down by group. For example, engineers may spend money differently than, say, art students. And, art students likely spend money differently than athletes. You see where I’m going with this? Talk about gathering great data. Heck, some savvy advertiser may even want to place an ad in your newspaper to reach that demographic group.

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