Social media is a great equalizer. It enables us to access people and information previously unknown, and share information with people previously beyond our reach. This can make things easier as well as harder. While social media eases access for journalists, it also increases Internet “noise” and competition for the public’s already taxed attention span.

Gone is the effectiveness of the old news delivery model of pushing information out to an audience. Journalists now have to think about pulling people in — making sure they can be found by the right potential readers.

And while the most well-known social media sources (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) were nearly 100% devoid of people of color at their inception, as more go online, the opportunity for journalists to access and engage diverse audiences has increased.

Successfully tapping into social media to reach diverse audiences and increase diversity in the reporting process requires a multi-faceted, targeted approach. It begins with defining your objectives, determining your audience and thinking differently.

Develop Your Brand and Position Yourself
You want people from diverse populations to pay attention to you? Build your brand presence. Develop an understanding of where you, as a journalist, photographer or editor want to fit in, and then position yourself. Create the demand.

Baratunde Thurston is the host of Popular Science’s “Future of…” on the Science Channel and web and politics editor for the Onion. He is also known on Facebook for his comical, yet insightful posts as the self-proclaimed “Conscious Comic and Vigilante Pundit.”

Facebook is the easiest channel for building a brand, and identifying and reaching diverse communities.

  • Create a fan page and run your articles, photos, videos and interviews on your page.
  • Have a blog? Make sure to run feeds through your fan page.
  • Post commentary on issues you would like people to associate with you.
  • And, of course, invite people to join your fan page.
  • Connect with comparable fan pages and groups. This will give you exposure to people with similar interests.
  • If you work for a news outlet, take into consideration their policies. This is not meant to be an extension of your employer, unless you make such an arrangement. It is instead meant to be an outlet for you to connect with the public.

Identify Your Audience
Readers, viewers and users are not a homogeneous group. The Internet has turned into a conglomeration of niches. Now, there is a network for everything.

Identify the audiences you want to reach. Are you trying to reach a more ethnically diverse population, a wider age range, people who speak a particular language or the LGBT community? Of those communities, are you trying to reach the socially conscious, opinion leaders, or the technologically astute?

Follow the Leader
Identify and reach out to prominent online personalities. They are going to hold some amount of credibility, and network “leaders” can help speed adoption and increase in your readership.

Where to find leaders:

  • Facebook: Check out Facebook fan pages and groups.
  • LinkedIn: Search LinkedIn groups, by topic, for thought leaders and experts.
  • Twitter: Search the topics you want to cover, identify those who are commenting, interacting and sharing resources.
  • Ning: Ning is a network of networks, where people can build online communities of their own around a topic of interest or common cause. Get involved.

Think Beyond the Color Line
When seeking sources and interview subjects, make two lists. First, make a list of the “types” of people you would ordinarily reach out to for a story. Look at the first list, then think about minority groups that might be missing. This will help to create a more inclusive outlook. What next?

Facebook groups and pages, and LinkedIn groups are great places for identifying people of interest. There are groups for everything. Want to reach multicultural women professionals? Check out LinkedIn WomenSuite group. Want to reach out to Asian Americans when doing a community-based sports story? There is a Facebook group for that.

Most importantly, remember that social media is about connecting – with family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers. But connecting successfully requires some amount of trust, even more so when trying to connect and build an audience among members of diverse communities.

When people from diverse communities know you have a genuine interest in them, they will be more willing to become part of your readership.

A few numbers about the Internet and its users

90%+ of young adults and the college-educated population is now online. “We’re reaching the saturation point in the early adopting population.” Susannah Fox, the Pew Internet and American Life Project

2010 Internet usage statistics: 51% of African Americans, 76% of Asian Americans, 52.4% of Hispanics (of any race) and 67.8% of Whites use the Internet. eMarketer

In a survey of 80,000 African Americans, 50% regularly update and access a social networking account. Black Entertainment Television