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This guest post is written by Dena Levitz, one of my colleagues at the Newspaper Association of America in Arlington, Va. She is manager of digital strategies.

The news agencies taking advantage of social media are the news agencies that are starting to grow and will ultimately succeed.

This was something that Kim Wilson, a broadcast journalist turned blogger and media consultant, told me last summer. Three, four, certainly five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. But with billions of users, social media have become much more than ways to stay in touch with old classmates and let the world know what you scarfed down for breakfast. They have become absolutely transformative.

It’s out of this belief that I worked with two freelance journalists over the course of several months to craft Network to Success: Social Media Strategies for Newspapers. The lessons – on harnessing the two biggest platforms, Facebook and Twitter – are incredibly important for student journalists and advisers.

Off the bat, here are some key points from the three-section guide:

  • Facebook and Twitter – in ways similar to, yet more sophisticated than how the letter to the editor used to – provide a strong means of engagement with audiences. Users can take the news as a starting point for conversations with others also interested in that topic, or share favored content with peers.
  • In that vein, social media are catching up to search engines like Google and Yahoo as main referral engines to news outlets’ websites. In the words of Chris Tiedje, former social-media coordinator for the Sun Sentinel Media Co.: “We want to create community with our Facebook page, but unless we can prove it’s resulting in more traffic for the website, it’s no good.” Using social media as a means of driving more eyeballs to your site is critical.
  • Facebook has begun to track the types of posts that generate the most excitement with users. The report delves into some common threads, such as articles that contain emotional storylines with which readers can form a connection.
  • There’s a market for teaching the public and small businesses in your community (who may or may not have previously been advertisers for your publication) about social media. Leading workshops on this front, or taking the concept a step further by managing companies’ social media accounts, is something to consider.
  • Lastly, a modern news audience is demanding more than just bylines from journalists. Twitter, especially, is a great way to get tips, involve readers in coverage and show there’s a person behind the reporting. These factors all build loyalty.

In the end, social media come ripe with opportunities to improve the news product and grow audience, for professional and student publications alike.