Don’t Call Me Guru

As social media editor for Reuters, Anthony De Rosa is about as real time as you can get. His desk on the large newsroom floor at Reuters headquarters in Times Square is dominated by three large computer screens, two of which have TweetDeck open at all times. He needs it that way considering he and his deputy put out 100-plus tweets a day.

De Rosa was named Reuters’ first social media editor just this past July, having already been a product manager and technologist at Reuters and an avid Tumblr user on his own time. De Rosa has his own extremely popular tumblog SoupSoup, which has been cited by Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” and is in the top 25 tumblogs out of the 2.3 million tracked by Compete. Prior to joining Reuters in 2011, he co-founded Neighborhoodr, a hyperlocal blog network. In perhaps a sign of the future, De Rosa’s background is more Web tech than beat reporter. Prior to being named social media editor, he served as an product manager for Reuters application programming interfaces. But he views his current role as firmly in the editorial camp. You won’t find him putting “social media guru” in his Twitter bio.

“Oh dear Lord, no,” he responds at the suggestion. “I hate social media ‘gurus,’ ‘experts,’ ‘shamans,’ etc. Anyone who calls themselves that should be avoided like the Black Plague.”

To hear De Rosa tell it, social media is just another evolution of the media landscape. Sure, much has been made of the tools and platforms, but they’re mostly just new ways of connecting people to information, which is pretty much what journalism is all about.

“Social media is where everyone gets their news now,” he says. “Honestly, as years go by, all editors, as many already are, will be using it as a place to gather information just like anywhere else. I simply focus much of my attention on this medium, but I see it as nothing particularly novel as time goes by.”

It is still somewhat novel to think of the role within the broad sweep of Reuters, which began in the mid-19th century using telegraph cables and carrier pigeons to spread news rapidly through Europe. There are no more pigeons now, just Twitter birds. De Rosa and deputy social media editor Matt Keys, along with editors from the different topics desks, are responsible for getting Reuters content shared across Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google Plus, multiple live blogs and now Pinterest. But broadcasting stories is only part of the deal. Just as important is figuring out what people are talking about on the social Web, who is saying the important stuff and presenting and highlighting all of that on Reuters’ recently created social hub, Social Pulse. That is no small feat.

On Twitter alone, Reuters has over 40 accounts, according to De Rosa’s estimates, for different topics, like @ReutersScience and @ReuterInstagram. Of those 40 accounts, only 12 are operated by actual people (again De Rosa’s estimate) rather than being auto-populated. De Rosa hopes to consolidate these accounts so that all of Reuters’ Twitter accounts have real people behind them. But the main Reuters account, @Reuters, which has over 1.5 million followers, is 100 percent produced by De Rosa and Keys, and Reuters’ Dehli and Bangalore desks that take over when De Rosa and Keys get some time away from the social Web overnight.

Another important part of being social media editor is understanding each of these social platforms and crafting content strategies for each platform accordingly. Reuters shoots for six or seven Facebook posts, 10 Tumblr posts, 100 tweets daily. Along the way De Rosa finds time to serve as host of “Tech Tonic,” which is broadcast on Reuters.com two to three times a week.

Twitter is the heart of the action for the Reuters social team. Twitter isn’t just how Reuters pushes out news, it also where De Rosa and Keys track trends and pull in information for Reuters’ many live blogs. De Rosa uses the ScribbleLive platform to power the Reuters live blogs, which are set up to cover important current topics as they happen, like the one they had for Occupy Wall Street and one that De Rosa said they are setting up for Super Tuesday. ScribbleLive lets De Rosa pull in tweets based on criteria like keywords, locations and tweeter.

“The big stories today were the Yelp IPO and all the political crap leading up to Super Tuesday — I mean stuff, not crap,” Keys chimes in.

One way or another, De Rosa’s eye is always on Twitter, which is something that he encourages journalists to do. Once a month De Rosa holds a workshop for the newsroom journalists where he goes over social media best practices — and who better to learn from than someone who has been called the “undisputed king of Tumblr” by the New York Times and named one of NBC New York’s top 20 people to follow on Twitter? De Rosa goes over things like how to be a good observer and curator and how to verify Twitter information. De Rosa also introduces the journalists to new tools and software that will help them with their reporting. He’ll show off Geofeedr, an application that lets you hone in on any area on a map of the world to see what media is being shared on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and Picasa in the specified area. Other tech tools that he is fond of are Storyful, a carefully curated social news source, Topsy, a real-time social search engine, and Percolate, a social content curation system that also helps populate the Social Pulse page.

It’s not all about Twitter. On Facebook, De Rosa and Keys both describe the strategy there as conservative. As Keys points out, content on Facebook is more static, each post is visible for quite sometime (unlike Twitter where new tweets are really only visible for minutes before they are buried by other new ones), so they post only the really big stories, ones that will encourage discussion and engagement. As for Tumblr, that is where they showcase Reuters’ wealth of visual content from the photo desk and Reuters TV and give snippets of articles all meant to drive traffic back to the actual Reuters site. Not all social platforms are created equal. Google Plus, for instance, is still firmly in the experimental category. As Keys puts it, “I equate it to throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks.”

But De Rosa isn’t a touchy-feely social media guru. He realizes that efforts there need to come with a tangible benefit to Reuters in terms of driving people to view its content on Reuters.com for the most part.

“We measure success by how we’re able to grow our audience on our social platforms, how active our journalists are and how much they’re learning about their beats before our competitors through social media,” says De Rosa. “I think traffic is probably one of the least important metrics of what we’re gaining from social media.”

As De Rosa and I were looking at some snowy pictures posted to Picassa from Syria, Keys swiveled around in his chair to ask about “Follow Friday.” De Rosa and Keys pick one Reuters journalist on Twitter to feature each Friday for Twitter Follow Fridays. Rather than listing a ton of Twitter handles as most people do for Follow Fridays, De Rosa and Keys decided it was better to give one journalist at a time a chance to get recognized on Twitter. And luckily for the social media duo, there is no shortage of Reuters journalists doing good things on Twitter. Just take a look at the Reuters Twitter Directory, which lets you search the over 3,000 global Reuters journalists on Twitter. The Directory features the best journalists tweeters by topic, but you can also filter by location and category. They settled on Reuters journalist Piya Sinha-Roy (@piyasroy) for her Reuters showbiz tweets and images.

Asked the worst part about being a social media editor, De Rosa’s response is simple: “It never, never ends.”