TV news anchor masters the social web to connect with viewers

One of our local news anchors, Tearsa Smith, has done a masterful job using the social web to connect to viewers in a personable, accessible manner. She’s a best practice — bringing her news, her news station, and her life to her fans with energy, enthusiasm and humor.  Tearsa can be found journaling through Twitter and Facebook at all hours it seems, especially if there is breaking news. In a world of arms-length celebrity, she is refreshing and unique.

Here is an interview with Tearsa covering her personal social media strategy:

Tearsa, how did you get involved in the social web? Was it an initiative from your news station, a personal decision, or both?

I’ve always been a fan of social media starting with MySpace and then moving on to Facebook. After connecting with every person I have ever encountered (I have more than 1,100 “friends” on my personal Facebook account) I was a bit against my news director’s push to get the newsroom involved with Twitter. A girl can only spend so many hours online. While reluctant, I now find Twitter to be the most engaging of the social media sites. It’s been very interesting talking with viewers about their take on stories, questions they have and just about life in general.

As you think about how you show up on the social web, is it connected to any personal or professional goals?

I don’t think I went into this with any “goals.” I am awful about calling friends and family and social media has been a great vehicle to stay connected and still juggle the million other things I have going on daily in my life.

The more I am engaged online I do start to see how online media can help anyone professionally. The goal is to be smart and not say everything you might be thinking – unless that is your goal. I have 1,500+ followers and you never know through networking if a potential future employer is waiting in the wings and “following” me. Do I want to come across as smart, likable, witty and well rounded or bitter, disgruntled and unapproachable? Anyone with a skill or interest in a particular industry has the opportunity to “show-off” without seeming pushy or desperate for a job.

Can you point to any ways your participation in Twitter and Facebook has benefited you professionally?

I have two separate lives in the social media world. I have two separate accounts for Facebook – one is public and the other is private. On Twitter I merge the two a bit more. Personally it has been so interesting to catch up with people from my past and family members. On a professional note I LOVE interacting with viewers daily. They remind me daily that we aren’t just reporting stories but that what we report affects real people and their lives for the good or bad.

A lot of fellow journalists don’t see the benefits of social media but I think it is a great tool to connect. I have had really good story ideas pitched to me via Twitter/Facebook because people feel like they know me or they can trust me.  As journalists we miss the mark if we just spit out news headlines throughout the day – that’s what the official TV station/newspaper’s Twitter/Facebook/MySpace account is for. It’s my job to ask people what they think and if they have any follow ups to enhance the story.

About how much time do you spend on Twitter/Facebook each day?  Is it difficult to keep up with fan requests?

You don’t even want to know.  Actually I don’t even want to know. I am on from 4 am-11:30am while I’m at work. I am on after work hours on my Blackberry throughout the day and of course I pop online before bed on my laptop. You do the math! It’s not hard keeping up with fan/viewer requests as long as they request information from public pages.  All of this while balancing work, a household, husband and 1 year old daughter.

How do you handle the inevitable invasiveness that occurs when a TV personality opens up for public display?

I am very guarded about what I say and how I say it. It is very rare that I disclose where I am until I have left the location. Exceptions are made for work sponsored events where I am not alone. I think this is a good idea for anyone, especially women looking at their safety. For example if I am out shopping I don’t say where I am but I will still give any observations that I think are funny or interesting at the time. Over time, you will get people who feel especially close to you and it’s up to me to draw that fine line between engaging and overstepping boundaries. Usually I can wiggle out of invasiveness with a little humor.

What are my chances I can follow in your footsteps as a popular news anchor?  Be honest, Tearsa.

Honestly, Mark … you just don’t have the hair for it … Sorry.

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  • Terrific interview, Mark. Don’t let the hair comment get you down.

  • Mark

    @Marc. I was having a bad hair day. I’ll show her next time.

  • Michael Holtz

    Great interview. As a PR professional, I love that social media keeps me connected to journalists and other PR and marketing folks. Nice to hear Tearsa’s perspective.

  • I love this! I don’t know if I’ve told you before, but I’m pretty fascinated by how old media evolve as new media emerge. It’s so cool to see a first-hand example about how someone in an “old media” is evolving and adapting as social media and the Internet become king.

    The idea is that television and mainstream news are supposed to become hyperlocal to fill the gap that online communities leave. This is a perfect example of how you can create a local following with a social media tool. Very cool!

  • Jim LeBlanc

    Tearsa = My new hero. So nice to see somebody in “traditional” media extend themselves out of their shells and into the masses. I like the way she relates in such a human way. No wonder she is so good at her job! Thanks for this great story, Mark !!

  • Hey everyone! Thanks so much for your kind words! It’s so funny to hear everyone’s opinion on social media and it’s progression.

    Jim LeBlanc the check is in the mail! (My way of saying thank you..)

  • Being a firm believer that social media is currently the best example of what networking is all about, I’ve come to enjoy watching the news more as I get ready for my day. The ability to interact with those involved by commenting real time and bantering with real people brings an addede element that makes you feel like you’re a part of it. Not to mention… Tearsa’s hair IS what being a news anchor is all about! 😉

  • Mark

    @William — You’ve nailed it. If you’re not engaged on the social web, it will probably mean “hair today, gone tomorrow.”

  • Gwen Kinsey

    Thanks for acknowledging what a terrific job Tearsa does in engaging with our viewers. As for future employers following her on Twitter, they are not the only ones 🙂
    full disclosure: I am General Manager at WATE and proud that many on our staff see viewer engagement as a key to having their ear to the ground. Thanks to those of you willing to put yourselves out there for all of our learning.

  • Mark

    @ Gwen — Thanks for taking the time to comment. Love what you do at WATE. Keep up the good work!

  • Yay Tearsa! Great interview! As I said on twitter, I ? the newsroom diva!

  • Hey Gwen! Did I say future employers? I meant that theoretically.. LOL (Someone remind me to figure out Gwen’s handle on Twitter…)

  • Linda S. Jones

    Enjoyed that, Mark. Thanks.

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