Social Media Research Tools for Journalists (a Workshop at DW’s Best Practice Day 2013)

Journalists increasingly involve social media in their work. Initially, the focus was on publication, self-promotion, user engagement and audience feedback. Now the research aspect is catching up.


In the SocIoS project Deutsche Welle Innovation co-developed a prototype application for journalists with international technology partners (ICCS, IBM, ATC, Google, University of Haifa and Cognium). This application offers a range of functions to support topical journalistic research in social media. Unfortunately, it is not yet publically available.

During the project we learned a lot about web tools for journalists, the process of research in social media and key support functions in the context of journalism. To transfer this knowledge we organised a Social Media Research Workshop together with DW's Social Media Manager Julia Hildebrand at this year's Best Practice Day at Deutsche Welle.


We started with an overview presentation, looking at the role of social media in journalism, top 10 reasons for including social sources in research, available online support tools, their main purpose/functions and the social networks they cover. As different tools offer different functions we highlighted a list of generic functions that are useful for journalists when looking at social content, information, users or trending topics. At the end of our talk we listed the many different types of research tasks a journalist may embark on and how this influences the tools and functions to select.

One key message following from the presentation was that journalists can use a range of online support tools for topical research–beyond the search functions offered by the major social networks. In order to select the right tools and functionalities it is key to know the characteristic and objective of each research task: from required results, available time frames or creative commons licenses to the actual types of media items or pieces of information to be found.

Working with tools at the Best Practice Day 2013 workshopRuben Bouwmeester

Hands on

For the practical part of the workshop we used the unfolding story about the "Boston Marathon Suspect" as an example news topic and split up into groups. Each group explored one of five freely available web tools, which cover more than one social network: Storify, Topsy, Icerocket, SocialMention and Addictomatic.

Each of the tools has Pros and Cons: the journalists liked the fact that several social sources can be searched by keyword with one tool, they get a fast overview of what "happens now", results are ordered chronologically and they can search for experts, in blogs, by time frame and media type. One participant pointed out that is was useful to differentiate between sources, top keywords, top users and hashtags. What they didn't like so much were "overwhelming results" and cluttered interfaces. The journalists also requested more refined filtering functions, a save-search option and insight into "older" items related to non-current topics.

Tool evaluation in the workshop: pros and consRuben Bouwmeester

Even more tools

Other tools highlighted during the workshop included Flumes, Spike (Newswhip) and Tame as well as services for journalists and media organisations from Storyful. Unlike general social media tools Spike, Tame and Storyful are largely aimed at journalists. In the near future we hope to see more tools with tailored functions for journalists, similar to the proof-of-concept SocIoS application. There are also emerging tools for journalists, which support the verification of photos or videos and social accounts. Klout or Mentionmapp are examples for tools that focus on the user/author of social media content. Some providers target the marketing industry with subscription-based tools for the monitoring of brands and products in the social media universe (e.g. Bottlenose, Syncapse or Weblyzard).

At DW Innovation we keep covering the topic of social journalism and research in social media in other projects: stay tuned!

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