The early days of a new tech launch are always a test. Should we adopt it or not? Will it be around for enough time to justify the time spent learning and using it? If it dies, will we lose all of our data?

Many are having this same discussion about Google Plus right now. As the new-kid-on-the-block challenger to Facebook, there are many questions out there about whether it’s worth it to learn it. I’m already on record about the fact that I think this thing is a game-changer, and I think it’s time for our Lehigh journalism, marketing, and PR students to get on the train now so they can be ahead of the curve. We don’t want to wait until someone tells us at a leadership or strategic communication seminar 2 years from now.

I’m also making this argument for the university as a whole, and you can read it here. I do think GPlus is going to change the way we do education, but this post is devoted to journalism.

Before I start, I do want to say that Silagh White and I are going to work to have a meeting on campus that goes over the basics and will have some networking for folks interested in using Plus here. More on that to come, but if you want to take part then please email me or leave something in the comments. And make sure to circle me on my profile.

I’ve been an evangelist for Twitter as a journalistic tool since 2007 and first used it in my classes at Missouri in 2008. Back then it had a funny name and wasn’t instantly seen as useful. People thought it was silly or a waste of time. I had (and have) a great role model in Jen Reeves to keep pushing, and over time the journalism crowd came around.

I hear similar things about Gplus. “It’s a waste of time” or “Not ANOTHER social network!” or “Why do I need another Facebook?” or “I don’t understand it.”

The reason, young journalists, is because if the past five years have taught us anything it’s that you have to be your own experimenter. When I started out in the business, if I didn’t understand something there was an editor to walk me through it and teach me. Now that teaching editor has been laid off, furloughed or – gulp – YOU are that editor. You have to learn to play with new tools on your own and figure out how to adapt them to your job. Some of them – many of them – will die and be a waste of time. But the more tools you use, the more practice you get and the more versed you are in the concepts of social media. GPlus has a low learning curve for me because I’m immersed in social media tools. If you’re having trouble, it’s because you’re not playing enough.

The other thing is that the new journalist makes the future. You don’t sit around and wait for an editor to tell you that you need to be on Plus. You need to be the one changing the newsroom.

Already I see huge potential in journalism, such as:

  • Plus will have a page feature for news organizations, similar to Facebook. This is a space you need to be in. By next year, newsrooms might want a journalist who can manage these pages on occasion. Will you be ready for this new job market reality? For my marketing/PR students, this is the most essential part of Plus that you need to be learning. Now.
  • Hangouts – This multi-way web conferencing tool is going to change how we do news. Imagine if newsrooms could make reporters or editors available for a few minutes a day to take questions from random readers. Or what if reporters in the field could chat with editors and other staff? KOMU did what we think was the first-of-its-kindweb cast on the air using GPlus. Huge kudos to KOMU, which is a leader in experimenting with new tech and journalism. We need more newsrooms to be imagining ways to use things like Hangout to interact with readers. The ability to share videos with those on the Hangoutcast is already huge. Lots of potential here.
  • Circles – As I explained yesterday, to see what your readers are posting you have to mutually opt in. That means you have to figure out the language of Plus, to be engaging enough that people circle you, so that you benefit from the community “police scanner effect” similar to Twitter. Plus is an evolution – it’s not enough to be a brand anymore. You have to add value. This is a completely new social media paradigm, and the time to start learning what works is now. Don’t wait. And by the way, if you’re in marketing think about the implications of having to add value in order to get circled. Being a brand in a space isn’t enough anymore.
  • Source building – Circling people in your community, much like finding them on Twitter, will be important. But the granular privacy options that allow for public/private conversations will be another way for reporters to cultivate sources.
  • Link traffic – A couple of my blogs are already showing signs that GPlus is a great driver of traffic. If you can connect with people in the ways I talked about above, this will be a big opportunity. As with many social media products, building influence early matters.

Those are just a few ideas. We need journalists exploring this space now. We need young journalists doing this too so they can refresh our newsrooms (and some really original examples of what you’re doing just might land you that dream job). We’re past the point where just being on social media is enough for newsrooms. Can you talk intelligently about it conceptually and use it wisely? Does your use reflect that?

But that is my bottom line. This is gut check time for young journalists. If you aren’t relishing the opportunity to play with new tech now, you might not be cut out for this business because curiosity about tech tools, both current and future ones, is part of the job. Because of the nature of the classroom experience I can only pack in a fraction of the tools I know about, but I try to give them the essentials. What I can’t teach is curiosity. My students can’t afford to wait for me to show them the next big thing and explain it to them. I try to teach students to understand the concepts so that they can figure these things out themselves long after they’ve left Lehigh. When it works well, my upper-level classes become a conversation about new tools I’m seeing and new tools my students are using; we learn from each other.

But the time to start is now. Be curious or think hard about whether you really want to work in media. I’m not sure I can afford to be less blunt about this.

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Journalism students can’t afford to sleep on Google Plus
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