You don’t have to look hard to see how social media is changing the world of print. Newspapers and magazines that used to just come to your mailbox now deliver snippets of news to your inbox. In a few clicks, you can find your favorite publication on the networking site of your choice, and read stories, enter contests, and submit photos and feedback. But social media has transformed more than just the printed product; it’s also revolutionizing the way we editors and writers do our jobs.

At Hammock, we don’t quote or view Wikipedia as the definitive authority on a topic. However, it can often be a great gateway to a wide array of resources that can help a researcher find experts on a topic who may help readers understand topics from various points of view. Rather than making an endless string of calls to locate the right source, we can send a shout-out to our virtual network to find more than enough leads to follow. We can even use social media to connect with far-flung readers and freelance writers and photographers.

“The connections we’re making through social media and social networks are important to our work in many different ways,” says editor Summer Huggins.

Reaching out
In some ways, our editorial team has always used social media to develop stories. Since 2007, we’ve been sending out monthly e-mail surveys to the reader panel of MyBusiness, the magazine we publish for members of the National Federation of Independent Business. We use these surveys to find members for upcoming articles as well as to gather demographic data. Sometimes, we even ask the panel to choose the cover of the next issue.

Because the magazines we publish tell stories about people from across the country, we have long used the Internet to dig up sources and information. But the growth in social media has made that process much easier and more efficient.

One of our favorite sites for finding sources lately is Help a Reporter Out. Run by marketing guru Peter Shankman, the site connects journalists with potential sources through a list that boasts thousands of contacts. It’s sort of like a matchmaking site: You submit a query about your story and the type of person you want to interview, and set criteria like region, category and deadline. Then Shankman shoots it out to his list of sources, who are encouraged to contact you if they see a fit.

“It’s incredibly simple to use, and I always get a handful of possible sources to choose from, so I get the freedom of being picky about who I follow up with,” Summer says.

Making connections
MyBusiness editor Lena Anthony uses LinkedIn to track down small business owners to interview. “Maybe I read about someone online, but I need to make sure I’m contacting the right person, so I’ll search for them on LinkedIn to connect the dots,” Lena says.

For stories with looming deadlines and quick turnarounds, Twitter is especially helpful, Summer says. If she’s in a rush to find a source, she’ll just send out a “tweet,” and “in a matter of seconds, my quest to find someone to talk to is seen by my followers (about 500 people),” she says. “If I’m lucky, they then ‘re-tweet’ my request and someone somewhere along the way is a perfect fit.”

Thanks to Twitter, Summer has also added new writers to her freelance list.

One of our frequent freelancers Nancy Mann Jackson has also found Twitter to be fertile ground for cultivating sources. “I follow lots of other writers and professionals in the areas I write about, and people interested in the subjects I post about often follow me,” Nancy says. “So when I need sources, I tweet, people re-tweet to their networks and interested parties get back to me.”

Finding sources through sites like Facebook and MySpace can be a little trickier because profiles are often private and contact lists are usually full of more friends than colleagues. But publishers and writers with pages that people can “fan” create a pool of willing sources eager to share stories and ideas.

While working on a magazine project for a military client, we created a Facebook group for teens interested in magazines, so we could gather quotes and insight from students across the country. We also built a network of teen contributors by sending out calls for writers to our Facebook and MySpace contacts.

Helpful Hints

Using social media to develop a story? Keep these tips in mind:

*Keep queries as specific as possible to avoid source overload. Respond to sources who contact you directly rather than people who promise to “put you in touch” with someone.

*Focus on developing relationships. If you tweet or send out queries, be willing to re-tweet and help others out when they make requests.

*If you use social networking sites to connect with sources or freelancers, copy correspondence into work files to keep information organized.

Brainstorming and collaborating
Editor Bill Hudgins has also used Facebook to find leads for freelance writers for Semper Fi, the magazine we publish for the Marine Core League. While developing an idea for a profile on golf pro and Marine veteran Lee Trevino, he put out the word for a journalist who would have easy access to Trevino, and found the perfect fit — a writer who had done public relations work for the sport.

Social media also gives journalists a new way to brainstorm and collaborate. Nancy often gets story ideas from reading links posted by others.

“Last week, I was researching a story about 401(k)’s for small businesses, and I posted a tweet about the topic,” she says. “Within minutes, someone at the Pension Rights Center responded with a helpful link. [The organization] isn’t on my list of followers, so someone must have seen my request when it was re-tweeted for me.” writer Megan Morris often turns to Twitter when she wants to throw out a quick question or run ideas by colleagues. This week, she’s browsed Twitter’s “Trending Topics” area to brainstorm for the 2010 MyBusiness editorial calendar.

“I’ve been searching words like ‘small business’ and ‘how to,’ seeing what profiles come up and scanning them to see if anything jumps out,” she says. “I’ve found some interesting possibilities!”