Twitter for news journalists: why and how

Long exposure layered image of Stars buzzing by two Satellite Communication Antennas to the sky, photo Striking Photography by Bo

Communication to the Stars by Striking Photography by Bo on flickr.com

Making it part of a constructive and nutritious newsroom strategy

Updated, 22 March 2012: Twitter has become accepted by journalists as an opportunity for two-way communication, newsgathering and crowdsourcing, and as a key distribution tool in a fast-moving digital environment. But remember, Twitter is just a tool, like your phone, pen and paper or editorial content management system. It is not a guaranteed saviour of journalism, the answer to newsroom prayers or going to write a story for you – but it can definitely help, especially in an increasingly ‘digital first‘ news publishing environment.

As with any source Twitter information needs verifying, here are some tips from mediahelpingmedia.org, here Alex Murray gives an insight into BBC News’ verification processes, and here Mary Hamilton‘s nine ways to use Twitter responsibly following the UK riots of August 2011. It’s also worth remembering that even in 2012, with a proliferation of smartphones with seamless social media apps and after several high profile events having brought Twitter into the mainstream, whilst the numbers are growing steadily, not everyone is using it, and to varying degrees depending on location, probably only a small proportion of a local audience is tweeting. The key is having a realistic expectation and clear strategy that will dictate levels of success, as Paul Bradshaw puts it:

the tools should come after the strategies, and the strategy should come after the objective

So set some clear objectives on what you want Twitter to achieve for you, find out the most efficient and effective way of using it and then dive in, making sure to take a step back once in a while to see if your strategy is working and what and how others and peers are using social media tools. Plus the next time you go for a media-related job interview, it may well crop up as a question. So here are some tips and quotes I collated for my own local newspaper newsroom team:

  • Sign up to Twitter: as an individual journalist, and be aware that what you say and do represents and reflects you and your news organisation.
  • Remember: this is a professional, public-facing account backed by your news organisation’s brand.
  • My advice on separate accounts for work/non-work tweeting has mellowed: get your own personal account if… what you do out of work is very specific/niche/completely different from your day job, and worth its own Twitterverse. Just make it clear it’s your own views and not those of any employer! Otherwise the odd personal comment or showing some personality does no harm. Read more advice in my curated discussion on storify: “Journalists on Twitter: 1 profile or 2?
  • Username suggestion: @yournameNewsOrg – needs to be short but memorable, doesn’t have to be strict, but make sure shortening any words doesn’t spell anything odd or inappropriate! – Read my related post on ‘Journalists on Twitter: 1 profile or 2?
  • Add professional bio details, who you are, your news title, location, your local patch, what areas of content you cover.
  • Inject some of your own personality into your Tweets, it will help people to ‘warm’ to you as a real person as opposed to just a reporter.
  • If you make a mistake in a tweet, start a new one with “Correction:…”
  • If you’re replying to someone, having their @profilename at the start means only followers of both of you would see it, if it’s something of mass-interest, use a full stop at the beginning to publish it to everyone, “.@localPeeps blah blah…”

Here is a good starting point listing Twitter basics: 10 Must-Learn Lessons For Twitter Newbies - http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/

What’s in it for you

Push: gain a following of interested, local people, share your stories and  ideas for stories. Pull:get feedback/comments/images and video, request help/opinion/information on upcoming stories and ongoing/upcoming events. It may take a while to get a substantial followering: stay enthusiastic, this will give you time to get used to the process, and find your own style.

Feb 2010: New director of BBC Global News Peter Horrocks commented: “Aggregating and curating content with attribution should become part of a BBC journalist’s assignment; and BBC’s journalists have to integrate and listen to feedback for a better understanding of how the audience is relating to the BBC brand. If you don’t like it… then go and do something else, because it’s going to happen. You’re not going to be able to stop it.” Source: Mashable.com

How to manage/tools

Make the process of updating Twitter quick, (here’s what I do): install Firefox or Chrome browser – quicker and more advanced than Internet Explorer, sign up to a bit.ly account (you can use a Twitter account), this will shorten long URL, and enable you to track how many people are clicking on your links.

Then when you want to send an update about your story, click on a link directly from Firefox to open your bitly account, ready for adding your message, it will automatically make and insert a short bit.ly URL of your story. Or use the AddThis Firefox extension or AddThis Google Chrome extension to create your Twitter ready short URL. There may well be sharing buttons on the page asthese are common on news websites.
Tools such as TwitterLocalTrendsmap and Nearby Tweets help you find tweeps in your community. Try desktop, mobile or web-based apps: TweetdeckSeesmic, and Twitterfall (web) – ‘specialising in real-time tweet searches. New tweets fall into the page’.

See also by me:  Useful free Android apps for journalists - and: must have iphone apps for journalists by Ten fantastic apps, tips and tools for recording audio on journalism.co.uk

Tips on using Twitter and suggested tools: some quotes and notes –

  • busy journalists facing too many demands in shrunken newsrooms can’t afford to let anything steal away too much of their day
  • first a caveat: You need to invest some time learning to use Twitter and connecting with followers, primarily people in your community and colleagues who share your professional interests
  • Some days Twitter will provide great value and be worth spending some time
  • Tweet a few times each day. Your tweets don’t have to take much time, but they help you engage with colleagues and your community
  • Check your “mentions.”
  • Search your real name.
  • Using this search and the mentions… engage any time someone is talking to me or about me, without constantly watching the whole stream
  • Use Twitter as a news source
  • Use a mobile Twitter app
  • I would suggest snaptu.com, quick and straightforward to use if you’ve not an iPhone or Android enabled phonerichardkendall
  • You can browse some tweets or fire off a quick tweet while walking to of from your car, while waiting for a meeting to start or riding an elevator or lift! – richardkendall
  • paper.li  - organizes links shared on Twitter and Facebook into a newspaper-style format
  • Twitter lists. Twitter lets you sort the people you follow
  • Advanced Twitter search tips and example operators

More reasons why you should get tweeting

From Twitter for newsroom leaders « Pursuing the Complete Community Connection – Steve Buttry

  • tweeting links to fresh content, crowdsource stories and story ideas and note how it boosts traffic
  • Use your real name, either in username or in your profile.
  • Remember you are representing your company/organisation and anything you say reflects upon you and that organisation - richardkendall
  • Search hashtags and keywords when news breaks, connect quickly with eyewitnesses
  • Use Twitter and CoverItLive together to provide live coverage of events, e.g. live sport
  • Build and help to grow the community,  follow people in your community check their followers/retweeters to find more, benefiting all your followers -richardkendall
  • Don’t underestimate the power of lists to organize and prioritize the folks you’re following
  • See also: Advanced Twitter techniques for journalists « The Buttry Diary

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on: Why Twitter matters for media organisations, some quotes:

  • Twitter is a “highly effective way of spreading ideas, information and content
  • “increasingly, news happens first on Twitter
  • “reporters are now habitually using Twitter as an aid to find information… requests for knowledge… witnesses to specific events
  • “alert your community of followers. In marketing speak, it drives traffic and it drives engagement”…

Sarah Booker adds key points including:

  • Monitor the activities and discussions in your community.
  • Connect with colleagues and share ideas with them.
  • “Crowdsource” stories by asking for story ideas or information.
  • Quickly find people who witnessed or experienced an event.
  • Drive traffic to your content.
  • Improve your writing as you learn to make points directly in just 140 characters.

Further reading/viewing:

This post was originally published on 16th February 2010. I’ve been constantly tinkering and updating ever since as the web and social media never sleeps and is in a state of constant change.

Image used can be found here: Communication to the Stars by Striking Photography by Bo on flickr.com

16 thoughts on “Twitter for news journalists: why and how

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  3. Will Peach

    Richard, great post and a good list of comprehensive resources. We talk about the usefulness of Twitter but how can we encourage those who don’t see it’s value, local sources or hyperlocal content producers, to get using it?

    Reply
  4. Pingback: links for 2010-02-17 « Sarah Hartley

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  6. Pingback: #Tip of the day from Journalism.co.uk – a local journalist’s guide to using Twitter | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog

  7. Richard

    Enjoyed your guide Richard. I also find the Firefox extension Shorten URL useful for creating links ready for bit.ly

    Reply
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  11. Pingback: psmith, journalist › What I learned about Twitter and journalism in 2010 – tips and advice from a compulsive tweeter

  12. Natalie Adcock

    This is a bit late, but I have just seen that you have referenced me – thank you! Enjoyed the assortment of links.

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Moving to digital first journalism « A Web editor's tale

  14. Pingback: Be careful what you tweet and retweet | A Web editor's tale

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