Twitter is a formidable tool, but even so I find it astonishing how quickly it has become an indispensable part of the newsroom.
Who would have thought a few years ago that conservative organisations like the police and fire service would use it as a key way of communicating with both the Press and public?
But despite its ubiquity, the use of Twitter in some newsrooms lacks focus. This is why you should use it, and some tips to help you make the most of it.
Five good reasons to use Twitter
There are at least five good reasons why we should use Twitter (former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger compiled this list of even more):
- Finding news. Organisations break their news on it first, and people with the same instinct as us (to be first) use it to share pictures and information of remarkable things they have seen or heard about. Sarah Marshall has written this very good guide to newsgathering using Twitter.
- Gathering information about topics you are interested in (you need to understand how to use lists to make the most of this).
- Listening to what people are saying on topics they are interested in.
- Communicating with people and asking them for information or their opinions, which can then inform your reporting.
- Distributing news stories from your website.
I have deliberately placed ‘distribution’ last on the list.
Tweeting links to stories drives only a small percentage of visitors to regional newspaper websites (apart from breaking news, see below). The figures will differ from site to site, but I would say Twitter will account on average for fewer than five per cent of referrals, against between 30 per cent 50 per cent for Facebook.
Now, I’m not saying don’t tweet links. Just be aware of the small returns you are likely to receive for certain tweets and ask yourself if your time on Twitter can be better spent.
The three most effective things to tweet
Use a hashtag if you think a story is going to run and develop over time (stories with hashtags are more widely shared). Use one already in circulation if it applies to your story, if not come up with your own and use it on all subsequent tweets about the story. Beware, though, of trying to hitch a ride on a trending hashtag if your content is not truly relevant.
Tweets that get you the most engagement (retweets, profile clicks, link clicks, mentions, followers and so forth) are, overwhelmingly, those that contain original content.
Not surprisingly, people will only invest their time, even if it is a few seconds, in something new that interests, entertains, informs or challenges them.
So, use tweets like this to both drive traffic and build your personal brand, which will help you develop relationships with your audience:
- Breaking news: If you can get a good story on the website within minutes (or better still, seconds) of it breaking, then tweet it out you will be rewarded with lots of clicks on your link. Remember to get something on your website first, then tweet a link to it. Breaking news stories on Twitter means people are not then obliged to visit your website for information, which is the ultimate goal of our digital activity!
- Pictures: Take them on your phone of interesting things you see, or on camera if you enjoy taking higher-quality photographs. You can also tweet photos contributed by readers, though make sure you always credit the contributor. Beware of stripping out pictures from other tweets and reusing them in your own timeline, even if you credit the originator. Some people don’t like it. Remember, tweets containing pictures triple the rate of retweets and nearly double the rate of likes.
- Opinion: People are interested in what journalists have to say, particularly if you have a specialist subject such as sport, politics or education. So instead of just retweeting things that catch your eye, add your expert view or local slant. People will enjoy reading what you have to say, and you may get a debate going. Be responsible in expressing your opinions. Claiming in your Twitter bio that “all views are your own” does not mean your audience will readily disassociate you from the newspaper for which you work. You cannot clock off from being a journalist, in the same way that a politician cannot clock off from being a politician.
How to work effectively on Twitter
To use Twitter effectively you cannot rely solely on your basic Twitter timeline. You need to use a desktop tool such as Tweetdeck. It helps you sift through the vast amount of content being produced by organising tweets into lists, which are more practicable to monitor.
Tweetdeck also lets you schedule tweets for key times, and set up alerts when a certain user tweets, or when a defined word or phrase appears.
You can also build complex search queries incorporating filters. So, for instance, you can create a search query seeking flood OR flooding OR downpour that will produce results with tweets featuring any of those words.
You can then add a filter to improve the quality of your results.
You might want to specify that you only want to see tweets that include pictures, or set a threshold for engagement.
If, for instance, you say you only want to see tweets that have been retweeted 10 times you can filter out some of the more random mentions.
You can also filter results geographically, although the effectiveness depends on whether the sender has location services enabled when they tweet.
It can also be useful to search users’ Twitter profiles for keywords (this function is not available in Twitter advanced search). A free version of a tool called Followerwonk allows you to add a key word and refine it by location and number of followers and/or tweets, thereby allowing you to zero-in on the most influential users in your area of interest.
Devise your strategy for Twitter
Think about what you want to achieve, and how you will do it. Make your goals measurable, and write them down so you can refer back to them.
Your strategy might be: Use Twitter to find more stories about my patch, build a network of contacts and grow the online audience for stories about my patch.
Your tactics for achieving it might be: Gain 30 new followers a month (tips on how to do that here), develop contacts by responding to 10 tweets relevant to my patch every month, update my Twitter bio to make it relevant to my goals, and post 10 tweets this month that earn at least 1,000 impressions.
To make sure you are reaching your goals you need to understand your followers better and measure how well you are doing against the goals you have set yourself. You can do this using Twitter Analytics, which is free and simple to use.
What are you top tips for using Twitter in the newsroom? Let me know.