The Three Rules of Twitter for Journalists

Twitter bird logo How many reporters do you follow on Twitter? You may dabble with following and dropping them, but chances are the ones that you stay with actually deliver news. Crazy notion, right? They have scoops. They give insight from the scene of a breaking story. They retweet the scoops of others they trust. In other words, the best practitioners on Twitter, use it like a wire service.

Unfortunately, that’s the exception to the rule.

My life’s work is to collect engagement data on the content that news organizations and individual staff members publish in social media. What I’ve seen isn’t pretty.

Most reporters spend WAY too much time talking about what they ate on the way to an assignment, the ‘great’ story they are going to report on the next newscast (without a link to the livestream) and joking with other people on their staff or competing news organizations. It’s called “inside talk” — and it is social media at its worst.

Reporters today have a valuable tool in Twitter, if they choose to use it wisely.

  1. Talk with your audience. That means you take the time to answer the people who reply to your tweets. They have questions and maybe even a news tip. Act like a real person — not like an inbox that collects spam.
  2. Spend more time reporting than teasing. If someone is following your posts, they are probably doing so because they are interested in being the first to learn something new. Don’t disappoint by telling people (the equivalent of) “something is new but you will have to quickly locate and turn on a television set to find out.” Remember, most people are reading tweets on their phone. Which means they are probably waiting in line at the bank or dry cleaners.
  3. Provide insight. Reporters that cover a beat, even if occasionally, know more than they give themselves credit for knowing. Reward your followers by treating them to the same type of juicy tidbits you would share with friends. Maybe it’s material that didn’t make your main report, but interesting nonetheless.

A few weeks ago, I met with a veteran reporter in Chicago to talk social media, and he hesitated when I suggested he share insights on Twitter. What if the competition found out and beat him to the story? My answer was that today’s media landscape is a lot more complicated than that. It’s more than your newscast or newspaper. It’s your brand.

The people who will respect and appreciate actually learning something from your Twitter feed will far outweigh anyone who might learn about it from the competition.

My advice to all newsrooms: Don’t leave social media to chance. What your “brand ambassadors” (i.e. anchors, columnists, reporters, producers, photographers etc.) are tweeting carries as much weight or more than your institutional accounts. How they treat the brand’s content matters – a lot. Social media has forever changed the news game. But just don’t take my work for it:

Social networks are driving an increasing percentage of the traffic to news sites, beginning to rival search engines like Google as sources of referrals to news stories … Some have even speculated that social networks will supplant news websites as the place where people get news.

–The Transition To Digital Journalism, UC Berkeley School of Journalism, June 2014