October 29th, 2008

Newsrooms Can Grow Twitter Followers By Using Twitter For Link Journalism


Most newsrooms have utterly narcissistic Twitter accounts. The worst offenders (which unfortunately is the majority) use services like Twitterfeed to automatically tweet links to the newspaper’s own content. Here’s our RSS feed on Twitter! Don’t get enough of our content on our site or through RSS? Now get it on Twitter, too!

Some newsrooms are slightly better in that there is an actual human being who uses the Twitter feed to let followers know about new content on the newsroom’s site, in a conversational tone. Still, it’s all about sharing OUR content.

Is it any wonder why so many newsrooms have fewer Twitter followers than many individuals on Twitter — especially when these newsrooms have print and web audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands or millions — a lot more people than the average individual knows. In fact, if you look at the numbers, individual journalists typically have a lot more followers than their newsrooms.

This is a perfect example of how mainstream news orgs got so far behind on the web — they see the web as just another distribution channel for their own content. Open the chute and shovel the content in.

Can you think of any PERSON that you follow on Twitter who does nothing but link to their own blog posts? That’s not how real people use Twitter, and not how Twitter became so popular.

For me, Twitter has become one of the most interesting sources of links — to news, resources, funny stuff. Twtitter has become a primary platform for link blogging, in the classic sense.

For example, Jay Rosen, who has 10 times as many followers as most newsrooms, is prolific source of interesting links on Twitter.

Instead of seeing Twitter as another place to dump their content, newsrooms should see it as a way to create a whole new dimension of value under their editorial brand.

Many newsrooms are doing this through “live Tweeting” everything from ball games to trials. Tweeting while watching is certainty a popular use of Twitter, so this is promising.

But there’s another dimension to Twitter that newsrooms are entirely missing — sharing interesting stuff. As newsrooms increasingly look to link journalism and news aggregation as a way to create value for their readers, they should look to their Twitter accounts as an easy platform for sharing links.

If newsrooms want more Twitter followers, they need to be INTERESTING. And since they can’t as easily be quirky interesting, i.e. sharing random thoughts and experiences, and obvious way to be interesting is to share links.

The magic of Twitter is that users have invented so many different new ways to use it.

Newsrooms should make Twitter into a platform for link journalism. Local news orgs should set up Twitter feeds where they link to interesting non-local news (i.e. NOT AP!).

And of course it’s fine to mix in links to your own content — just don’t be a dull Tweeter by making it ALL about your content.

And shameless plug — using Twitter for link journalism is now super easy with the new Publish2 connection to Twitter. Save a link on Publish2 and send it simultaneously to Twitter (and delicious, and soon Facebook, Movable Type, and WordPress). With Publish2, newsrooms can use the same links that they share on Twitter to create news aggregation features on their sites (a bit of efficiency for newsrooms with limited resources). Check out the details on the Publish2 blog. (You can register for Publish2 here.)

There’s already evidence that newsrooms that shut off the Twitterfeed auto-shovel significantly increase their followers.

So shut off that Twitterfeed. Link to interesting stuff and grow your Twitter audience.

Then, when you publish something that’s really special or important, you’ll have a bigger audience to share it with.

And who knows — maybe your Twitter followers will share interesting links with you.

  • Joe

    "So shut off that Twitterfeed. Link to interesting stuff and grow your Twitter audience."
    I hear your point (don't spam twitter if you want it to work for you) but does not a newspaper think all of its stories are interesting? If not, why would they print them?

  • I've also read elsewhere that Tweet journalism with a human face (read: engagement) drives more comments on digital journalism.

    Which begs a question...much of the talk of digital communication takes place in the context of people who attend conferences and actually meet one another (or at least there is one degree of separation). I think hyper local and local journalism should definitely take this issue into account.

  • agreed. and best thing is to do both - feed and personal. both possible and both compliment each other. thing about twitter is you cannot lose and the time investment is so small. fact is microblogging is only going to grow. so jump on

  • I briefly looked for Twitter RSS services for findingDulcinea; I manage our Twitter account. I didn't find any off the bat and wondered whether I was subconsciously avoiding them.

    I prefer to alter our headlines to more "human" names and just pick a few of our news stories from the day that I like. For my personal Twitter account, I set up the linkage between Publish2 and Twitter. Killing two birds with one stone here. Haven't set up Delicious link because I prefer Diigo. Inane tweets about people's lives can be interesting, but I generally prefer when people are engaged in culture discussion and...include a link with their musings.

    Twitter has led me on a path to some pretty awesome interactive election tools/op-eds/blog posts/arty sites/videos since I've joined.

    Twitter is also THE way that I get my news in the morning (on iPhone via Twitterrific). True, on the subway, I can't get access to people's links, but I get the gist and check the links once I get to work. Fun, entertaining, and much more valuable than RSS feeds.

  • Scott,

    I argue for both uses: feeds and personal interaction. There are many who don't use RSS readers, but will follow a particular brand on Twitter. I agree strongly that personal interaction by the newsroom is key to Twitter paying dividends for our brands, though. We all know, however, that is exactly where the biggest challenge lies.

    (More Twitter thoughts are on our Ottaway blog, including my most recent encouragement to our newsrooms to get personal on Twitter.)


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