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.

Comments (25 Responses so far)

  1. Scott – we’ve got several news outlets here in Birmingham with Twitterfeeds, but the one that stands out is @cbs42.

    A perennial also-ran in the ratings, the station has come around in recent years, but still gets very little respect (despite being out of the cellar in the ratings.)

    Most importantly, look at their feed. Links to stories are generally given snarky, fun headlines. And there is a LOT of interaction and conversation with others. I suggest you talk with them about what they get out of the conversation.

  2. As someone who has an RSS plugged into Twitter I’ll happily explain why: Twitter is actually a pretty terrible way to draw in an audience and to get anything approaching Jay’s number of followers you have to pour hours a day into it. Having a person twitter our content and converse with others would not only be editorially complicated, it’d be a huge waste of time.

  3. Andrew,

    But if you had a way to share links on Twitter that you are already gathering to publish on your site, that could cross the threshold of efficiency.

  4. I took Erica Smith’s list of newspapers who tweet and ran them through Twinfluence. Sure enough, @coloneltribune (with it’s non-feed approach) reached more people than most papers with more followers.

    Shameless plug?http://almightylink.ksablan.com/2008/10/times-tribune-twitter-reach-followers/

  5. Coding snafu in previous comment. Here is the link: Times and Tribune have biggest reach on Twitter

  6. Points to the contrary

    @cnnbrk has almost 50,000k followers
    @techcrunch, 28.4k
    @nytimes, 10.1k
    @cnn, 9.7k
    @cnetnews, 7.7k
    @nprnews, 7.6k
    @arstechnica, 4.2k
    @engadget, 3.1k
    @rww, 2.9k

    All of these are news organization and all are robo-accounts. They’re doing better than 99.5% of all other twitter accounts.

  7. Joe,

    5 of those are tech sites, which are skewed to more geeky Twitter users, not necessarily the mainstream users the average newsroom is trying to reach.

    The others are national news headlines — I suppose the open question is why twitter users aren’t finding the same value in local breaking news.

    Every local news site using Twitterfeed and with a tiny twitter following is a counterpoint to all of the national examples you site.

    Lastly, there are always data points to support the case for not innovating or trying something new — but that’s why news orgs are in the state they are in, isn’t it?

  8. Couldn’t agree more about Twitterized RSS feeds from newsrooms. I think having a Twitterfeed for stories is fine, as long as the PEOPLE of the newsroom are on Twitter, too.

    The good news is journalists — some of them — are starting to get it. People want to connect with people. If all you’re doing is pushing out your content through yet another channel, you’ll be just another failing newspaper with dwindling readership and slumping ad revenues.

  9. Scott,
    I like your link journalism idea, but I think that if done properly, the twitter dump can work. The problem is, you can’t just twitter dump your brand and expect people to show up (like the Columbus Disptach). But if you have people providing relevant links and content as they gather that information, those people will build the brand on twitter. While developing that brand, you set the expectations of the twitter dump, let people know that’s what it is. For us, it’s been very successful, though, I am going to look in to your link journalism idea for enhancing the content.

    Anyone who thinks that using twitter is a waste of time or resources is denying their organization the opportunity to reach a platform and audience in a personal way that has not been possible. The benefits of what amounts to 30 minutes a day is the first glimpse of local news 2.0, a product that provides news and information in the way that people are consuming news and information in 2008, as opposed to the anchorman model created in 1950.

  10. When I opened our twitter account, it was in my head to just use it to offer our readers the ability to get our headlines on their cell phone which is something we’ve been wanting to offer for a long time.

    So I used twitterfeed to send them. That way we gave readers something they could use, and required little resources (which we are/were limited on.)

    But after the excellent advice mentioned in Erica’s post with me, I began tweeting myself. I was used to it by now having used it personally for several months.

    Yes I point readers to interesting things we have on our site, but the real value is in the interaction with them. I enjoy talking to our readers very much! It isn’t time-consuming at all and with Twitter clients like twhirl, I can run it in the background and do my other work.

    I’m not afraid to direct our followers to something tweeted by the local TV station or other outside site normally regarded as “competition.”

    But at the end of the day it’s about giving our readers information, and as a newspaper, it’s our information we would like them to have.

    Any twitterfeed papers out there, I’d heartily recommend you give manual tweets a try for just a little bit. You don’t have to do it constantly, or tweet every single headline. But the interaction and friendliness you build up with your followers is quite simply, priceless.

  11. [...] Scott Karp at publishing2: http://publishing2.com/2008/10/29/newsrooms-can-grow-twitter-followers-by-using-twitter-for-link-jou… [...]

  12. [...] Newsrooms Can Grow Twitter Followers By Using Twitter For Link Journalism – Publishing 2.0 [...]

  13. Regarding twitter, I think microblogging will take a turn in 2009. You’ll see a lot more niche blogs. For instance, one that I saw on TechCrunch yesterday was VentureDig: http://venturedig.com

    VentureDig is twitter for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

    I found the site actually quite usefule and it saved me time, unlike twitter, which takes up my time!

  14. [...] koud kunstje als nieuwsorganisatie om al je nieuwe berichten naar Twitter te sturen, concludeert Scott Karp. Maar veel moeilijker is het om meerwaarde toe te voegen aan Twitter, en op die manier meer mensen [...]

  15. 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.)


  16. [...] Karp Publishing 2.0 talks about how to increase your followers on the microblogging site Twitter.  Specifically, [...]

  17. [...] Karp recently made a very good point about Twitter: it is not just a forum for self-promotion. The newsrooms that are using Twitter to simply broadcast their stories are not seeing success, [...]

  18. 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.

  19. [...] The blog also says that many newsrooms are missing a huge point: 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.” Read more here. [...]

  20. 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

  21. [...] I came across an interesting Twitter post that argues for news organizations to turn off their Twitterfeed. I totally get the spirit of the post, but in practicality I’m not sure I’m on board. [...]

  22. [...] in it for them – new story ideas as well as a better understanding of their readers. Yes, Twitter can help in the conversations too. These changes in news gathering techniques might very well change the [...]

  23. 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.

  24. “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?

  25. [...] Newsrooms Can Grow Twitter Followers By Using Twitter For Link Journalism by Scott Karp on Publish2 [...]

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