If Stan Collymore can do it, why can’t more journalists?

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: There’s something a lot of journalists could learn from Stan Collymore.

Yes, really. Cannock’s finest footballer seems to have mastered the art of crowdsourcing. Or rather, he had, before deciding he was locking down his Twitter profile after getting abuse from football fans.

The other week, Collymore – former Aston Villa striker turned Talk Sport football presenter – decided to turn the attention of his CallCollymore show to season ticket prices.

Rather than ring round all 90-odd league clubs – or get a researcher to do it – Collymore instead turned to Twitter.

Collymore has been something of a revelation on Twitter over the past year or so. He’s not one for just pumping out information that suits him – he interacted with people, replied to their questions and yes, he was quite fond of blocking people who got on his nerves. He’s probably a good example of someone who needs the blocking tool on Twitter to get rid of those who seek to abuse him, but regardless of that he was an example of a celebrity who was happy to get involved in discussions.

So when he asked for information, he got a good response. It’s the most basic rule of Twitter – as a journalist, you tend to get back what you put in. In that respect, it’s no different to many other aspects of journalism.

The responses came in thick and fast and trawling through them at the time was fascinating – not only was Stan getting the prices, but the stories behind the prices. Of course, crowdsourcing like this doesn’t replace the journalism, it aids it – Stan still needed to check that what he was being told was the truth. But there’s no doubt that by crowdsourcing in this way, Stan learnt a lot more in a short period of time than he would have done by doing his research the traditional way.

So if Stan can do it, why don’t more journalists? Admittedly, the fact he was a celebrity will have made it easier for him to start building up a bigger audience. But he clearly had an audience which worked for his show – as the response above shows.

But for me, the bigger  problem for journalists is that when the early adopters got excited about Twitter and told their journalistic colleagues that it was brilliant. Yet for story gathering and interacting with an audience – particularly regional reporters covering a specific town or city area – Twitter wasn’t that great at first. To use the geek speak, Twitter hadn’t reached a critical mass of users to be of regular use to journalists who wanted to do something other than talk to other journalists or early adopters.

And in busy newsrooms with so many other failsafe ways of getting news, sticking with something which might come good in the future can be hard to justify.

Does Stan’s example demonstrate that Twitter now has that critical mass? In isolation, probably not – after all early adopters can like football too. But the level of response, and the stories which went with it, along with the increasing examples of journalists getting results from Twitter, suggests that if you tried Twitter before but couldn’t see the benefit of spending time on developing  a network, then it’s worth having a go again.

The tips for doing this are simple:

1. Make sure you tell people who you are and – if you’re using it for work – what you do. Fill in the biography section, in other words

2. Twitter Search is a good way of finding people who are talking about things which interest you or interest you for work – simply search for the terms relating to your work and check the profiles of those who come up in the search results. If what they say interests you, follow them.

3. If you’re more interested in finding people who live locally to you, then advanced Twitter Search does an ok job, as does Nearby Tweets but my favourite at the moment is locafollow – which searches by biographic location

4. This tip I originally heard from @Tim (Tim Bradshaw from the FT): Twitter is like being in the pub – you don’t just go in and shout for stuff, you make the time to get to know people and join in conversations. On Twitter, that could mean answering people’s questions, retweeting their tweets to your followers, and join in with other discussions.

5. Think before you Tweet. If you’ve set up your Twitter account to be a tool for work, then you’re associated with whatever publication (online or offline) that you work for.

6. Don’t get in a huff if someone is a bit sharp or rude back. Certainly don’t do a Stan and take your bat and ball home. Do as you would if it was a face-to-face discussion, decide if it’s worth replying or just moving on.

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