Twitter at 10: 11 things news brands can do to get better at Twitter


10 years ago, Twitter was born. A decade on and there’s a lot of talk about where Twitter ‘goes next.’ This isn’t one of those pieces, although if you do want that, this article from Mashable raises some good points.

Instead I want to focus on journalism’s – specifically regional journalism’s – relationship with social network which became something of a darling for many journalists long before the importance of Facebook took hold in newsrooms.

Twitter was embraced by a significant number of regional journalists early on, even if the snark of ‘why would I post what I had for tea on Twitter’ took several years to die down. Nowadays, a reporter who doesn’t use Twitter probably won’t get very far in their next job interview.

But, after living with Twitter for a decade, you don’t have to look far on Twitter to find news brands missing opportunities to get the most out of the social network. I suspect part of this is due to the fact that Facebook is such a monster driver of traffic to many websites now, whereas Twitter is, bluntly, not.

Or is it? It’s easy to look at website referral stats and conclude Twitter doesn’t punch its weight. But even if it only delivers 4% of website traffic to some sites, that’s still 4%. And in newspaper sales terms, you wouldn’t neglect a newsagent who sold 4% of your newspapers.

But Twitter’s impact on journalism can’t really be told in terms of numbers. As an open social network which is based on the premise of here-and-now, say-and-send, it has forced a transparency onto journalism which some embrace, others do not. But it’s not going to go away, regardless of whether Twitter lives to be 20 or not.

In short, how your brand Tweet says a lot more about you than the words contained within each 140 character sentence.

So how should news brands deal with Twitter as it heads towards its teenage years? Here are some things people with the keys to the newsroom’s brand account should be giving thought to:

  1. Ditch the auto links: Just because you can auto-tweet when you publish a story thanks to RSS doesn’t mean you should. Automation of headlines with links invariably leads to an appalling Tweet (not all of the headline included, or a headline out of context) which you’d be unlikely to click on.
  2. Respond to Tweets: While replying to every Tweet sent to a brand account might be impossible, it’s remarkable how many news brands don’t respond to any comments. In a world where Tweets pass through timelines in a matter of seconds, it’s essential people feel a connection to the brands they are following.
  3. Retweeting: For many people, Twitter is a news source. Of course, we want them to read our stories but failing that, surely we want them to know that we share the important stuff with them. Therefore retweeting, rather than seeing tweet, writing story, sharing story based on Tweet, should be part of what we do every day.
  4. Retweeting only positive comments: Brands which do this, and there are some quite high-profile ones, still believe they control what people read and see. Retweeting only positive things people say about you inadvertently says not very nice things about your brand.
  5. @ing people without good reason: If someone features in a story you are sharing, it makes sense to @ them into your tweet. @ing people just because you know they have a big following and a retweet might get you a few more click is just downright irritating and looks a little desperate. If Ricky Gervais wants to retweet you, he’ll probably find your tweet himself.
  6. Repeating Tweets again and again: Nothing screams ‘not much news today’ than seeing the same story being linked to again and again. Scheduling posts to re-share the same story to different audiences at different times of the day is one thing, continually trying to flog the same story makes it look more as though you’re trying to flog a dead horse.
  7. Typos: Speelling Eerroz in Tweets from news brands don’t do much for credibility.
  8. Neither do smilies or Lolz. The phrase dad dancing springs to mind.
  9. Pictures? For an industry which has placed photography at the heart of what it has done for 100 years, so many brands are still rubbish at putting images on Tweets.
  10. Making the most of Twitter analytics: There’s a wealth of data available from Twitter now, and it doesn’t take much to spot the the brands looking at that data and making the most of it and those, well, not doing so.
  11. Does the editor Tweet? And if so, does he or she do it often? They should do, and not just to share the front page or a link to a breaking story. The #tellali campaign run by the Liverpool Echo was a masterclass in how to get this right.

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