Twittering the news the right way

When I started Twittering as @statesman, I immediately looked around to see how this is being done. Surely, I wasn’t reinventing the wheel, right?

After a quick Google search, I found this blog by Erica Smith that keeps track of newspapers that Twitter. I was surprised to see that many newspapers had a Twitter account. What I didn’t realize right away was how many of them were doing it wrong. And, trust me, there is a wrong way.

I had been on Twitter for a few weeks before coming up with the idea of Twittering the news. I was just doing what nearly everyone else does on Twitter – chatting with a few friends using a personal account. Like most who use it, I became addicted. I enjoyed those tidbits from people’s lives. And I especially enjoyed the personal interaction that comes so naturally on Twitter.

So, I was amazed at how many newspapers were using Twitter as an RSS dump. They were — and are — taking all of their headlines and just dropping them onto a soul-less Twitter account. They don’t follow anyone — and they don’t get many followers, either. How boring is that? Who would follow a news site that just force-feeds all of its headlines onto Twitter en masse? Isn’t that missing the whole “social” part of social media? For example, the Minneapolis Star Tribune feeds apparently all of its headlines onto its Twitter account. It has posted more than 34,000 updates. Not to be too hard on the Star Tribune, but this has resulted in only a little over 130 followers (most of those must be bots and spammers, right?)

Instead, I aimed to be personal and friendly. The journalists at our paper do care about this community, and I wanted our readers to know that. I wanted readers to think of us as not only a news provider, but as a neighbor (which we are). I start every morning with a Tweet saying “Good morning” and I end every work day saying “cheers.” I respond to people when they ask me a question. I listen to feedback and adjust what I’m doing. Basically, I just act like myself. And it’s working.

In just a few months, we have gained more than 1,000 followers. Check out this positive feedback. These are not the type of comments we in the media are used to hearing these days.

I’m still learning. There are times when I think I overdo something (and I hear about it from my followers). The good thing is, there are some friends out there who are willing to offer advice. That brings me to one of my new friends …

Introducing Colonel Tribune

The guy knows Chicago

The guy knows Chicago

A few days into the @statesman Twittering, I checked back on Erica’s list of Twittering newspapers to see if there were any others out there that were doing it the way I was doing it. One stuck out –  @coloneltribune. The Chicago Tribune has a main Twitter account that pushes it’s headlines out there using Twitterfeed. But it also has Colonel Tribune. I noticed that Colonel Tribune uses Twitter the right way — he’s personal and responsive (and he happens to have a bigger following than the main Tribune feed).  The Colonel hand-picks stories that he thinks his readers will find interesting, and he is very conversational. The Colonel uses Twitter the right way.

The Colonel’s “good friend,” a Tribune employee named Daniel Honigman, recently wrote this guest column for Poynter about using Twitter for breaking news in Chicago. That’s great stuff that really shows the power of the medium.

I’ve also seen that power. My readers trust me and know I’m not some automated machine spitting out headlines. Therefore, they send me news. They let me know when it’s raining (big news here in Austin these days). They tell me when there’s a wreck. They even send me photos and videos from news events.

Established media no longer are the faceless corporations that tell you what is going on without listening. We can now hear your voices, too. This is the way citizen journalism is supposed to work. I can guarantee you that the next time big news happens in Central Texas, I’ll get a lot of help from my followers.

Despite the bad economic news in journalism, this is exciting. Social media is the life raft; we just have to grab it and hold on.

The Colonel has agreed to be a member of our panel at SXSW Interactive (if it is chosen) on Twittering the news. I’ve also invited Erica Smith. I’ve already mentioned Erica in two blog entries, so you can see why I think she’d be a great speaker. A few of us Statesman folks will also be there, including @broylesa (food writer Addie Broyles) and @omarg (tech writer Omar Gallaga).

Please vote for our panel and comment on it if you are interested.

The deadline to vote on our panel proposal is Aug. 29.

If you’re following us on Twitter, thank you! Come on by and say “hi!”




Filed under journalism, Twitter, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Twittering the news the right way

  1. I love the way you’re handling the @statesman account! I especially enjoy the way you interact with readers and post a good combination of links to news items and real commentary and interaction.

    Over the past few months, Twitter has become my first source for breaking news and @statesman is my primary source for local news (especially this summer’s rain, like you mentioned). And as a reader, it’s pretty cool to read about a breaking news story and be able to contribute in a meaningful way. I’ve never participated much in citizen journalism until Twitter and I must say, there’s something really rewarding about knowing that I helped to shape a big news story.

    So keep up the good work on Twitter!

  2. @statesman exemplifies exactly what a non-person’s Twitter should be – personal! Having a person behind a non-personal Twitter account (if that makes any sense) is exactly what makes it worthwhile and builds the right sort of community around the brand.

  3. Keep up the good work @statesman. Yours is the only news Twitter I read at this point.

  4. crossfitatx

    Followed this link over from…where else…your Twitter feed.

    I’ve been “less-than” a fan of the fishwrap Austin American-Statesman for quite some time, and have spent more blogging time mocking them than praising them.

    But the @statesman Twitter feed is a HUGE step in the right direction, and is the antithesis of everything that was turning me off of the paper.

    And your personal touch is what immediately made me a follower.

    BTW, @KXAN_News is doing a pretty good job on their foray into the Twitterverse, too.

  5. robquig

    Crossfitatx: You’re right, @kxan_news is doing a good job with their Twitter feed. They started about a week or two after I started – it’s good to see they “get” Twitter.

  6. tinkerbelle

    I have to agree with all of crossfitatx statements. I don’t think I can add anything that hasn’t been said.
    Keep up the great work!!

  7. haelmai

    I love your twittering! Keeps me up to date on Austin news, which is always nice, and I do like the personal touch. Keep up the great work!

  8. robquig

    Thanks for all the kind words. I have a lot of fun. Glad you enjoy.
    Cheers, Robert

  9. Mike Burek

    Yes, you are doing a great job. If people just publish their RSS feed, then they should only use an RSS feed, not Twitter.

  10. Mike Burek

    The only odd thing about someone Twittering from a big corp is that others have to remember this is just 1 person, and not always the “official” view of the corp. The “official” corp view point probably comes through the PR department, but the PR dept is much slower to react to new, since they have to filter it and process everything that is said and it’s meaning. Also, it would be hard for a large corp to have an official sanctioned Twitter account because it requires complete knowledge of everything going on at the time and the ability to process new information coming in through Twitter from followers and to respond quickly. There is just no way any one person could do that. The knowledge required would require a continuous board meeting just to reply to Twitter.

    The better way is to have a personality at a company Twittering. This person has to be cautious to follow the company regulations on giving out public information, but still provide timely Tweets. But people will interact with that Twitter account as an individual person rather than a corp. And thus most incoming Tweet will be more of a casual conversation, and not questions about the demographics of the last issue.

    Hmm, sorry this doesn’t flow so well…

  11. bryanthilton

    I’m late to the party but had to jump on that I have started following @Statesman and I agree that it’s great and done the right way — good personality and useful information. Congrats!

    Mike I think you have an interesting point re corporations – easy to have active social media folks and twitter-ers (-ites? 🙂 ) from the corp – but being a lone “voice” to represent everything could be a challenge.

    That said (and my delayed comment here isn’t a good example) but PR people aren’t alway slow to respond! 🙂


  12. Pingback: Twitterific « Great Communicate

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