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
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).
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!”