the kdmcinfo weblog

Should Journalists Be On Twitter, Facebook, or Both?

Journalists exploring the use of social networks may wonder whether it makes more sense for them to be on Facebook or Twitter. Short answer: The two networks serve different purposes and different audiences, and you probably want to be on both.  

The culture of Facebook is primarily about making connections with people one has actually known. This, combined with the fact that Facebook has a more standard commenting model, means that Facebook is much more "conversational" than Twitter.

Twitter users, in contrast, tend to follow people (or organizations) based on interestingness, rather than pre-existing associations. People "follow" others on Twitter in the same way they'd bookmark an interesting web site - whether one knows or has known the person one is following is not important. And because Twitter's commenting model is half-baked (face it - it's really tough to have an ongoing conversation on Twitter), the service tends to be more oriented towards "broadcasting" ideas than about conversation (though there is some of that too).

Every Twitter post has a "permalink" page, just like a standard blog entry does. But unlike a typical blog, there's no way for a user to leave a comment "attached" to that entry. I have no idea why this is, but the absence of the feature severely limits the kinds of conversations that can be had on Twitter (public replies and direct messages are no replacement for a thread firmly grounded to an original post).

Facebook is really hundreds of applications rolled into one monster service. Twitter, in contrast, is laser-focused on one particular task - micro-blogging of brief observations, analysis, news, etc. Combined with Twitter's excellent search engine, you'll probably find Twitter a better place to keep up on news and track developing stories.

Finally, the streamlined nature of Twitter means it works much better on smartphones and in the dedicated desktop clients used by news junkies.

However, Facebook is so deeply entrenched in the high school and college scenes that it's essential to have a presence there if you want to connect with those audiences. Facebook is also an excellent place to research stories that touch younger people's lives, or to develop contacts inside high schools, for example. However, much of the data in Facebook remains hidden from the casual reporter until one is "Friended" by a user. The vast majority of Twitter profiles, in contrast, are wide open.

Nutshell version: Being where your audience is means being on both platforms. And by "being there"  I mean actively participating - not just signing up for an account and hoping for some kind of magic to happen. For both platforms, you need to think in terms of production and consumption -- using the services both for story research and for broadcasting opinions, analysis, and links back to your publication.