the kdmcinfo weblog

Twanxiety: An Aspiring Journalist's Troubles with Tweeting

twitter birdI first found out about Twitter in 2006. I didn't think it was cool. I met Evan Williams and Biz Stone at a startup event in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, and they seemed nice and enthusiastic, but I didn't think it would stick. I had the same arguments others did — nobody is going to care, the character limit is too short, etc.

Then things started to happen to convince me otherwise. Consumer groups were starting to use to engage with brands in a way that never happened before. Protestors in Iran united around it. I eventually got a job to do social media, helping a Fortune 500 Silicon Valley company grow its reach from hundreds of followers to thousands.

These days, I'm an aspiring journalist, freelancing while I get my masters at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where I've focused on new media. I consistently consume news on Twitter more than any other place. It's how I found out that there was an earthquake in Japan earlier this year or how I've followed #OccupyOakland as news breaks a half mile from my apartment. I've followed Twitter's evolution so much that I helped Scot author a journalist's guide to Twitter for this center over the summer. The tricky thing is I feel like I understand how to use Twitter less now than I ever did before.

Every time I send out a tweet, I lose a follower. It's oddly simple. I have hovered around 250 followers for a long time, but these days, each time I send something out about a new trend in journalism or a well-written magazine piece, my count drops. I can only attribute it to the fact that people don't like what I have to say.

It's all about timing

Maybe it has to do with when I tweet. Aaron Selverston, editor of the Palo Alto Patch, recently shared with us a MediaBistro article he found that said the best times to tweet are between 9:00-11:00 a.m. ET and 1:00-3:00 p.m. ET. The article stated that those times were when Twitter traffic is the highest, so presumably, that's when you have the best shot at getting the most eyeballs looking at what you have to say.

Does that mean, being on the West Coast, I've got a better shot at getting my tweets seen if I send them out at sunrise? Wrong.

Timely, a Twitter management service, analyzed my 199 most recent tweets, and it found that I have my tweets will be best served if I send them out between 10:00-11:00 a.m. PT and 7:00-8:00 p.m. PT.

Emma Carew (Jun '11) is a former digital producer and current schools reporter for the Minnesota Star Tribune and found that her new org's Twitter success came at completely different times still. They analyzed their Twitter activity earlier this year and found that most of their retweets came around 9:00 p.m. CT, on the weekends and around 6:00 a.m. CT. "Weather always does well around that time!" she says.

So, When really is the best time to tweet? At some point, after looking into the various tools out there, I realized I've become more confused about when I should tweet than before I started analyzing my different chunks of 140 characters.

"Of course, success doesn’t solely depend on timing your tweets," says Leo Widrich, the co-founder of Buffer, a social-media service. He recently published a guest post on Mashable talking about the five best tools to better time your tweets. (All, by the way, seemed to again suggest different times.)

Widrich's company analyzed one million tweets from Buffer's users and found that frequency of tweeting is nearly as important as timing, not to mention the variety of sources you're tweeting out.

I'm a sucker for cliche and, therefore, content is king

I've always mindcasted rather than lifecasted. It's a distinction that Jay Rosen, a professor at NYU's j-school, famously uttered two years ago. I don't tell you what I'm doing — it's sunny out and I'm wearing sandals, despite it being November — but rather what I'm thinking — there's a new book out that put together an impressive collection of visual storytelling, including some of the better NY Times graphics. It's about content.

That always intuitively made sense to me. Who cares what I'm up to? That's what Facebook is for. Twitter is more about information sharing that the other social networks (although, some might argue on behalf of Google+). I try to curate the interesting things out there that I find and think others might also find interesting or useful.

But what do my followers care about?

This, ultimately, might be my biggest problem. When I first started tweeting, I was the editor of a sustainable business blog, and my tweets were tinged green. Then, I got a new gig and started writing about food. My tweets and retweets became about what was new and hip in San Francisco's culinary scene. These days, I send out stuff that are mostly about interesting examples of multimedia or longform journalism. Could it be that my environmentalist friends don't care about who Romenesko is and what he forgot to put before and after quotes?

Probably. And that's probably okay, too. For the same reason I don't want to follow or keep following people that are tweeting out things I don't care about, why should I hold it against others who feel the same about me? My ego will be bruised, because the little number under my profile may only be a fraction of what's under someone else's. But that's not what Twitter is ultimately about. It's about engaging with people that give a damn. And, hopefully if you do it right, more and more people will give a damn about you.

Former wine blogger Gary Vaynerchuk might have put it the best when he compared Twitter to Beyonce. He said we should put a ring on it. Doing it right takes a long time. There is no magic bullet. If we're in it for conquests, we'll probably miss out on what Twitter does so great. That, however, comes during the long haul.