twitter for journalists

Engagement and Best Practices

If you're a journalist on Twitter, remember that you're not here just to post headlines and links. Sure, you'll want to promote your content, but remember that Twitter is a social network. To make it work for your organization, you'll need to be social, and engage with your readership. That means your presence on Twitter is not all about you - it's about being part of a community - either a geographical community or one forged across lines of shared interests (e.g. your beat). In this section, we'll share some tips and best practices for engaging with the Twitter community.

Interact! If a parent in your community asks how the roads are, respond by describing what you see (and make sure you frame it as a mention, not an "at" reply - you want your whole readership to be privvy to that particular discussion). If the local natural grocery is having a food event, retweet their post about it, and ask if anyone's going. Move beyond just posting headlines. Replying to posts by your readers makes them feel special, makes them realize there is a human face on your organization. Retweeting or replying to posts by local politicians, decision makers and business owners frames you as part of the community, something more than an ivory tower reporter.

You can provide good/useful/interesting content even if it has nothing to do with your publication. In this example, the journalist retweets a community member's post about something related to the community. Readers win, person being retweeted wins, journalist wins.

First Impressions In order to make your work on Twitter count, you need to build up a sizable audience (and keep building it). When people are deciding whether to follow you, they've only got three things to go on:

1) Your headshot/icon - Make sure you should have a nice, clear, friendly looking headshot on your Twitter profile. People are much less likely to follow someone who's using the default "egg" icon. Official publication Twitter accounts should use the brand logo, individuals should use headshots (not "art" pieces).


2) Your bio/description - Your bio should describe who you are and what you do, with adequate use of keywords so people can find you through search. If you're covering an area, get that area's name into your bio. If you're covering a beat like "Health and Science" than make sure your bio says so! You can also optionally enable your geographical location in your bio. While you might think twice about doing this on your personal account, it's a great feature for your professional accounts, making you more findable. Finally, whatever you do, don't "protect" your account. Twitter is a public platform, and few people will bother to follow a protected account. Save the "privacy rings" for Facebook.

3) Your most recent few tweets. If you post "noise" to the Twitter stream, people checking you out for the first time will have little incentive to follow you. Keep the signal high and the noise level low.

Build a following Cultivating a large collection of followers is imperative - eventually, you want to have thousands of followers. Since approximately 70% of people you follow will follow you back, start by following lots of people. But don't just follow everyone and anyone - follow people if they share your interests or live in your community or can become helpful correspondents. Find someone particularly interesting? Check out who they're following and follow those people as well.

So how do you find relevant followees? Start with search (we covered search in depth earlier). Search for keywords related to your beat, or the name of your community. Create advanced searches that combine multiple criteria (e.g. posts about "soccer" within 15 miles of your zipcode). You can use sites like to search through Twitter bios too - bios are excellent sources because people use them to self-describe their interests. Keep those saved searches handy and check them often - building your following is an ongoing process, not a one-time thing. Remember to follow local businesses too!

Followerwonk is a great tool for searching through Twitter bios for good people to follow. Remember, 70% of people you follow will follow you back!

Note: You can’t see a list of your followers from within Hootsuite - you'll need to use or an official Twitter client for that.

Make it a habit! Understand that while Twitter is often called a "microblogging platform," it's really more like a stream. The stream goes by quickly and few people read everything posted in their stream. Therefore, it's important to post regularly - several times per day at least, and hopefully more. You also need to read portions of your stream regularly. Make a habit of checking in several times per day, paying special attention to your saved searches and lists. Think of Twitter like your email - important things are happening there and you need to stay on top of them.

Good grammar You're a journalist! Just because you're on Twitter doesn't mean you can get away with sloppy sentence structure, spelling or grammar. To make sure you're treated like the pro that you are, uphold your standards of excellence.

Just because you're on Twitter doesn't mean you can let your standards slip. Keep an eye on punctuation and grammar, and try to use full sentences.

Tweet on the go! Twitter was born on mobile, and it thrives there. Many excellent Twitter clients for iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices are available. Check your Twitter stream (or participate) while in line at the grocery store or DMV, while in the field reporting, or whenever you have a few minutes to spare. One of the advantages to tweeting with a hand-held device is that you can use the integrated camera to attach images to your tweets, which gives them much more life and presence.

Post immediately If a story is brewing, don't wait until you've written the whole thing and posted it on your site. Instead, Tweet something as soon as you can be accurate and factual. Let your audience know you'll have full coverage on the site soon.

Ask people you meet if they’re on Twitter Again, it's critical to develop a large following. But you want to do it organically (don't fall for offers that claim to be able to get you more followers). One of the most effective things you can do is to ask people you meet if they're on Twitter. If they are, follow them right then and there - don't wait to do it later (you might forget). Put your Twitter handle on your business card, and link to it from your email .sig. And if someone mentions you on Twitter, follow that person!

Be valuable People are looking for three things on Twitter: Usefulness, humor, and insight. You don't have to be the originator of everything you post - Retweet things that are interesting to your community or beat even if it’s not related to your site. See a call for volunteers? Retweet it or pass it along. Come across an interesting observation from community member? Retweet or reply. Take unusual opportunities to either amplify or extend discussions around topics.

In this example, we promote a local event, making sure to include the ending time and a link to directions. We also squeeze in a mention (Albany Subaru now feels like a valued community member), and a hash tag. And we still have 19 characters to spare!

Crowdsourcing Twitter is a fantastic way to let your audience help you do your job. Try asking readers for leads on breaking stories. "Did anyone witness the train crash this afternoon? Would you be willing to talk for a few minutes?" If you only have time to cover either the PTA meeting or the city council meeting, ask your readers which they would find more interesting. Posing questions in tweets (example: "Are you on food stamps because you lost your job? What do you do creatively to get by?") can elicit very rich material. Questions like this are most effective when users that follow you retweet your question so that many people end up seeing it.

Leverage your audience of followers to find leads and contacts in the community. If you have a lot of followers, you'd be amazed how effective this can be.

In this example, the journalist engages with a member of the public and solicits contributions to her publication at the same time.

Does your site take public contributions (blog posts, photographs)? If so, use Twitter to encourage readers to upload images from an upcoming event. It's pretty amazing what kind of results you can get when you've got a few hundred (or a few thousand) followers.

Don’t auto-pump tweets to Facebook It's easy to connect your Twitter account to your Facebook account so your Tweets become status updates automatically. Don't do this! The grammar of Twitter doesn’t work on Facebook. All of those hashtags and @mentions won't be clickable after being copied to Facebook, and will only confuse readers. Yes, you need to be on both networks, but you'll either need to post to both places separately, or use a client like Hootsuite that can help you post to both places simultaneously while formatting correctly for each site. Another excellent alternative is to use the Selective Twitter Facebook app. With this enabled, simply place the short #fb hash tag at the end of any tweet to have it copied to your Facebook stream. Any tweets lacking that tag will not appear on Facebook.

Events Twitter is an incredible resource for breaking news and live events. If you're at a live event, try and learn whether it has a hashtag right away (more on hashtags here). If there isn't one, be the community leader and create one! If there's been a crime or disaster, use Twitter to identify eye-witnesses you can speak to for your story. At almost every event with more than a few dozen people, an active Twitter back-channel will form quickly. Find your way into the discussion to mine the event for more material than you'd be able to dig up just by talking to people.

Almost every sizable event will have some Twitter activity happening in the "back channel." Tune in to see a different side of things than what's on stage.

Promoting your content Tweeting helps surface your content to search engines faster. Because Google "licenses" Twitter's entire stream, a tweeted link will appear in search results almost immediately (which is another good reason to use unambiguous, meaningful keywords in your tweets). Of course, promoting your content should not be the only (or even the main) thing you do with Twitter, but it is important of course. When posting story URLs, try using something other than just the headline. You want to avoid coming off as a link-posting robot - be a real human to your readers.

The journalist manages to promote content on her publication's site without simply posting linked headlines - the reader can "see" that there's a human on the other end.

You also may want to post about interesting conversations that are happening in story comments sections.

Because Twitter is a stream and not a blog, and few people read everything that gets posted, it's actually acceptable to post the same link a few times over - chances are, few people will notice! Just be judicious and tasteful about it. If you use Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, consider using their "Scheduled tweets" feature to promote your content in the middle of the night, or on the weekend when you're away.

U R Doing It Wrong Avoid these practices:

  • Just posting headlines (Twitter is so much more than that)
  • Talking “at” people (You are a spokesperson, but also a community member)
  • Overdoing hashtags (Use them when useful, not just to be clever)
  • Barraging readers (Post frequently, but don't flood readers' streams)
  • Make it all about you (This should go without saying)

Nobody likes an overly self-promotional tweeter. You will be rewarded by more followers, more mentions, and a higher level of influence if you mention other interesting people/stories/facts about your topic rather that solely focus on disseminating your own content.

altruistic tweet
This NYT journalist is promoting content at another publication. The key is to share interesting/relevant content so the reader sees you as valuable - not just to promote your own content.

Social media gurus say that it's ideally best to promote your own content about once every 10 tweets. The remainder should be spent giving nods to other cool, interesting, and/or relevant things that you find and want to share.

Above all, be authentic. Readers can spot "marketing" speak a mile away.

There are no hard-and-fast rules — all of these are guidelines!