So why aren't you Twittering yet?

Today’s entry is for all OJR readers who aren’t on Twitter yet. Here’s my advice: Start. Today.

Twitter has become what many of had hoped RSS would be, as well as the most vital forum for sharing links with other writers. Throw in Twitter’s value as the ideal medium for breaking news, and you’re crippling your online publishing effort by not participating.

Many journalists I’ve spoken with don’t “get” Twitter, due, I think, to its absurdly simple interface. You answer the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters or less. That’s it. You cam post an update whenever you’d like and once an update is up, that’s it. No editing after the fact. (Which should be a familiar feeling to any print or broadcast journalist.)

You pick other Twitter users to follow, and see their updates on your Twitter home page. Your updates display on your profile page, as well as on the home pages of whatever Twitter users choose to follow you.

Unlike on Facebook, “friending” someone on Twitter does not have to be mutual. You can follow people without them having to follow you, and vice versa. However, smart decisions about whom to follow can help you greatly expand the network of individuals following you. I’ll write more on that in a few moments.

The next step beyond RSS
Let’s first look at Twitter’s ability as a medium to deliver your content to other readers. This is what RSS was supposed to do, and did reasonably well for the people who downloaded readers to access RSS. But Twitter is the application, not a protocol, so I’m finding many more “average” (i.e. non-tech-head) people using Twitter than ever read RSS.

Twitter’s 140-character limit also impedes publishers’ ability to simply scrape their story database for Twitter updates (“tweets”), the way you could to create an RSS feed. This might seem like a pain from a development perspective, but for usability, it’s a great thing. The short messages force publishers to write for the medium, making tweets far more to-the-point than RSS headlines, scraped from other media, have been. That rewards users with Twitter feeds that typically are much more compact and information-rich than RSS. I suspect that’s why average readers are embracing Twitter more than they did RSS.

And as handy as Twitter can be on the Web, on mobile devices such as iPhones, it is absolute information crack. I have downloaded the TwitterFon and Twitterrific applications on my iPhone (one for each of the feeds I maintain – twitter.com/robertniles for online media stuff and twitter.com/themepark for my theme park website) and check them with more enthusiasm than I check e-mail, Facebook or the Web. I’ve given up on my RSS reader, and haven’t checked it for months. (You can find OJR tweets on KDMC’s Twitter feed.)

One final argument for publishers: There is no “full-text” option in Twitter. Readers interested in your content click through to your website, allowing you to track and earn revenue from them far more effectively than most publishers could do with RSS. To see the power of Twitter as a story distribution medium, go to http://twitter.com/nytimes and start following.

Fishing with linkbait
If you have a large, established audience, you can throw a Twitter feed link on your navigation and quickly build a Twitter following. But the service’s real power lies in the way its social network can help you build an audience among people who are not currently reading your site.

This is where you need to be smart about whom you follow. Find other Twitter users publishing on your beat. (Twellow or Twitter’s search engine are good places to start.) Then click the button on their profile pages to start following them.

Since Twitter notifies you when someone starts following you, some percentage of those users will reciprocate, and start following you.

This is a great way to keep tabs on what others on your beat are doing, and writing. And, conversely, these other writers will now be seeing what you are doing, and writing. Your links become fodder for their blogs, and their links become fodder for yours.

Forget the hassle of e-mailing other webmasters, trying to secure valuable backlinks. That market’s now moved to Twitter.

About that reciprocity thing. For good Twitter karma, follow those people who follow you. Since I got the hang of this, the only folks I don’t reciprocate with a follow are

  • People without a personalized icon for their feed,

  • People with few or no updates in their feed,
  • Feeds that seem to me to be commercial spam, or with no content related to my beats.

    Consider that your “do not do” list, then.

    Breaking news
    I recently tweeted the Rose Parade on one of my Twitter feeds, and had a blast. Using nothing more than my iPhone, I used Twitterrific and its photo upload capability to post parade photos and text updates. By using the #roseparade tag in each post, I made them easy to find by readers using Twitter’s search engine. (Though, I must confess, I forgot to add the tag to my first few updates.)

    The use of the # sign before a word makes it a tag in Twitter, allowing readers to follow news threads from multiple writers. Granted, the Rose Parade is a lousy subject for breaking news online, as it happens on a holiday when almost everyone interested in it is at home with access to a TV to watch it live. But it was a great training exercise for my first attempt at live Twitter coverage. Armed with an iPhone with a Twitter app, I can cover any breaking news event I happen to be at, with text and photos, and post immediately to the Web. That’s how Twitterers provided many of initial reports about events such as the Mumbai attacks.

    Jump in. Try it. As my colleague Steve Buttry wrote, “Try it actively (10 tweets and 10 new follows/day) for a week and your view of communication will change forever.”

    I haven’t gotten to 10 tweets a day yet. But even with one or two a day, I’ve found Twitter delivering new readers, new in-bound links and fresh content for my websites. The only frustration I’ve had with it is the number of people, sources and agents I want to follow who are not yet using Twitter.

    So here’s my plea to you: Start!

    Update: (2009/1/16): This morning’s print LA Times features Janis Krums’ iPhone photo of the US Airways crash on the Hudson River in Manhattan, first posted to Twitter yesterday afternoon. I follow several LAT Twitter feeds and noticed the LAT make contact with Krums by replaying to the original tweet. Twitter is the multimedia breaking news wire now.

  • About Robert Niles

    Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.

    Comments

    1. I’ve recently started following OJR on Twitter, and with all the advocacy on OJR for New Media in journalism and then Robert’s piece on Twitter, I wonder why OJR doesn’t post anything on Twitter besides an RSS feed. I think you’re right in that Twitter can be used as an RSS feed to grab readers’ attention, but then again, I’d say that only for people who don’t visit OJR’s site (or really, any limited scope news site) daily. For those dedicated readers, orgs need to give something more.
      More and more orgs are starting to realize the benefits of tweeting, and with the steady rise in org tweeters, those orgs are going to have to give back to their follower communities. I don’t think orgs can really only do RSS feeds via Twitter and expect to retain their followers, esp followers who get mobile updates. Lots of tweeters also follow orgs to hear about what those orgs hear, learn about what they learn. Like here’s a great website, or I’m going to live-tweet a relevant conference I’m attending or I’m going to give live updates that would seem inconsequential for a full blog post.
      For that matter, it’s true of Facebook pages where orgs are able to get fans but very few fans check back regularly because instead of giving back nuggets of information to their community, orgs use FB as an additional place for press releases or to publish their feed. Pages become great for branding/marketing purposes as little badges of pride on FB user’s profiles but does very little for engagement. I’d say the same of Twitter unless the org gives back.

    2. Great post, Robert. I’ve gotten leads on many stories by keeping an eye on my Twitter feed and making full use of Twitter’s search page (http://search.twitter.com).

      I could all but confirm yesterday’s moderate earthquake in southern california seconds after it happened by searching “earthquake,” minutes before the first reports were published to USGS.gov.

      Click on the advanced tab on the Twitter search page and it’s possible to search by location. Good way to find stories and eye-witness sources.

      Want to see dozens of people simultaneously thumb “Earthquake?!?” into their Blackberries? Check out this search result from yesterday’s temblor and view “previous” pages of the search to see how it unfolds on Twitter.

    3. 97.89.172.119 says:

      Thanks for a great post!
      I am a twittering journalist and am reaping the rewards of my virtual newsroom. But we need to address how to use twitter responsibly. I blogged it at http://www.lbdcommunications.blogspot.com.

      ~Lydia Dishman
      @lydiabreakfast

    4. 78.146.106.140 says:

      I cannot believe any journalist would not publish on Twitter. It is a fantastic broadcast medium.

      A couple of things to add to the original piece:

      1) Use Twitterfeed.com to convert RSS from your website/blog into Twitter updates (“Tweets”). But make sure you add your own personal Tweets to your stream to, to add a personal touch and pass comment on things you’d never put to print

      2) Use TweetDeck to manage your Tweets and the Tweets from your followers

      3) Read this (http://larsonassociates.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-to-follow-on-twitter-thoughts.html) for some guidance on which of your followers you follow in return

      Ian Hendry
      CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
      http://www.wecando.biz
      http://twitter.com/wecandobiz

    5. I have been wondering about all the buzz about twittering. Hmmm i am not sure. Some say linkedin is the best. Well i am confused. Everyday some one or the other follows me on twitter. i dont know how. LOL

      http://netguidecentral.com

    6. 24.242.71.58 says:

      Don’t consider it a Twitter or Linkedin question. Post your updates on both of them, and any others you find, Facebook among them. Why limit your chance to build your audience?

    7. I joined twitter, but i am not sure about this new group. So many have started lately and then seem to drop off.
      karen
      http://www.iamtheprincess.com

    8. A well-argued post, Robert. I’ve blogged on it with some of my own newsroom observations at: http://www.themediamanager.com/3/post/2009/01/twitter-just-start.html

      Kirk LaPointe,
      Managing Editor,
      The Vancouver Sun.

    9. I have been with Twitter for some time and I love it. For everyone who is just starting out twittering I suggest reading the following guide: Newbie’s guide to Twitter

      Quality Articles and Reviews

    10. Isn’t Twitter the same concept as Stumbleupon?

    11. I Love twitter. It’s not same as digg or stumbleupon but a bit of same concept. But twitter is good. give it a try today

    12. I’ll stay away from twitter. After all those celebs got their accounts hacked I don’t really feel it’s a safe site.

      services flash

    13. Is social bookmarking the way forward? I rank well in google, but if i use Twitter will i really reach a wider audience?

      ps3

    14. Yes you are absolutely right. Twitter is the need of the hour. We journalists must have a twitter account. It is easy to use.

    15. I have a Twitter account but I need to start using it more.

    16. 213.40.97.64 says:

      Twitter is really good and highly recommended

    17. 163.192.13.216 says:

      Robert –

      Great post!

      It’s funny — one would think that reporters would climb over each other to be the first in their newsroom to sign up for Twitter.

      Unfortunately, I’ve found that this isn’t the case.

      For Twitter — like any other digital medium — to spread, it needs to be evangelized. In addition to telling other newsroom folks about it, tell your readers about it. Also, try to get your sources on Twitter. If anything, you’ll find that you’ll have a deeper, richer experience with them, and they may tune you in to more story ideas, more sources, etc.

      -Daniel

      http://oldmedianewtricks.com

    18. I have never really understood the appeal of Twitter, but I’ll give it another go.

    19. It has a lot of clutter and useless noise now that mainstream Myspace type people are using it, but it’s a great tool if you keep it interesting.

    20. I’m using twitter sience the service is started, and i’m happy with it.