Last week we discussed how journalists can use Twitter to engage with readers and share their stories. But, individuals aren’t the only ones who need to be on social media. News organizations, too, need to master social media to keep up with their audience and remain a part of readers’ lives. According to Pew Research Center, approximately 67 percent of American adults get at least some of their news from social media, while 74 percent of Twitter users report using the platform to get news updates. So if you want your news to be what people are looking at, you need to find them where they are. That means, yes, tweeting.
What do readers want from a news outlet’s Twitter account? They want the news, of course, but they also want engagement. If your newsroom has a savvy social media director, you’re probably already on the right track, but for smaller newsrooms that don’t have someone dedicated solely to handling their Twitter accounts, we’ve compiled some tips to help you make the most of your Twitter timeline and make sure your audience never clicks “unfollow.”
DO share your stories, but DON’T only tweet your direct links.
Yes, as the main social media feed for a particular news outlet, you need to share your links, but if your entire feed is just you tweeting out links, you’re doing it wrong. You should be re-tweeting your journalists, editors, photographers and producers — the people who make those stories possible — and making them as much a part of your product as the link.
People want to feel a human connection. Sharing links is obviously important for getting your news out to your audience, but tagging your journalists and re-tweeting your staff lets your followers know that there are real people behind the stories, and gives them a chance to get to know those people. And in an era where people decry anything they disagree with as fake news, giving your news a human face shows skeptics that there are real people who stand behind the reporting you’re sharing.
DO be willing to share stories from your competitors.
“News” is a big word if you think about it. Technically, everything that happens is news and one single newsroom can’t break every story and land every scoop. And that’s okay! Every newsroom and journalist is good at something, and there are other newsrooms that wish they could get the stories you land. But you of course need to keep your audience fully informed, because skipping a story isn’t acceptable. So, be willing to share links from other outlets. Maybe The New York Times had a great national story that relates back to a local story you’re working on. Tweet that! Or perhaps your national outlet can expand on a great local story from a much smaller publication. If that’s the case, be generous and share that paper’s link.
DO break news on Twitter, but DON’T tweet before you’ve confirmed that it’s real news.
The immediacy of Twitter means you can break a story while it’s happening, but it also means that if you get it wrong, even if you delete that tweet, millions of people will know about your flub. So, just like with a print or broadcast story, you must verify your information before you post your breaking-news tweet.
Assuming you’ve got your sources together, though, breaking on Twitter allows you to keep your audience informed in real time while your journalists dig deeper to write a more fleshed-out story that includes all the details people will need once the excitement dies down and the reality of the news hits. If there’s a big news event, people want to know now. When there’s a school shooting or a major house fire or a robbery in your local community, people want and need to know immediately. They aren’t going to wait hours or days for your full story to come out — they’ll go to whoever can give them the bare-bones facts right this second. And that means you need to be the one alerting them to what’s happening in their world before your completed article goes to press.
If you do your job well, people will follow your tweets through the news event and then come back for more once your story is live.
DO respond to your followers.
The fact is, Twitter makes it easier than ever for people to contact us. People don’t have to search the masthead to find our names or phone numbers anymore — they can just tweet “@” the newsroom. Sometimes that means dealing with unwanted trolls, of course, but more often than not, people just want to ask a question or feel like their news outlet is really listening to them. To keep that relationship going, it’s important for outlets to respond to your readers.
Now, you don’t have to and shouldn’t try to respond to every query that comes across your feed — you’d go crazy! But you should be responding to requests for information. Newsrooms can respond in a number of ways: they can have their social media manager respond from his or her personal account, reply via a private direct message (or DM, as it is known in Twitter lingo), or pass along the tweets to the journalists who are best qualified to provide an answer. But if you get a mention and think the reply would be of interest to your followers, go ahead and tweet that from your newsroom account.
How your newsroom handles replies is up to you. It is an organization-specific decision and your brand should be taken into consideration before you develop a strategy for responding on Twitter. That said, you should have a strategy, and if you don’t, you need one ASAP. (The LA Times talks about their strategy here.) While a majority of tweets coming in to brand accounts will be about that brand (or news outlet) and not answerable queries, you should have someone monitoring your account’s activity for questions that do come in. If your followers don’t feel like they matter, they may decide to find another outlet that will respond to them.
DO share “old news” if it’s relevant.
Your archives are a wealth of great material, and the internet lets you keep it alive long after its publication date, so share it! Some stories are evergreen, and others are great for historical “on this date” tweets, while there are likely dozens of articles that will help readers get background on more recent news stories. When it’s relevant, share it! Even if some of your readers have seen a piece before, there is a huge audience that will find that story new and useful.
DO use hashtags when they’re pertinent, but DON’T use them for everything.
At the Alliance, we have a #SupportRealNews campaign that we use to talk about the value of quality news from reliable sources and the importance of avoiding fake news, and we use that hashtag whenever we tweet something that is related to that campaign. Many brands and events have hashtags now, too, from local businesses to big sporting events to must-see TV to major social movements, and if you’re tweeting about something that’s connected to a particular hashtag, go ahead and include it. But you don’t want to go hashtag-crazy. Don’t tag your news #news, or share a story about the local sports team by hashtagging their slogan. Thanks to updated algorithms, Twitter can now sort your tweets into the right category so that someone searching for, say, a story about the New York Mets will find your post even if you don’t tag it #LGM (Let’s Go Mets!).
Generic hashtags, meanwhile, are not going to be searched or clicked on. No one will find your advice column through #advice or discover your publication because you say you’re #journalism. Those kinds of tags make you look outdated and confused about how Twitter is used, so avoid them at all costs as a publication. Instead, stick to specific tags or get creative and give your biggest recurring features their own hashtags to make them more memorable. (This article, for instance, is part of our #jeneralassignment series — because my name is Jen and our How-To series covers general reporting tips. Get it? Of course you do!)
DON’T forget to be social on social media.
Keeping your followers informed is obviously your primary goal, but don’t forget to have fun and bring that energy and liveliness to Twitter! The whole point of social media is, well, to be social. While it’s important to share the news and keep your readers in-the-know about what’s happening in their world, you can and should share lighter stories as well. Let the person behind your Twitter account have a little fun! Share enjoyable features, good news about the local sports teams, contests, polls, and whatever else lets your publication’s personality shine. It will draw engagement and followers, and will help people see you as more than just a source of essential information, but as a part of their social lives.
How is your newsroom using Twitter? Are you non-stop news tweeters or breaking-news-only sharers? What do you like to see from your news sources? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org — or, better yet, tweet @EditrixJen — and let us know about your ideal newsroom tweets.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.