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On twitter & the media

For little over a year I have been interested in this thing I’m sure many of you have heard about called twitter. I started off curious how this, then relatively new, social media tool might be used by college media. It wasn’t until I threw caution to the wind and started tweeting did I really understand why people were using twitter.  I used twitter for myself, not the paper or any attempt to pretend I was a media organization.  While I like twitter, I still see many media and businesses not using it how I, a user, would like it to be used.

I spent the past few months talking to other twitter users, attended a few tweetups and along with my own preferences have compiled a list of things media organizations and companies should do, and not do when using twitter.

1. Do NOT use twitter as an RSS feed! I removed the NYT and both my local papers because all they did was push out headlines to their stories.  Don’t know why but this really bugs me as a twitter user. If all you are doing is pushing your stories you are not using twitter right.

2. Do NOT push out a ton of updates at one time. I greatly dislike getting up in the morning or after a long day coming home to find my twitter feed filled up with a ton of updates from one media or business. I don’t mind it from my friends, they aren’t selling me something or just trying to get my eyeballs on their site. When a media/business does this it comes across as pure advertising. Personally, I think 2-4 GOOD updates a day works for me, though nothing is wrong with just one a day either! It is all about finding balance.

3. Do NOT just include links to your main website if you are a media outlet. This is my biggest pet peeve and after talking with many other people who tweet they agree. It isn’t that pushing out the occassional story is bad, just give us the direct link to the story. Note the operative word here is occassional. A feed of all your stories is bad but a few every now and then is just fine so long as you provide a direct link.

Insight #1.  Twitter while it can be used from a desktop can also be used from a mobile phone. People who use twitter on their computer tend to have it in the back ground and seem to use it as a brief distraction (granted some it is a major distraction) from day-to-day work. They don’t want to take time hunting around your website for the one story you just mentioned. Those of us who use twitter on our cell phones don’t want to take the time hunting and pecking around your site in a mobile web browser. I suspect this will be more important as mobile phones evolve into an iPhone like device where you can view websites in the mobile tweet application.

4. DO sound personal. Again, talking with some in the twitter community a personal “voice” is much more appreciated than a vague, corporate sounding/reading one. It is OK to be personal. This is SOCIAL network after all, make it more sociable and less corporate communications. The twitter community does not want a 140 character press release.

5. DO engage your audience/followers. Again, we are talking about a SOCIAL network. Use the twitterverse to keep in touch with your audience and get their input.  Twitter can be a great tool to find out what is going on locally and get advice and input from a wide variety of people. Best of all, you tend to get more immediate feedback because people who follow you can get your updates on their cell phones as a text message.

Insight #2. Getting people to follow you is nice but having them get your updates on their cell phone shows they really like to know what you have to say. If you are using twitter as an RSS feed for your stories, being too impersonal, update too frequently or not including direct links to your stories the less likely your followers are to get updates on their cell.

6. This next one is more on the fence so no real “DO” or “DO NOT.” According to a 2007 story in valley wag  (note direct link) it would seem following more people than are following you is a bad thing if you are a media outlet.  The reason behind this line of thinking is how can you possibly sort through that many tweets? Right now this is a very valid point. It is almost as if your are playing the “who has more friends” game one often encounters on Facebook or Myspace. Are you really interested in what all those people are twittering about? The thing to remember here is the technology is evolving and there are some programs in development to help you sort through tweets and look for trends. I suspect in the coming months following more people than those following you will be what media outlets want to do. Kind of a new high tech way to keep on the pulse of your local area.

7. DO use hashtags. Hashtags are a way to make your tweets stand out. Twitter uses a different search engine and by using hashtags followers or other people can easily keep track of a certain topic.  While Google may diss twitter it seems according to this PCWorld blog their search engine may be in Google’s sites for aquisition.

Insight #3.  Hashtags are used in tweets by putting the hash symbol before a word. When I tweet about this blog post I will hashtag it with newspaper and media by putting (sans the quotes) “#media #newspaper” in my tweet.

8. DO it. Stealing from Nike here, you do need to just start tweeting. Will twitter be the next big thing? Will any revenue, directly or indirectly, ever come from using twitter? Who knows. What using it does is keep you in touch with your audience. They are important and that is why media organizations should be using twitter. Get someone in your organization to start tweeting – and let it be personal. If we, as media organizations, are about transparency in government, would it kill us to shine some light in the newsroom?

Brad Arendt is the General Manager for The Arbiter at Boise State University. He can be found on twitter at twitter.com/bradarendt where he tweets about his life as a father and husband, his thoughts on things from an economists perspective and on college media.