The past two years, I’ve held a session with Daily Eastern News editors about social media use in reporting. Part of that discussion is going over a list of tips about live-tweeting an event. Here is that list, with some explanatory notes below each item. (Kenna Griffin has some similar advice at ProfKRG.)
- Make sure of any ground rules. (NCAA, courts)
The NCAA has some really strict rules about live tweeting or blogging from games. Enforcement depends on individual athletic departments, however. Just be sure you know if there are such guidelines going in. It’s not worth getting kicked out of the press box because you tweeted nine times in a period instead of eight. Similarly, courts have a wide variety of rules about “live” coverage of courtroom activities. Some allow use of smartphones, but not laptops. Others, the opposite. Again, check with the authority before you get a visit from the bailiff.
- Easier to tweet using a laptop, but know how to use mobile Twitter.
Most of us are used to typing quickly on a traditional keyboard. The touch key system on smartphones can be slower, and – if you have fat fingers like me – annoying with autocorrect and typos. But you won’t always be able to use a laptop (think breaking news scene at a building fire), or you won’t have Wi-Fi. There are several apps available for mobile Twitter use. Learn how to switch between accounts, edit retweets, etc. for one of these apps.
- Don’t overload your Twitter account. You are not doing play-by-play.
Twitter followers don’t need a blow-by-blow account of a contentious debate at city council. Use the service to summarize the various positions, or provide a glimpse at key plays in a sporting event.
- Every tweet should make sense, be self-contained.
Tweets go into a stream of content, and some Twitter users have hundreds of tweets coming across their screen every minute. Sense-making within brevity is an art form. HOWEVER, if you do need to break a thought up across two tweets, be sure to number each (e.g. 1/2, 2/2). I don’t recommend going over two tweets for a thought. That’s what your article or blog post is for.
- Have a hashtag (#) to make it easy to follow a conversation. (example #drewpeterson)
Hashtags organize your content. Use them. If you have more than one reporter at an event, make sure they are all using the same hashtag for consistency.
- If possible, follow along with conversation, and respond when someone raises a question or point.
The key word in “social media” is “social.” Engage with people who take the time to respectfully respond to your tweets.
- Make sure people know retweets (RTs) are not endorsements. Perhaps put quotes around statements.
Put that statement in your profile description.
- not 2 much txt spk evn n 140 char
It’s okay to condense some words to fit into the length of tweets, but don’t go overboard. Only abbreviate common words people would understand.
- Tweet facts, not opinion.
If you’re covering a story as a straight-news reporter, moving platforms doesn’t remove your obligation to a stance of objectivity.
- Quotes must still be accurate.
If you can’t fit an exact quote in a tweet, an accurate paraphrase is acceptable, but anything between the quotation marks should be precise.
- If a story subject has a Twitter account, use their handle (@name) when tweeting about them.
Does your university president have a Twitter account? Use it when you have a tweet featuring that person. Also, any other personalities.
- Tweet relevant related materials (source documents, web sites, etc.).
If your tweet is about the university budget, and there’s a copy of the budget online, or a related story from another news outlet, include a link, or send that information out in a separate tweet.
- Think of Twitter as an early draft of your story.
Look back over the tweets you sent during the event. Does anything stand out that deserves to be in your finished story? Can the information in the tweets be rearranged into a more compelling version of what happened?
- Collect your tweets and related tweets into Storify for a synopsis of the real-time reporting.
You may not be the only observer at an event who uses social media to comment on what’s happening. Use Storify and aggregate information from Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and other services for your online package.