Most editors using Twitter should try to be more conversational. They use Twitter primarily to post headlines and links to their staff’s stories. Posting links is a valid use of Twitter, but if that’s all you’re doing, especially if you’re just posting headlines with the links, you’re just getting started.
Twitter has much greater value for improving your journalism and engaging with your community. As I’ve noted, too many newsroom leaders don’t use Twitter at all, but when they do, most start by sharing links to their staff’s stories. That’s a good start, but it’s just a start.
In my Twitter tips for journalists and my exhortation to editors to be active on Twitter, I encourage journalists to be more conversational. A group of Journal Register Co. editors asked me to elaborate this week, with some advice for what to tweet about and how.
My primary answer is that you can and should converse with the community and colleagues on Twitter as many different ways at you converse with the community and colleagues in person and by email (or chat or Skype or however you converse). If you feel that you don’t have time to use Twitter, think of it as conversation with the community. Editors make time to answer phone calls and emails from the community, to meet with community groups and people who show up in the newsroom. If you don’t think you have time for conversing on Twitter, check out my Twitter time management tips.
Here are some ways I suggested to my JRC colleagues of being more conversational (and some I’ve thought of since). I’ve written this specifically for newsroom leaders (using examples from newsroom leaders, many of them from JRC newsrooms), but many of these techniques would be helpful to any journalist:
Comment on the links you tweet. Tricia Ambrose, editor of the News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio, does a nice job of tweeting her own perspective with a link to a story, rather than just the headline:
This tweet by Mike Morsch, executive editor of Montgomery Newspapers, is more engaging than a simple headline:
Retweet and reply to people in the community. The community is discussing community issues (and sometimes your coverage of them) on Twitter. Join that conversation. You can explain a decision, thank someone for some praise, respond to criticism or just show that you’re listening.
Tweet links to some community blogs. Don’t make it all about your publication. Especially if you have a blog network (as JRC newsrooms do), share some link love with the network members (and include them in your conversation):
Tweet about people in the community.
Tweet links to interesting content from other sources. Editors are constantly reading stories from other news organizations. Tweet links to some that you find interesting or provocative. If you’d tell a colleague or spouse about a story, it’s probably worth tweeting, with some praise or criticism.
Live-tweet. In the last few months, I know of two JRC editors, Nancy March and Stan Huskey, who have live-tweeted community events that they attended. You may be attending as the editor (or actually reporting on the event, as Nancy was), or maybe you’re attending a sporting event as a parent or fan, or perhaps you are participating in an event. Consider whether it’s an opportunity for live-tweeting.
Praise your staff. Most editors don’t praise the good work of their staffs often enough. Of course, you should deliver praise in person, but Twitter’s a good praise vehicle as well.
Tweet as you live in your community. Editors frequently represent their news organization at community events and in other ways. If you’re speaking to a service club, tweet when you book the event. Tweet that morning, telling club members you’re looking forward to seeing them there. Then tweet a picture from the meeting or live-tweet some of the activities and discussion that precede your talk.
Most times when the editor is out in the community, you are spreading goodwill (even if you’re addressing complaints, the fact that you’re out in the community listening to them builds goodwill). Share that goodwill on Twitter.
Sometimes you’re just enjoying community life, not as the editor but as a member of the community. Share some thoughts and observations about those aspects of your community life.
Tweet about professional involvement. Lots of editors make tweetworthy contributions to the industry, through state and regional press associations and professional organizations such as the American Society of News Editors, Associated Press Managing Editors or the Online News Association.
Join a journalism live chat. #ASNEchat is geared especially for newsroom leaders, every Tuesday at
noon 2 p.m. Eastern time, 9 11 a.m. Pacific. (Update: Starting next Tuesday, Oct. 25, when we’ll discuss internships, #ASNEchat starts at 2 p.m. Eastern.) This week, we’ll be discussing coverage of Occupy Wall Street. Other journalism Twitter chats include #wjchat (Wednesday night, 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific), #spjchat (Thursday, 8 p.m. Eastern) and #jrcchat (Wednesday at noon Eastern). It’s a great opportunity to use Twitter to discuss journalism issues with colleagues.
Tell the community what your staff is working on. This idea came from our JRC editors, but I am happy to pass it along. Several of our editors are sharing their daily news budgets, telling the community what staff members are covering and inviting contributions. Of course, if a particular story is competitive, or if you’re checking out a potentially damaging rumor that you don’t want to repeat until you’ve nailed it down, you don’t have to include everything:
Crowdsource. If you have a couple ideas for your next column or blog post, seek your tweeps’ reaction to them. If your staff is seeking community photos of a news event, ask the public. If you’re seeking witnesses to a breaking news event, ask your tweeps if anyone was there. Crowdsourcing’s usefulness will grow as you engage more followers. It nearly always works for me.
Tell what’s going on in the newsroom. You can tweet about the important stuff you’re doing or share some of the fun of newsroom life.
Promote your organization. Your Twitter following and your Facebook following overlap, but each includes some that the other doesn’t. If you’re running a contest on Facebook, promote it on Twitter. Twitter is a good place to promote your text alerts and other services of your news organization. Promote your staff’s use of Twitter.
Post newsroom jobs. If you’re fortunate enough to be hiring, post the openings on Twitter. You can be hopeful that the people you reach will have some understanding of Twitter’s value to journalists:
Address questions about your coverage.
Converse with colleagues. Follow some other editors on Twitter. Where you might be too busy to call or email them as often as you’d like, a quick exchange on Twitter doesn’t take as long, and builds some collegiality.
Follow more people. If you’re not following many people, your conversation will be more like a monologue. Follow some more people in the community. Follow some more colleagues (I have a Twitter list with more than 60 newsroom leaders; please suggest more if you know them).
Say thank you. People will respond to your requests for help. Tell them thanks.
Opinion may be OK. Opinion is a sensitive issue for editors and other journalists. Different people should handle this differently. Consider whether and when opinion might be acceptable for you on Twitter. If you have a column where you voice your opinion, similar commentary on Twitter should probably be appropriate. Even if you decide that opinion about political or community issues is not appropriate, perhaps some general opinions on more universal issues, journalism issues or sports loyalties are OK.
Show your sense of humor. Most editors I know are funny. Tweet some funny remarks or links to things you find humorous.
Update: Speaking of humor, Gene Weingarten summed this advice up below (if you’re not that funny yourself, follow Gene and retweet him now and then and people will think you’re funny):
Show your personality. Even if you decide opinion isn’t appropriate for you, your personality is much more than your opinions. People will feel more like engaging with you if they see you as a person and feel like they can identify with you. Each person needs to decide how much of their interests, family, etc. they feel like sharing. (People who follow me get some banter between Mimi and me, photos of my granddaughter, complaints about travel delays and some sports trash talking.)
Sometimes the headline is a good tweet. While I want editors to do more than tweeting headlines and links, sometimes the headline is a strong tweet just by itself.
There’s nothing wrong with tweeting a headline and a link. But I like to see editors doing more than that. What are some ways you converse on Twitter (or enjoy conversation with your tweeps)?
Update: John Bethune made some of the same points (with some interesting numerical analysis) about Twitter use by editors of trade publications in his post, Do B2B Editors Get Twitter?