I didn’t have time during yesterday’s Twitter webinar to answer all the questions. I will provide quick answers here (so I can get to them all today), no more than one paragraph each. If you’d like me to elaborate on a topic, tell me in the comments and I may make it a future blog post, though often I will be linking to previous posts. I have edited some of the questions for brevity and to make them general, rather than applying to a specific newsroom. Participants in the webinar were Digital First Media (Journal Register Co. and MediaNews Group) journalists.
Q: Can you offer some quick tips for our really new Twitter users about how to get started on tweeting when you’re still rather unfamiliar and unsure about Twitter?
My updated and expanded Twitter tips have a section on getting started.
Q: And a “hashtag” is… what?
Hashtags are hyperlinks in tweets that start with the # sign following a word with no space: #DigitalFirst or #jrcchat. People use hashtags to organize and search related tweets. You can search a hashtag in a variety of ways: by clicking on the hyperlink in the tweet, by entering the hashtag in the search window at the top of on Twitter.com‘s home page next to the Twitter logo or at Twitter Search. You can save searches in Twitter or in a Twitter client such as TweetDeck. The search will show the most recent tweets using that hashtag. I discuss hashtags in my updated and expanded Twitter tips.
Q: Where does one find a directory of Twitter Hashtags?
Hashtags occur spontaneously, often with little or no explanation. The best way to find hashtags relating to a breaking news story is to search for tweets with keywords and check any hashtags you see in those tweets. If you want to start a hashtag, you can see whether anyone else is using it by searching, as described above. You also might check Hashtags.org.
Q: I have absolutely no idea how to “retweet.”
Retweeting is sharing a tweet from someone else. A retweet doesn’t automatically mean an endorsement, but it’s often a good idea to explain why you’re sharing the tweet, by adding a comment, either at the front of your tweet or in a subsequent tweet. You can retweet (without editing) by clicking “retweet” under the tweet in Twitter.com (it appears when you mouse over the tweet). On Twitter clients such as TweetDeck, HootSuite and TweetChat, click the tiny arrow pointing (you may have to mouse over the tweet or avatar), and you can edit, adding your comment and shortening the original. You also can edit a retweet by cutting and pasting from the tweet into your new-tweet window at Twitter.com. But watch out: sometimes a link will not come along. Some people use “MT” to show that a tweet has been edited fairly heavily (if I cut a few words and did some small edits like changing “and” to “&”, I still use RT). Jeff Sonderman of Poynter suggested “NT,” for neutral tweet (and has a great explanation of retweets) to emphasize that you aren’t endorsing the tweet. NT hasn’t caught on yet, but might.
Q: Is there a way to privately message someone who doesn’t follow you on Twitter?
You can’t send a direct message unless someone is following you (a great spam preventer). But if you reply to that person (click the “reply” option when you scroll over a tweet on Twitter.com or the curved arrow on most clients, or just start the tweet with @username), only the people who follow both of you will see that in their Twitter streams, so it’s semi-private unless you share a lot of followers.
Q: What about confirmation with an official before actually using a source’s material?
You’re a journalist. Verify facts before tweeting them, just as you would before publishing them in any other platform. Or attribute, raise questions and ask your tweeps to help you confirm, as Andy Carvin does. If you know a Twitter feed is a source’s official feed, you don’t need to confirm any more than you would confirm the authenticity of a press release or an announcement on an agency’s official website. On the other hand, watch out for fake Twitter profiles such as @MayorEmanuel.
Q: Should you post a correction even if you delete a tweet that warranted a correction? How do you handle twitter corrections?
I think you should correct immediately in another tweet as soon as you learn of the error (multiple tweets if necessary; a correction should be clear and complete). I generally would not delete a tweet unless the error was egregious (for instance, if it harmed someone’s reputation). I would monitor retweets of the error and alert the people retweeting it that you were wrong. That said, on occasion, I have seen the error the moment I hit “tweet” and have deleted immediately and tweeted correctly (acknowledging the error). But if it’s been out there a while, I wouldn’t delete except in extreme cases.
Q. Where is advanced search on the Twitter website?
If you know the codes, you can do advanced search in the Twitter window on the site (just to the right of the logo). I just prefer using the windows on the Advanced Twitter Search page. (Advanced search only searches tweets from the last few days.) Do a few advanced searches and you can learn the codes pretty quickly to search right from Twitter.com if you want.
Q: How do you recall/retrieve these old tweets in case you want to search something in the past.
The best tool I know of for finding old tweets is Topsy. It goes back further than Twitter Advanced Search, but it has limitations (it searches only the 3,200 tweets still available for each individual in Twitter’s API, for instance, and I’ve done more than 24,000 tweets). I was unable to use it to find the @ksassi tweet below (that’s from a screen grab at the time, back in 2009). Google search sometimes helps find old tweets, too, but I couldn’t find that tweet on Google either. You can “favorite” tweets you especially like, and they will always be available in your favorites. Cali Lewis wrote about some other ways to search for old tweets.
Q: Can you go over posting a picture to Twitter? Do you have to go through a 3rd party link-shortening site?
There are lots of apps for posting photos to Twitter: Flickr, Instagram, Twitpic, Yfrog. I don’t know the pros and cons of each. I have used Flickr and Twitpic. You can also use a URL shortener such as bit.ly to post a photo from your news site to Twitter. Instagram uses some fun filters to give different effects to photos. Consider whether these alter a photo in a way that would be unethical for a journalist.
Q: Steve, can you speak to getting Twitpics from public to your site? It’s not fair use, right?
I’m not a lawyer, but I answer this two ways: 1. As I understand it (if anyone knows this is wrong, please correct me), Twitpic’s terms of service give the rights to photos to Twitter, which makes them available through its API. So curating through Storify or another tool using the API should be legal (though reread my disclaimer). I have not heard of problems with this use. 2. I think it’s a good practice to ask permission to use photos, which you can easily to by tweeting the photographer.
Q: How can photographers use Twitter? Cellphone cameras are inadequate for journalistic purposes, according to our staff photographer.
Increasingly, Digital First visual journalists are going to be using cellphones to post initial photos from the scene, then switching to better cameras for other photos to post later and use in print. Like a reporter, a visual journalist can use Twitter’s advanced search to find tweets that will indicate good places to shoot photos and videos. For instance, if you were covering the 2009 Fargo flood, you’d want to go where this woman was tweeting:
Q: Twitter is not popular in our community. How do you drive people to Twitter in smaller markets? This presentation seems more suited to major metro newspapers with larger staffs and more resources (i.e. budgets to buy the needed equipment).
Twitter is a valuable journalism tool in any market with any equipment. My staff used it extensively and effectively in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2008 and I am hearing good examples of Twitter use in small JRC markets (including from at least one formerly skeptical editor who has cited that excuse). My answer is threefold: 1. More people in your market than you realize are on Twitter, and they’re not reading the newspaper (and maybe not visiting your news site). Use search to find and reach out to them. Use will grow in your community and you want to be a factor on Twitter as it does. 2. As I discussed in the webinar, you can use widgets, liveblogs and curation to pull staff tweets onto the website, creating content for the site that people don’t have to be on Twitter to see. 3. As noted above, I hope you’ll have better tools soon, but you can tweet from any computer that has web access and any phone that can text.
Q: We work on equipment that was state of the art back in 1995. We’ve heard in the past that we were receiving new equipment. Has not happened yet … at least every year for the last 3 years.
The Digital First approach to journalism requires current equipment. Journal Register Co. has been updating equipment since John Paton embarked on the Digital First approach. I expect we’ll see the same at MediaNews. But it takes some money and some time.
Q: A few staffers cannot afford to add a data package to their phone to use social media. How can we work around this?
You can use social media from any computer. As noted above, upgrading equipment and social access will be priorities in budgeting, but upgrades will take time. In the meantime, journalists need to do the best we can with what we have.
Q: How do we get reporters to buy in? My problem is getting staff excited about this, engaged in the process and executing. Seems like we need accountability. We all need to be doing this.
I addressed this question in a blog post about getting curmudgeons to see the value of Twitter. You deal with this by making it a priority for staff members, asking them day after day whether they have done a Twitter search for the story they’re working on, what people are saying about the topic on Twitter, etc. Share success stories. If journalists see the value of a tool, they will be more likely to want to use it. People who are resisting new tools just out of stubbornness are making a conscious decision to be less valuable as journalists. That’s a foolish and career-limiting decision in a competitive job market.
Q: The problem is getting some of the backward management to buy in.
Journalists at all levels are understanding the value of Twitter at different paces. I have written frequently about the weak Twitter participation of top editors and I’ve explained why newsroom leaders should be active on Twitter. John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media, JRC and MediaNews, who’s active on Twitter, is making the Digital First priorities of our company clear. I think managers will buy in. In the meantime, don’t let weak leaders keep you from doing the best journalism that you can. And today, that means making heavy use of Twitter.
Q: Some reporters are concerned about the content of their tweets and usage guidelines or rules. Without set parameters, they fear potential discipline for tweeting something their boss doesn’t like. Recently, our CEO posted his rules for Twitter, which were there are no rules. How should we talk to reporters and make those who are uncomfortable using Twitter more comfortable?
We encourage responsible use of Twitter. We don’t favor rules because rules tend to inhibit experimentation and creative use of new tools. If someone does something irresponsible (for instance, tweeting facts you haven’t verified or, as Mike Wise did, tweeting something he knew to be wrong), you should expect a discussion with the boss or even some discipline. But we don’t need social media rules to tell people not to publish information they know is false. Tell staff members that the CEO and all top Digital First executives encourage responsible use of Twitter and other social media, and we trust our journalists to use good judgment without a list of do’s and don’ts from the bosses.