A journalism student asked me a question last night that reflects a common concern among professional journalists and media managers:
— Stephen Shiflett (@StephenShiflett) September 4, 2012
I wasn’t exactly pleased with my reply (as tirelessly as I encourage journalists to use Twitter, can I still blame the 140-character limit?):
@stephenshiflett Effective Twitter use w/o worrying about giving it away will drive traffic to sites where you sell ads.
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) September 5, 2012
Then this morning I got around to blogging about some analysis Matt DeRienzo did recent of Digital First Media’s branded Twitter accounts in Connecticut, and I realized Matt had a better answer: Serving your Twitter audience effectively drives traffic to your website better than trying to drive traffic.
Just as the student was worried about tweeting too much valuable content, rather than steering people to a website where he could make money from ads or a paywall, many news organizations regard their branded Twitter accounts as simply an RSS feed for their own headlines and links. But Matt’s analysis shows the economic value of providing a more useful engaging presence on Twitter. The Twitter feed in question even drives traffic for competitors. But because it’s useful to its audience, it drives outstanding traffic to its own site. Matt’s points are worth another #twutorial post.
Before I share Matt’s analysis, one quick note in response to Stephen’s specific question about “giving away” content on Twitter: Livetweeting news events and breaking news can feed your website using Twitter widgets and tools such as ScribbleLive and CoverItLive or you can curate them with Storify. This is not an either/or situation.
I was looking at referral traffic to our sites from Twitter this morning, and found some pretty interesting trends that I think tell us a lot about how to better manage our social media presence.
Our Twitter feed @5thDistrictCT has only 717 followers, compared to 6,263 for Middletown Press and 3,332 for Register Citizen, and, of course, has only been around since April vs. a Twitter presence for the dailies that stretches back several years.
If you look at the ratio of average monthly traffic generated by Twitter as compared to number of followers, the 5th District site is double the rate of the New Haven Register, 10 times the rate of The Register Citizen and 20 times the rate of The Middletown Press.
Among the potential lessons from this:
- Targeted feeds will have a higher response rate. Most of the 5th District’s 717 Twitter followers are subscribed to that feed because they are interested very specifically in the 5th District Congress race, and that’s the only topic that is covered by the feed. A subscriber to the New Haven Register’s Twitter feed is going to see a bunch of stuff they’re not interested in because it’s a general interest account. The web and social media allow people to consume information this way … very targeted to their interests. (Buttry note: We don’t have similar results with all of our targeted Twitter feeds, but I would argue that they have not been used as effectively in these other ways as the 5th District. GametimePA and MIPrepZone are similar targeted feeds that are also effective.)
- Engagement matters. The 5th District site has a rate of @ mentions on Twitter that is more than double the New Haven Register in relation to its number of followers, and more than 10 times the rate of the Middletown Press. We’ve engaged in numerous conversations, Q-and-A exchanges, etc., with followers. This barely ever happens on the three dailies’ Twitter feeds.
- Twitter is a breaking news medium. We’ve literally broken more news about the 5th District Congress race over the past five months than every other news outlet in Connecticut combined. (Kudos to Jordan Fenster … really remarkable.) Twitter is the quintessential breaking news outlet, and we’ve gotten a lot of referral traffic for the 5th District site because very simply, people are seeing news about this race for the first time, from us, on Twitter. We have much higher referral traffic ratios for the New Haven Register than Middletown and Torrington, and I think it has 100% to do with the fact that New Haven breaks and posts a ton more local news throughout the day than the other two dailies and follows the right workflow in tweeting as soon as those links are up. Response on those stories vs. “scheduled” or random links to non-breaking news stories will be night and day.
- Serve readers vs. broadcast your own links. The 5th District Twitter feed has attempted to provide comprehensive coverage of the 5th District race for its followers, and like any beat, this means that there are news stories and opinion pieces being written by other people, other news sources. It links directly to them all the time, instead of just simply linking to our coverage and pretending the rest doesn’t exist. I don’t know if this really makes folks more likely to click on our links when we post them, but it definitely increases following and engagement and trust in your feed, which at the very least makes followers pay more attention to what you are tweeting. The three daily Twitter feeds, in contrast, simply broadcast our own links 95% of the time.
These trends show us the opportunity to build a presence around targeted areas of coverage and “own it” as we have the 5th District this year.
But in the short-term, and of greater importance to the business, they show us how we can make our main newspaper social media accounts better and more effective.
As Matt noted, Jordan breaks lots of news on the 5th District race, but when another outlet reports on the race (whether they’re breaking news themselves or playing catch-up), he aggregates their content. So @5thDistrictCT is the place to come for all information on the race from any source. He happily retweets and credits other media, as you can see in this exchange:
— Record-Journal (@Record_Journal) August 30, 2012
@record_journal Hey, credit where credit is due
— JRC Connecticut (@5thDistrictCT) August 30, 2012
Jordan retweeted this tweet from a competitor, linking to the competitor’s site:
CT News Junkie | Donovan Withdraws Name From Ballot ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archi…
— ctnewsjunkie (@ctnewsjunkie) August 30, 2012
Note the contrast: Most media Twitter feeds are selfish, focused just on driving traffic to the commercial site where it makes its money. But by thinking of the audience — engaging and providing useful information, wherever it comes from — @5thDistrictCT is driving proportionally more traffic for its site than the selfish accounts.
Engaging and providing news and useful information is always good business.
Previous #twutorial posts
My #twutorial series on how journalists should use Twitter has been running mostly on Mondays. This is an extra post this week. Here are previous posts in the series: