Wednesday, 2 September 2009

How journalists and media brands can get the maximum benefit from Twitter

I’m working on a training course about packaging and atomising news for multiple channels.

It’s called Developing the Story, and the scope is to look at all the ways in which, having published a story in whatever medium, it can be developed and moved on to reach as many readers as possible in different channels.

Channels including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

I’m developing my thoughts on Twitter at the moment and, partly to get things clear in my head, thought I’d blog about it.

I’m trying to distil some very perceptive thoughts from Dan Blank of Reed Business Information  and from the Mashable blog. 
I’m also drawing on the Haymarket news site, which gives examples of effective Twitter usage for a range of the group’s magazines.

Why use Twitter?
But first – why bother to use Twitter? Or, as I prefer to put it, why is it necessary for journalists, and publishing brands, to use Twitter?
Here’s why, as Dan Blank puts it: “Building an audience, building a community, and providing value to advertisers should be about becoming highly valued to just the right people. But audiences are becoming disaggregated. 
“They are communicating and receiving information through a variety of channels – from their phones, social networks, texting, widgets, Twitter, RSS feeds… 
“The concept of a single place as an information source is dwindling.
“In a situation like this, the goal may be less about capturing eyeballs, and more about spreading your influence.” 
Use Twitter to spread influence and to connect
So, using social media is about spreading influence and gaining authority.

As Dan goes on to say: "Social media is more than just a buzzword; it is a powerful tool for connecting. Twitter is a very simple and powerful way to connect.”

That’s what the course I’m developing is all about. Whether we think Twitter or any other platform is good, bad or indifferent matters very much less than what the readers – or potential readers – of any one brand think of it. If they use it, the brand must. If they don’t, the brand doesn’t have to.

The benefits of using Twitter
I’m thinking here of the benefits specifically to publishers of specialist consumer and B2B magazines and websites, and of the context in which the audience – or at least key segments of it – is highly knowledgeable and informed about their job/industry/hobby/obsession.

These readers are engaged with the subject/industry, want to connect with other influential or knowledgeable figures and will respect your brand’s authority. They will also be keen to get involved with conversations about it

So here are the benefits of being on Twitter (and other social media, but more on that in future posts).

Twitter gives you a presence
You gotta be in it to win it. If members of the community can’t find you in the places they go to chat, enjoy their hobby, learn or whatever, then you can’t be a part of the conversation.

Create a presence in the right places and two other benefits arise

Twitter lets you listen and learn
It links you in with the community you seek to serve. You can connect with the movers and shakers and absorb their knowledge and expertise, and find out what the average punter is most interested in.

Twitter lets you be heard
It tells the community what you are doing and saying. You might not be a big player, but say something worthwhile and the community will pick up on it and pass it on.

Once you are speaking, listening and learning, further benefits accrue:

Twitter helps you help your industry/community
To quote Dan Blank again: “We are judged not on the amount of fresh content we put out there, but on how much we help those in our industry. (This includes both readers and advertisers, as well as others.) Twitter allows you to help others by sharing information and ideas, and streamlining collaboration in both small and large ways

Twitter improves your editorial content
Because it helps you discover the issues that people are talking about most. Dan Blank says: “Listening to your industry via Twitter gives ideas for the content that [you] should be focusing on, and by actively engaging with this network of people, helps bring readers more deeply into your brand.”

Twitter enables you to reach the movers and shakers
Many of your followers will be prominent and influential people in the industry/community you serve. Build a relationship with them and, as Dan says, they are more likely to write about you in their blogs and send you links on Twitter. From that comes this:

Twitter builds trust and community
It lets you connect your industry/interest group with these knowledgeable and influential people. Crucially: “It is about more than just sending traffic to us or away from us; it is about creating a community that helps each other. Twitter builds trust.”

But to do all of the above you need to know this…

Twitter is a conversation
Some brands just use Twitter to broadcast links to their news and other content. That may be all they feel they have the resources to do, but it is not using social media to anything like its true potential.

Twitter and other social media channels are not an opportunity for you to broadcast to an audience.

To get the benefit of Twitter you should follow people, listen to them and respond. In short, you should be part of a conversation.

Things you can do on Twitter

Break news, win the exclusive
Why do mainstream media break stories on Twitter, even before they have a story up on the website? They break news on Twitter to win the exclusive.
Mashable gives some examples here and the following list is culled from that post.

Avoid being scooped
Being first has great value. If you broke the story you are likely to be referred to and linked to by those who follow up on it. Your tweet effectively puts a time stamp on the news, even if you aren’t the first to get the full story out.

Build awareness
Put your and/or your brand’s name in your tweet and you can become a trending topic, and build brand awareness. You are likely to be seen by many people as a source of reliable news. So you gain authority and that, as I mentioned at the beginning, is a key goal

Reach new audiences
A good tweet can bring a spike in page views.
How to make the most of Twitter
It’s not just about breaking news. There are other things you can do on Twitter that bring it into the processes of finding, researching and reporting on stories.
Dan Blank offers this checklist of how you can make the most of Twitter:
o Share links to articles the moment you post them. [Your Twitter followers] are your most engaged users, digesting information and interaction at a very granular level. Reward them with exclusives and notices which allow them to feel like insiders who can spread the word for you. 
o Send exclusive photos. 
o When meeting famous or well-known people, have them do a guest update.
o Mention people you are meeting, covering, or interested in and speaking to. 
o Bring your followers behind the scenes in your brand and in their industry. 
o Tell people what are you excited about. 
o Share funny experiences.

Give your brand several Twitter presences
You can have a brand Twitter account, or more than one, focusing on key areas of news or coverage. You can also have individual tweeters. A star columnist can take their talent to Twitter and build their following.

So, for instance, Top Gear will have brand tweets about news, product launches and so on, and a presenter such as James May will have his personal Twitter stream which engages in a much more personality-driven way. If indeed it's him. As, currently, his last  post was some days ago it might be.

Use a range of types of tweets
Vary things, and engage with the community, by tweeting:

Internal links
To your content – blog posts, news stories and more 
External links
To good material elsewhere that your industry/interest group will find valuable

Replies @
Personal responses to people who have spoken to you. They have the advantage of both being personal – you are chatting to someone who follows you one-to-one – but public in that everyone else can see them and may find what you have said valuable

Of tweets that you have found valuable, interesting, amusing.

You can bring together the threads of a conversation for your audience with the use of hashtags, linking tweets from many different sources.

Is Twitter worth our time and effort?

There is plenty of evidence that it is, if you do it right. Haymarket reveals examples of Twitter’s benefits to a range of its magazines here

Here’s a summary:
Breaking stories and finding exclusives
Autocar has beaten the industry in tweeting, for example, the new Rolls-Royce being unveiled at the Shanghai Motor Show. It’s also broken news stories based on tweets from trusted sources in the car industry.
Finding new readers and boosting traffic
BrandRepublic revealed that Twitter had brought a leap in traffic to media websites

Digital marketing magazine Revolution drew more than 10,000 people to a story through a link on Twitter, and prompted follow-ups from as far afield as Brazil and Korea.
Getting key industry figures following you
Customer title SPIKES, produced for two athletics bodies, has key figures in US athletics including sprinter Allyson Felix, who was recently appointed to US President Barack Obama’s sports council, following it on Twitter, even though the magazine is not available in the US.
Give the industry/community more
William Maher, brand editor for PC Authority, says: “Twitter lets us push links to an audience, rather than relying on them coming to our site. It also lets us tell readers about stuff we’re doing that we don’t have room for in the magazine, or that doesn’t suit a story on the site.” 
Bring the threads of a conversation together
Compliance Week created a tag for anyone tweeting about its annual conference. A search for that tag – #CW2009 – returns a long list of tweets from many perspectives, not just Compliance Week’s. It bundles the subject up in “one nifty package” says Compliance Week editor-in-chief Matt Kelly, and also gives potential advertisers a sense that “the conference is big and it’s useful”.
How do you make time for Twitter?

Set limits
Tweet a couple of times a day at first, you can always build on it later.

Identify times to tweet
Dan Blank suggests you find “times where your audience is most likely to be engaged. Maybe you will send a morning update with news, a question during lunch, and any @replies at the end of the day. Don’t overwhelm yourself.”

Focus on your goals
If your goal is to drive traffic to your website, tweet about content that is most likely to achieve this. Your followers are likely to be looking for material that is of value to them, and tweets that are pointers towards valuable content will be appealing.

Make tweeting a by-product of your working day
If you are looking for inspiration, planning coverage, working on ideas, carrying out research, tweet about it. Invite suggestions and contributions.

How to work out how you are doing
Use an analytics took such as Twitterholic, or TweetStats