Three Mistakes College Newsrooms Make With Twitter

Your Twitter feed can attract readers, but it just as surely can drive them away. To make sure you’re doing the former, give some thought to how you write tweets, whether you’re hitting a reader with a stream or a fire hose and whether you’re aggregating outside sources.

1. Tweets must be AT LEAST as well written as headlines.

Here’s my favorite college media news tweet of 2012:

But that’s an exception. Far, far too many college media tweets look like these (tweeters’ names removed to protect the guilty):

Letter to the editor [with link]

The perils of social media [with link]

Jumping through hoops [with link]

PHOTO GALLERY: The [hometown] men’s basketball team was defeated by [other team] Saturday night [with link, and tweeted 18 hours after game ended]

If you’ve found this blog, you know why you’d never dream of any of those appearing as complete headlines in your newspaper. So why would you foist them on a Twitter reader?

Digital media guru Steve Buttry (you’re following him on Twitter @stevebuttry, right?) advises tweeting moments rather than headlines, as in:

You’re thinking, “What if a moment like that didn’t fall into my lap?” Here’s a more mundane example. After presidential debates last fall, I saw a lot of student media tweeting along the lines of “read student debate reaction.” Better: tweet the best Democratic quote and then the best Republican quote. (Or livetweet the reaction DURING the debate, which is what Buttry would advise in the first place.)

2. Twitter is for streams, not fire hoses 

If you’ve induced a student on your campus to follow you for campus news, is it logical to assume she wants 40 live tweets from a not-earthshaking basketball game? Or is it more logical to assume she’s going to swiftly click the “unfollow” button during the game and never return to your feed?

The great majority of newsrooms should have a main account for top news and then other accounts for people who want a lot of tweets in a certain category. So when the game starts, the main account tweets, “We’re livetweeting the game tonight from [a sports account or a writer’s Twitter account].” And we don’t hear about the game from the main account again until there’s a final score or somebody makes an 80-foot shot. Some newsrooms have a “Live” account for students who want a lot of tweets on whatever’s happening now on campus. Again, the main account would tweet only the best of those stories.

3. Link to other sources. Yes, this means you

I find many students fidget uncomfortably when I say they should tweet links to news of interest to their audience from local and national sources. “Link to the competition?” is a typical response. I could carry on about whether those outlets are your true competitors (hint: they’re not), but the truth is that this debate is over. The audience expects you to put its interests ahead of your brand preservation. In fact, your willingness to point out interesting links is a valuable PART of your brand identity. If The New York Times reports something important about federal student financial aid, your audience expects to see that now — not after you get around to knocking off some version of it.

I think links to other sources should be part of your daily digital routine. I’ve written more about the daily digital discipline previously and won’t repeat that here. But certainly you should use Google Alerts and Twitter lists to monitor key topics (financial aid) and newsmakers (your president).

Even if you add some reporting or context (such as pointing readers to a previous story of your own) or write a full story based on the outside source, be sure you properly attribute and link. The recent Tow Center report on “post-industrial journalism” (read it if you haven’t) was blunt:

“… refusing to link for commercial reasons may make sense to the ad sales department, but it should horrify anyone whose job involves public service. The public value of linking to source materials is so obvious, and so easy, that organizations that refuse to do it are announcing little more than contempt for the audience and for the ethical norms of public communication.”


About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on January 14, 2013, in Digital/social, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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