The how and why of Twitter lurking


It looks like there’s an interesting new paper out on social media use. I can’t be entirely sure because, y’know, academic paywalls, but when I saw this, I had to know a bit more…

The abstract is here, but on the whole it’s less exciting than the tweet: ‘TWEET OR BE SACKED’ is a good headline.

It struck a note with me as I spoke at the WAN IFRA International News Summit this week, about overcoming blockers in newsroom culture change. (My slides are at the end of this post and Julie Posetti‘s overview of the main takeaways is here)

I only touched briefly on the place social media has in changing newsroom culture, but two points seemed to strike a chord with the audience:

1. A strong social media presence for a journalist should be expected, not requested

2. Social media is our judge and jury and we should not only conduct ourselves accordingly, but be prepared for all outcomes.

With regards to point 1, the recent furore about whether NYT executives tweeted or not was valid – they should be tweeting; in my view they need to lead by example. Also if these people don’t have interesting news and views to discuss and share, the Times needs to take another look at its recruitment policy.

Point 2 was made for (hopefully) editorial leaders to take on board, because if you’re in charge of a mainstream media team you have to know what people are saying about you and your title. In fact, you should be a committed Twitter Lurker.

You might not always tweet a lot; there are times when newsroom managers would no doubt quite like to tweet about work-elated events but discretion proves the better part of valour. Nevertheless, even when you’re not active on Twitter, you should be actively consuming Twitter.

Editorial leaders really have be plugged into the conversation at a deep level, knowing what people are saying about them or their brand, and ready to respond or advise on a response, if need be.

My view is, if I heard someone in the pub sharing untrue information about a title I edited, I’d step in and correct them. It’s no different on Twitter – put people straight on inaccuracies, answer questions when they don’t expect an answer – and with a few straightforward tools you can make your brand the omnipotent voice you like to think it is.

It’s not hard to be a good Twitter Lurker, and you don’t need to be especially adept either. So, some things I’d say are useful for editorial leaders…

1. Be an admin: Your brand’s Twitter account is run by people you trust, obviously, and asking to be an admin isn’t undermining what they do. But social is a publishing platform with, ultimately, your name on the deeds if something goes terribly wrong. You should also be able to access the back end – although you may never need to. Know the Twitter login details so you can tweet as your brand if need be.

2. Put your brand’s tweets and @mentions in a Tweetdeck column, so you can see what people are responding to, or a-ing you about. Basic, but it’s very easy to quickly pick up on what story has really clicked with your audience, whether your account is more about broadcast than conversation, or how well it responds to a burgeoning Twitterstorm. A good social media editor can head a spat off with a few polite tweets and a 🙂 It’s an art form.

3. Set up and save Twitter searches around your brand, and your company. Not the @-names but the full text – ‘Nowhere Times’, not @nowwheretimes – and monitor it for conversations where you are being talked about but not talked to. I enjoy a good subtweet as much as the next person, but if you’re a councillor opting to sneakily spread misinformation, you shouldn’t get away with it. (This is the perfect riposte for a snarky mayor, btw)…

  4. Use private Twitter lists. You might not want to follow people who continually talk down you/your brand, but you do want to know what they are saying about it/you. So… set up a private Twitter list (call it something really satisfying too) and add them too it. They will have no idea and you can always keep on top of their misinformation. People who call the Liverpool Echo the Oldham Echo,  tend to get a tweet off me with its Old Hall Street address – anorak-y but hugely satisfying.

5. If someone does want to get into it online, ask yourself a few questions before responding. Are they simply grandstanding? (Generally, they don’t want a response, they want a reaction) What are their follower numbers like? Are they an egg? If they don’t even have an avatar, they aren’t usually that active or followed.   Does their tweet make any sense or are they swearing? (I won’t talk to you on the phone if you swear at me, I’m not making an exception in digital life) Are they agent provocateurs? (if their Twitter stream comprises complaints, whinges and attacks then there’s a good chance they just enjoy annoying people)

There are, of course, lots of options for monitoring conversations – IFTTT.com is one of my favourite online helpers, and a host of new Twitter trackers have recently been created.

My WAN-IFRA slides from the Changing Newsroom Culture session

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About Alison Gow

I'm a journalist, particularly interested in story-telling, networks and digital innovation.
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