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 – 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

Tweetdeck: A short user guide to getting the most out of it

(Photo credit: estherbester)
I ran my first Webex training session this week; it was a 45 minute run-through of How To Be a Tweetdeck Ninja, which contained my tips for getting the most out of Facebook. 
I’ve used Tweetdeck for years and I like the Chrome extension very much – I personally find Tweetdeck the desktop tool for Twitter I wouldn’t be without (one other being Buffer). 
So when asked to give some colleagues an introduction to Tweetdeck, and others a bit of a power-user insight, it was a chance to sift through what is useful or not to me, and share it. 
Because Trinity Mirror uses Google Apps, I’ve slanted the presentation to the Google Chrome Store Tweetdeck extension – obviously that isn’t a prerequisite to using Tweetdeck. 
Having not used Webex before (other than a nice, safe ‘this is how it works’  session between me and the trainer) it was a little nerve-wracking but, used properly it is a great tool for engaged learning. (My main learning outcome was that background noise can hugely impact on the sound quality.)
Anyway, before the session started I did ask the Twitter hivemind for its thoughts on what was good and bad about Tweetdeck, and and then pulled a selection together into a custom timeline* of the responses: 

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+”://”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

There was also a powerpoint sent around as an aide memoir, which I’ve uploaded to Scribd

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Advice from the Green Ink Brigade

This comment on a HTFP story about the continuing Daily Post Right to Tweet campaign (of which, more here) made smile ruefully 

Many of the commenters on articles about the campaign (and thanks, HTFP, for being so supportive) take the view we’re wasting our time or that live tweeting is actively bringing about the End Of Newspapers. 

I disagree with them (of course!) but it’s not worth the time or energy to start a dialogue there – I’d rather explain to our readers why they should care. 
But we should all care; it’s not about press freedom, it’s about personal freedom and resisting the default “no” issued way too often when the world evolves, and institutions struggle to keep pace with it. 

And I have a problem with the complacent nay sayers (I’m looking at you, ‘Kendo Nagasaki’ and your ilk). And, although this has changed massively in the past two or three years, there are still some working in newsrooms and still acting as though industry change has been created with the sole intention of making their lives more difficult, chewing over that resentment like it’s gum. 

Still,the Green Ink Brigade of unknown letter writers is a part of the fabric of the newsroom. Most of them have shifted to email but there are still the treasured letters that arrive from Planets Unknown, like this (he writes to us at least once a week and appears to use a stencil): 

I think if he/she ever stops writing to us, we’ll be a bit worried. 
And it’s possible to take a lesson from the GIB. After all, if colleagues in your newsroom think you’re showing GIB tendancies for wanting to do crazy things like, oh, run a story on the website before it’s been in the newspaper, I’d suggest you don’t let T H E  B A S T A R D S get you down…

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Tweeting and filming council meetings? Oh, go on then….

The Daily Post’s Right to Tweet campaign continues to roll forward (we even made Roy Greenslade‘s blog) but since we’ve launched it there have been a number of other instances of newspaper journalists and councillors falling foul of the ‘can we/can’t we’ ad hoc approach. 

Some of the recent examples can be found here (Hounslow) here (Oldham) here (Rotherham) and a number of Welsh councils, according to the director of the Electoral Reform Society,
Among the councils named by the ERS was Anglesey. However, good news on that front: 

COUNCILLORS on Anglesey are being encouraged to take to Twitter and Facebook to engage with communities – while the press and public will also be free to tweet from meetings.

Anglesey council is drawing up a social media protocol for members which sets out how elected members should interact with people on social media but warns “inappropriate” use could end in a standards hearing.
A draft report for the island authority also states it will permit the use of social media by the public and even allow for people to film proceedings on smartphones [my italics – purely because I’m so delighted to read such a sentence] as long as they do not disrupt the meeting.

You can read the full story here; the vote does have to be cast to set the plan in stone, but it’s a really positive step forward and one that sets a standard for others. Da iawn, Ynys Mon. Hopefully we’ll see others following in your footsteps soon.

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Why does live tweeting put councils in a spin?

The issue of tweeting in the council chamber has caused some debate lately, and I’m happy to hold my hand up as someone who helped the discussions along.
I’ve also been ridiculously busy at work, and so there hasn’t been much time to blog about local authorities and their varying views on anyone – press, public, councillor, officer – tweeting during the business end of proceedings. 

To recap, the Daily Post* sent a reporter to cover a budget meeting at Wrexham Council and it became apparent that a Twitter rule – in place for more than a year but unenforced, in our experience – would prevent real time reporting, and thus impact on our rolling news liveblog.  

The standing orders dictated:

 “Proceedings at meetings may not be photographed, videoed, sound recorded or transmitted in any way outside the meeting without prior permission of the chair”.

I’ve covered council meetings since I was a trainee reporter. I have watched (genuine list alert) snoozing councillors reflex-vote, tantrums worthy of two-year-olds, recommendations voted through because the reporter sat next to me called out “move progress!” and a mayor utter the warning: “Allegations have been made about me, and if I find out who those alligators are…”
I’ve watched councillors make the most moving, impassioned pleas on behalf of their electorate, block economically-sound but culturally-wrong recommendations, make principled stands against cutbacks or planning outrages, and conduct cut-and-thrust debates that made a democratic difference.

None of the above – good or bad – needs to be reported retrospectively. Google ‘council chamber live stream‘ and see all the authorities who let the electorate watch the democratic process as it happens 
Wifi, Ustream and a will to make it happen – that’s all our councils need to make a significant contribution to the transparent, open government. 
Being more open means more scrutiny, and potentially more criticism, but it also means more feedback, interaction and opportunity to talk to people. 
I don’t know why some councils embrace opportunities for transparency and others shy away from it. The subsequent fallout is never edifying – at best, it means the kind of nonsense the Daily Post is trying to negotiate a path through, at worst, well, all sense of perspective is lost.

Anyway, there was quite a lot of coverage, not least in the Post, and we’ve got a Right to Tweet campaign running now that is calling for consistency across public bodies, rather than ad hoc interpretation of constitution rules… 

The Twitter ban incident (hashtagged as #twitterban but never to be referred to as #Twittergate) was covered in various media; among the articles were these here and here and here

We even made the chief executive’s weekly email to staff (instantly leaked to the Press, of course): 

[Twitter policy] can of course change in time as the Council further embraces technology, it doesn’t however, change as a knee jerk reaction to an editor who it appears only communicates with her readers via “twitter”.

The annoying part of that comms is, of course, the “twitter” bit. It’s a PROPER NOUN, for heaven’s sake, and don’t get me started on the quote marks…
Ways to wind up in Rotten Boroughs, No.348

I don’t seek out Twitter spats but I do feel strongly that if reporters and the public can use mobile devices to transmit information from court, there is no reason why they should seem permission to do so from public meetings. 

Guidelines can be useful (maybe ‘switch off your phone’s volume’ or ‘ensure your behaviour doesn’t distract others’) but if the Attorney General doesn’t think the decision rests with his judges, then why should it rest with committee chairmen?

So, it’s an issue we aren’t letting subside – there’s a Daily Post campaign underway now as a result of us being refused tweeting rights during one council meeting – and the problem is spreading
Louth Leader reporter Sam Kinnaird was thwarted in a bit to amend Louth town council’s standing orders to allow live tweeting, this week and tweeted that fact
Two councillors backed it out of the whole full council; I see from the report the Mayor took the view that journalists should ‘have the courtesy to do it from the foyer’.
Quite how the dignity of the chamber is offended by someone quietly sending texts from a mobile phone escapes me. 
In other Lincolnshire news, Boston Borough Council has also banned tweeting of its full council meeting today. 
The Boston Standard report says

The borough authority currently only permits people to use Twitter during cabinet meetings and says its constitution will have to be changed to allow the social media site to be used to provide live updates from other meeetings.

Constitution, You’ll find it in the dictionary under S for Smokescreen. 

Twitter is viewed as an appropriate communications tool by the House of Commons – possibly not a bastion of courtesy but certainly the seat of democracy, and tweetin’ since 2011 – and at the Senedd
Welsh Secretary Dvaid Jones believes in it, Obama couldn’t wait to tell the world he’s secured four more years…
I just wish our locally elected representatives would try to catch up.


* Yes it’s a personal blog, but work inevitably bleeds into it sometimes. Like it says here, these ramblings are not the opinions of Trinity Mirror. 

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Juxtaposition and the benefits of snark

I think next year, instead of running that newspaper stalwart the Review of the Year, I might suggest a round-up of Front Pages That Never Were.
The topic came up after Dan Owen and I had a good hard stare at a splash page the other Sunday night, and reluctantly reached the conclusion that we Just Couldn’t.*
This was the first iteration:

If you can’t see what needed to be changed, well done for having a mind free of snark.
If however, you are now rolling on the floor hooting at the idea of a Wales Skipper Could Have Killed van Persie/18 Fractures in Pub Attack double-act, then you’re exactly who we had in mind when we decided we Just Couldn’t. 
You prompted us to redo the blurb, sans RVP’s footballing brush with death; you helped edit that front page. Because although they are obviously different stories, it’s way too easy to see them as a mash up.
This is what changed (on that particular edition, at least) 

When a newspaper fouls up, especially on the front page, some users laugh, some reach for the caps lock and just about everyone reacts like no one has ever made a mistake in the history of the world before. 
I view it a bit like an entire street rushing to surround a postman and collectively yell at him YOU DELIVERED THAT LETTER TO THE WRONG HOUSE!!! PATHETIC POSTMANISM!!!
I also tend to take a ‘there but for the grace of God…’ approach when other publication’s blunders are crowed over and, ultimately, everyone loses interest and moves on after a few hours; Twitterstorms burn bright, but don’t generate a lot of heat. 

Nevertheless, it’s a good tool for the development of audience-informing-content. No matter what sort of ding it gives to one’s ego, the fact that social networks allow people to give instant feedback – often unfiltered – can be a learning experience. 
Juxtaposing straps or headlines like this has happened for years; pre-internet they might find their way into Press Gazette or Private Eye, and there would be some gentle ribbing.
I can’t say if the Daily Post‘s clashing juxtaposition would have led to an outpouring of online hilarity but I can identify it as the sort of clash that has the potential to. 

Knowing what triggers the social hive mind (be that lolcat, tyop or sweet little video of a blind dog with a guide cat) is handy, and it translates from online into print more often than not. 

Every trainee journalist arriving on a paper is told to write for a fictitious reader (in the Pembroke Dock office of the Western Telegraph, our lodestar was Mrs Evans, of Lower Pennar. Twenty years on I still have a strong mental image of her.) 
We’ve historically been told “Write for your readers” – to have that everyman/everywoman in mind and make sure we connect with them, to be ‘Like Us’ and hit our demographs.
But now our readers aren’t limited by geography or print availability any more – some of my readers might never have set foot in North Wales, but they are – sometimes fleetingly, sometimes deeply – engaging and becoming a part of the creative process, via the internet.

Tweeting photos of the creation of Wales on Sunday’s front page ahead of print deadline on a Saturday night helped market the paper; got people talking about us and sharing the front. More memorably, it massively spared our blushes once, when a follower pointed out a typo in a footballer’s name. 
It’s important to me that the Daily Post is shared socially every night, for those reasons and for one more – with our policy of talking about what we’re doing, on the liveblog or on social networks, it’s puts the cap on a day’s work for us and for our Facebook and Twitter networks, where friends and followers might have been following our progress and contributing. 
So, theres my rather upbeat view on the nature of snark. 
Of course, the next time the Daily Post makes a mistake (like this fleetingly online, ffs, but screengrabbed forever, of course) I will be as cross with the interwebs as ever. Until the bandwagon rolls on to the next unfortunate, of course.  

* Dan suggested I use the Daily Post’s Saturday editor’s column to talk about on how we decide what the front page looks like – I did pen a less detailed version for that, but had so many thoughts around the subject that didn’t fit into a 370 word template (and that probably weren’t of any interest to my readers) I figured it was worth firing up the blog to post something. Belatedly.

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The rise of the retweet junkie

I thought I’d tweeted off my chest the things that appalled me about the ‘be first or be right’ social media minefield following the shattering horror of the Newton shootings. 
 But then I read this post by Andy Dickinson, and it struck a chord. It made me realise I hadn’t blogged a lot recently because I was either posting tweets or just using Diigo‘s bookmarks-to-blog option and not bothering to otherwise update my blog. 

 Writing my thoughts down here has only ever brought me clarity, and wise words of advice or support from people who stopped by to read them. I don’t have time to do the tool exploration and testing I used to on here (which, incidentally, I really miss) but if I can’t find 10 minutes a week to consider the stuff that’s annoyed, inspired, smacked me between the eyes with its brilliance or helped me shape how I think, do or feel about journalism, then it’s a poor look-out.  

Cheers, Andy.

Anyway, to return to where we came in the social media ‘first or right’ issue. I tweeted this a few hours after the shootings, which I had to follow on my iPhone, as I was travelling (and mostly followed via Twitter) 

I was angry and perplexed that opinion and rumours were being peddled and passed on as if they were nuggets of Golden Truth. 

Even Jeff Jarvis got himself tied in knots after taking on trust the Twitter account of the (wrongly) identified shooter was genuine and real.
It wasn’t the right account. hell, it wasn’t even the right name. Cue this.

But mistakes like that aside – and taking as read the fact that how people react on a social network is but a sideshow to the enormity of this tragedy – what I saw on Twitter on Friday night was depressing. 
It wasn’t about racing to share information, and I actually don’t think it was about being first, a lot of the time; it was about ego, and the retweet boost. 

Journalists can be needy creatures. When I was a reporter I wanted the front page; not much better than landing a belting story and being told it’s going to be the splash – it’s Hack Crack. 

On Twitter, Hack Crack becomes Retweet Smack, and it’s available to all, courtesy of the site’s Interactions option which shows just who and how many times your tweet has been favourited or shared.

Four or five years ago, I was sitting down with journalism students and urging them to use social media to raise their profiles, and market their work and themselves. 
I still believe that’s vital, but I also think the whole ‘be your own brand!’ clarion call has helped create RT monsters. 

RT monsters don’t need news breaks to exist – their bible is Favstar, and you’ve probably encountered them on a day-to-day basis. 
Typically, they’re the user who takes your Twitpic link, deletes your tweet, and reposts it with their own, or they steal others’ jokes and ideas, and post them as their own – Twitter’s Witty Writers brigade gets very vocal about this. 

Retweet junkies abound on Twitter. I think Pat Smith summed up the issue of neediness and validation perfectly with this, during a discussion about the Newton Twitter frenzy:

Validation – now there’s a thing social media was made for: How many followers do you have? How often do you get retweeted? Who, exactly, are your followers – any good ones? What’s your Klout score, your Favstar ranking? Who likes your Instagram? 

Personally, I want my journalists to validate facts, not themselves. You can be a brand without letting it become the most important thing about you.

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My Interesting Reads (weekly)

  • “Journalists and news publishers have long sought the best ways to create engagement on Twitter and make the most of every Tweet – and we want to help. We’ve created a set of best practices for journalists and newsrooms that can help you increase follower growth and engagement on Twitter, based on extensive research by our Platform and Analytics teams. ” The team analyzed thousands of Tweets from more than 150 news brands and individual reporters around the world, determining four specific areas of focus: tweet your beat, use hashtags for context, @ cite your sources, and share what you’re reading.” 
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tweeting court cases – the case for the defence

Technology and court reporting – it’s the debate that keeps on giving.
In March 2009, after the Palm Beach Post won the right for a reporter to leave the courtroom to tweet an update (seriously, this happened) I wrote that the UK needed to get the courtroom press bench online and networked, and you suddenly really do start to have open justice.   

I wasn’t especially hopeful though. 
However, just a few years later we were given right to tweet updates from court without shuffling apologetically out of the room; journalists can sit with an laptop and tweet from the press bench (assuming we remembered to bring a dongle).

This is an amazing and wonderful thing that we must not take for granted; re-reading my old post and seeing the excuses I made as to why the justice system in England and Wales might not change was illuminating; to be honest, I am surprised the Twitter ruling was achieved in such a short space of time.  

However, there is a problem, as highlighted in Press Gazette today: Tweeting from court: ‘It’s multi-skilling gone mad’ was the headline and the article pointed out the pitfalls.
Chris Johnson, from Mercury, highlighted the obvious issue of prejudicial tweets (just last month a reporter named a juror while live-tweeting the Harry Redknapp trial) but there were also two unnamed reporters complaining about the demands of covering the case and tweeting it.
One said: “While you’re fiddling around with your 140 characters, you may miss a key bit of evidence, or might not have the time to take a good shorthand note of something. It’s going to end in tears.”

The pressures of tweeting a high profile case are obvious, and can take some planning to surmount.
The South Wales Argus recently overcame the difficulty of meeting real time demand with detailed court reporting by assigning two staff to the key days of a murder trial – one to liveblog via Twitter, and one to take notes for print.
That’s a big commitment for a regional newsroom to make, and fair play to the Argus for seeing the issue and understanding the differing needs of its reporters and audience.
But such an undertaking it’s not a sustainable use of resources in most over-stretched newsrooms – and it’s also not necessary in most cases.
Evidence is repeated… and repeated, some witnesses add nothing to the story, other than the line ‘the court also heard from Joe Bloggs who said he had seen the defendant walking along Any Street, Any Town, shortly before [insert nefarious deed here]’, and the quotable newsy stuff, are easily picked out of the warp and weft of the evidence by a hack with an ear for interesting copy.

I’ve little sympathy for the anonymous reporter quoted in Press Gazette who claims tweeting in court is too hard; please don’t blame the lifting of restrictions enable you to do your job more effectively (hint: Your job is telling people what’s happening) when what you mean is you’ve not been properly equipped by your organisation. 
Also, anonymous reporter, have you told your newsdesk what kit you need to do live court reporting adequately? Ten years ago your kit would have been a notepad, pen and a mobile phone. Twenty years ago it would have been your notepad, pen, and access to a public telephone. What do you need now? I’d imagine a laptop, smartphone, notepad, pen and connectivity. 
These are not exactly hostage-taking demands.
Journalism is hard – every day difficulties have to be overcome, whether it’s tweeting from court or knocking on the door of a newly-bereaved parent, or dashing out of a council meeting and filing 500 words off the top of your head to meet the  Late City edition deadline (On reflection, Late City edition deadlines don’t exist any more – let’s say for the website instead).
There may be live tweeting happening from other sources – media or in the public gallery (assuming they’ve sought and received permission) but that’s not a reason to stop.
Taking notes on a laptop and cut and pasting summaries into Twitter as appropriate is achievable, and shifts the problem of tweeting in court from manpower to having the correct kit.

But ultimately, this is just a workaround isn’t it?
Tweeting from court, being allowed to operate a laptop from the press bench – these are issues that detract from the main problem. If we were to have real open justice then our courts need to be live-streamed, with subtitles – and screens, voice replacement technology and other protection methods for cases where identity is an issue – and with embeddable players so the distribution of judicial process is as wide as possible.
The Leveson hearings have allowed more people than ever before follow significant evidence in real time. 
I’d love to see our criminal courts follow suit.

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