A little over a month ago, I started using Twitter despite a lot of skepticism. I really didn’t think it would have much value for me, despite what a boatload of journalists have said. I said I would give it a one-month trial run and re-evaluate afterward.
The result, which I hope will be taken to heart by other reporters who have been similarly skeptical:
It’s a lot better than I expected, and worth the time for any reporter or news organization.
(For those catching up, Twitter is a blogging tool that allows users to post messages only 140 characters at a time. It’s essentially a blog mashed up with a chat room, and there’s a lot of speculation that it’s the next great medium for reaching young people.)
I’ve previously written about some positive examples of my Twitter use. But let’s go back and revisit the two main hesitations that I had before signing up, and those that are shared by a lot of skeptics:
1) There just aren’t enough local users to help my reporting.
When I first signed up, this definitely appeared to be the case. But this wasn’t completely true, and became less and less true after I signed up.
But a funny thing happened: Apparently my presence on the site motivated others to give it a try. After many of the local bloggers made a run onto the site, one of them wrote:
What was this impetus for this local surge in interest? My research has traced it to Daniel Victor, a Patriot News reporter who actually seems to “get it” in terms of the impacts of social media on traditional journalism. He started a all-out “one-month twitter twial” in an effort to see what would happen. Well, so far, so good…
I gotta say, this is a communication tool that is really cool, and I cannot wait for it to expand outward from the small circle of locals who are currently trying it out. So, I encourage you to give it a go, as we see where this grand experiment takes up.
Now, I clearly can’t take credit for bringing Twitter to my area, because there were people before me who are very enthusiastic about it.
But imagine that: Instead of complaining about the lack of users, I apparently helped create more users. This wasn’t an intention of mine, but surely any reporter or news organization could see the value in getting more people in the community connected to each other. Especially when it’s in a place where we can benefit from their knowledge, and let them consume our news if they so choose.
2) There just aren’t enough users to improve my social life.
Well, sort of. I’d maintain that this is a secondary benefit, but it has been slightly better than I expected.
Since the first few days I arrived, there’s been talk of a local “Tweetup” to get local users together.
Even though that hasn’t yet happened, though I don’t doubt that it will, I couldn’t begin to count the interesting conversations I’ve had with people I would have never known otherwise. There have been several times when I’d find a local going to the same bar I was headed to. It led to one party invitation, and I ended up meeting one of the Twitterers in real life through common friends. As long as you’re not using your account to spam innocent people or annoyingly bug them about things they have no interest in, there’s a lot of social potential.
I wouldn’t encourage people to sign up by guaranteeing an explosion on your social calendar, but it’s a nice little perk. If nothing else, it’s fun to participate.
So what should journalists take away from my one-month trial, and why do I think it’s important for every journalist to consider some kind of Twitter use?
1) In communities where Twitter hasn’t taken hold — which is true in most of America — there’s a tremendous opportunity here for digital leadership. Be the trend-setter in your community. For the first time in the digital age, seize an opportunity to place your news organization at the forefront of an emerging conversation medium.
2) In communities where there is already a lot of Twitter activity, there’s a lot of discussion happening without you. It’s an absolute gold mine for sources, information and story ideas.
3) You don’t have to be tech-savvy to appreciate the value of a conversation with the community. This is increasingly becoming a great way to do that, and is likely to become even better in the future.
4) You only have to put as much time into it as you want, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be giving it a trial run like I did. I suspect that if you give it an honest try, you’ll find it as worthwhile as I have.