Category Archives: Social Media

I didn’t believe it, but Twitter is worth a try

twitter-logo.jpgA 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.

I found 14 local users in the first day, which was more than I thought but still not a big number. I used a combination of the site’s search feature, Twitterlocal, TwitDir and Tweetscan to find them.

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.

More Twitter: The news organization’s presence

A local blogger, proving that he doesn’t just throw hand grenades at our newspaper’s Web site, offers this piece of friendly advice in his blog today:

Here’s my good deed of the day:

Whoever is in charge of your self-promotion, go over to http://twitter.com and register “pennlive” for an account.

We’d hate to see you not get the domain name which would be the most effective to keeping your Website in the sight lines of the 18-34 demo.

(For clarification, I work at The Patriot-News, and the PennLive Web site that publishes our work online is owned separately by Advance Internet. Which means I couldn’t personally register that name on Twitter, and I wouldn’t have the ability to suggest it more than any other blogger. )

(For further clarification, 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.)

Anyway, I mostly agree with the blogger. It makes more sense to have a presence on Twitter than not to, even if it is as rudimentary as using TwitterFeed to display an RSS feed of recent headlines. Take 20 minutes to set that up once, let people follow you if they want to, and at least you’ll make it available if people seek you out.

That said, using Twitter as a link dump is a big missed opportunity. It’s better used by individual reporters to discuss the stories they’re working on, inviting commentary or criticism, then linking to those stories afterward to drive traffic. It doesn’t feel like a link dump when you’re actually talking to people.

It shouldn’t just be one more example of something old awkwardly being forced into something new.

@whptv is a good example of a local TV station that’s better off being there than not being there. But it has 26 followers in the area, and isn’t bothering to follow anyone back. It clearly says they’re not interested in hearing from you on Twitter, they just want to send more eyeballs to their Web site. It’s not the spirit of the site — Twitter is not the place for I-talk-you-listen.

For now, news organizations ought to set up an account and get those stories pumped through the site, because it takes no maintenance and a very small time commitment to set up.

But if they do that, they ought to also consider a long-term strategy that involves using the site the way it was meant to be used.

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): John Hassell checks in at his Exploding Newsroom blog with details of a New Jersey network of Twitter users.

Same thing exists in Michigan. Both are on newspaper Web sites.

If the newspaper site doesn’t aggregate local users, chances are someone will. In my town, someone else just did.

ANOTHER UPDATE (7:25 p.m.): I was pleased to see an e-mail come across my in-box at 7:10 p.m. to notify me that “pennlive” is now following me on Twitter. The first two updates are links to a story on the site, and a conversation in the forums.

The first few people that “pennlive” is following are all local bloggers, so kudos to the site for being responsive to the local blogosphere.

When protesters are outside, Twitter beats local newspaper site

A little past 9 a.m. today, a long fleet of truckers roared down the central business area of Harrisburg, all incessantly honking their horns. Some had signs taped outside their windows, revealing that they were protesting gas prices at the Capitol.

Interesting story, as anyone who lives or has an office downtown surely has heard them.

So let’s compare “coverage” from Twitter users and the local newspaper’s Web site, shall we?

Dani_PA Dani_PA PA truckers “convoying” to Capitol today to protest gas prices.Gas is too expensive, so they’re spending mucho $$ to drive w/o pay? (9:10 a.m.)

Daniel Victor bydanielvictor Trucks blaring horns on 2nd Street in protest of gas prices. Normally I’d be amused but they woke me up. Was looking fwd to sleeping in.

Daniel Victor bydanielvictor Thought it was a Three Mile Island alarm or some other apocalypse notification system.

Aaron Gotwalt gotwalt Hundreds of tractor trailers driving by the office honking their horns to protest gas prices. It’s like a hangover simulator.

Larry Marburger lmarburger I’m sure a horn-blaring truck convoy will lower the price of gas. Thank you, Harrisburg.

Greg Newman 20seven @bydanielvictor Is it that crazy downtown?

Daniel Victor bydanielvictor @20seven A bit quieter now, but still hard to hear my TV. Pennlive says they’re going to Capitol: http://tinyurl.com/2sxq25

Greg Newman 20seven @bydanielvictor yeah, all inlets to harrisburg are supposed to be backed up, plus a overturned TT on 81 north on or at the bridge

Dani_PA Dani_PA I HATE PA TRUCKERS AND THEIR HORNS. Nonstop for 30 min. Doesn’t Harrisburg have a noise violation policy? Why aren’t they getting ticketed!

Maurice Reeves MauriceReeves @Dani_PA LOL. you must be hearing the rally at the State Capitol building. I’m glad I’m not in Harrisburg right now.

Now let’s compare that all with what readers would find at the local newspaper’s Web site at 9:55 a.m.:

Traffic around The Capital Complex could be complex this morning when 75 truckers bring their rigs without trailers into downtown Harrisburg for a 10 a.m. rally. (emphasis added)

The newspaper’s update has more details, of course. But I italicized “could be complex” because it’s predictive, where as Twitter is immediately reactive.

Twitter showed me a variety of sources, and I laughed out loud at the “hangover simulator” comment.

Twitter allowed @20seven to ask a witness — whether or not I’m a reporter, I’m sure, was irrelevant — about what’s happening right now.

Twitter allowed me to link to our newspaper’s Web site for details.

And Twitter allowed @20seven to tell me, and any of his other followers, about traffic details I wouldn’t know about any other way.

Now I’m not criticizing my newspaper’s handling of it. In fact, it shows we’ve come a long way in that a morning newspaper can tell people why there are a bunch of horns blaring outside their window at 9 a.m.

The newspaper’s Web site did as well as it could under how we currently operate. Problem is, this experience on Twitter shows how the supposed immediacy of blogging just won’t be immediate enough as more people find their way to services like Twitter.

Twitter Twial: Day Twwwo

 

robinhood.jpg
Robin Hood: Oh, Marian, if only ’twere me.
Maid Marian: Oh, if ’twere you, ‘twould be… twerrific.

Eventually I’ll get tired of making bad jokes about Twitter’s name. Promise.

Just two days into my Twitter Twial, I have:

  • Been followed by 21 people
  • Found 39 people to follow, including 14 locals I’ve never met
  • Had conversations with five of those locals
  • Answered a local’s question about an Obama rally by pointing him to one of the blogs on my newspaper’s Web site
  • Discovered that a local blogger was at my favorite bar the same time I was
  • Found one of the bloggers at a popular Penn State blog who I’ve previously interviewed
  • Found a local teacher who’s using Twitter in the classroom and would be glad to tell me about it for a story
  • Found someone I’ve been friends with since elementary school
  • Seen a huge increase in traffic to my blog. In just two days, Twitter has now sent more traffic than any other blog out there.

And I’m working on another Twitter-related project that I’ll unveil soon.

We’ll chalk up Days 1 and 2 to the “Better than expected” column.

My one-month Twitter Twial

twitter-logo.jpgIf you read other journalism blogs, it’s Twitter this Twitter that. Twitter Twitter Twitter. Twitter will cure cancer. Twitter will save the world. Twitter is the now, Twitter is the future, Twitter will replace oxygen.

There’s a near-consensus out there, coming from a lot of people who I highly respect. People I align myself with on virtually every Web-related issue.

That’s why it feels so strange to disagree so strongly on this single issue.

I’ve just never bought the Twitter talk. I’ve never agreed that it would be at all useful for my reporting. I’ve never believed it would have any application to my social life.

But how can I ignore all those reliable voices when I’ve never tried it?

With that in mind, yesterday I began my Twitter Twial.

For one month, I’m going all-out. I started following all my favorite j-bloggers (and in return got a few followers who’ve likely never heard of me). I searched for locals. I searched for friends. I added a link to my Twitter page in my Facebook profile, and the Contact page on this blog.

I installed the Twitbin add-on to my Firefox browser at work and at home. I added a Twitter widget to display my latest Tweets on the blog here. I will feed links to my blog posts into Tweets. I’ve Twittered several times a day. I’ve had conversations there.

I’m going to give it my all for a full month. I’m going to keep an open mind for a full month. Then I’ll revisit this post and see if I’ve changed my mind about my two main skepticisms:

1) There just aren’t enough local users to help my reporting. The lack of net-savvy users in my area isn’t in my imagination. Twitterlocal found exactly one Tweet from my paper’s circulation area in the past 24 hours. And that came from someone I had already found through her blog. (A search on the Twitter site itself turns up slightly better results, but not much better.)

In my coverage area of Hershey, Pa., there isn’t a single active user.

And I’m not the only one complaining about the lack of bloggers/social media users in the area — two of the few we have, Brian Polensky and Jersey Mike — beat me to it.

If there aren’t enough people to learn from, there isn’t much of a point in me being there. I’m not going to insult or annoy the local users I do add by using my account as a link dump.

2) There just aren’t enough users to improve my social life. The only “real person” — that is, someone I’ve met in real life — with an account is a fellow reporter who shares my Twitter skepticism but is also curious about it. I asked all my friends, via my Facebook status, if anyone else was on it. No response, and searching through my friends didn’t turn any users up. So using the site to improve relationships with current friends seems pretty out of the question.

Last night, seeing Digidave ask via a Tweet if anyone was up for a 9 p.m. Taco Bell run helped me understand why it’d be such a great tool for him, and why I may never get to that point. (If only you lived in Harrisburg, Dave — I’m always up for a TB run.)

As it stands, Twitter strikes me as a great idea that only works in certain areas. Admittedly, Meranda Watling — probably my favorite blogger because I can better relate to the size of her paper and town than most of the other bloggers out there — makes me think twice about that claim.

That’s why I’m really giving this a serious try. I’m very willing to be proven wrong on this.

How do journalists grow social networking in a small(er) town?

twitter.jpgA lot of the most spirited arguments for social media are often made in places where there’s already a tech-savvy audience built in.

Yet in a place like Harrisburg, Pa., which is home to the country’s 86th-biggest newspaper and the No. 41 television market, there are a total of nine people on Twitter who have updated their status in the past six days. A local TV station has taken the initiative to faithfully feed its headlines to Twitter, and for its efforts has been rewarded with just 20 followers.

And if you search for my coverage area — the town of Hershey, Pa. — there isn’t a single tweet from the town in the past six days.

The blogging landscape, despite a dedicated few who are doing their best to prop it up, is similarly small.

As a “traditional journalist” who embraces new media as a keystone of journalism’s future, I’ve wrestled with the question: Is it partly my own responsibility to promote new media in the area? And how would I go about doing that?

To an extent I’m doing it, but maybe not enough. I encourage better blogging practices and better blogger relations in my newsroom, of course. As part of the beatblogging.org project, I started The Hershey Home to get people who aren’t on Facebook or MySpace to participate in the online discussion.

But individual reporters can only chip away at the problem — it would take an organization-wide commitment to really make a difference. It would require serious — not token — linking to local blogs. A significant effort to use Twitter as a distribution tool. A real two-way presence on Facebook, instead of using it just to solicit sources on regional home pages.

If newspaper organizations could somehow boost the use of social media in their own areas, it would no doubt have long-term benefits for both the communities and the newspaper organizations themselves. Outside the big cities, there are a lot of newspapers that ought to be thinking about how to do that.