10 Twitter Tips For Traditional Media

It seems like Twitter is finally starting to penetrate the mainstream media. CBC recently invited some experts in social media in to share their ideas about how a traditional media company might use tools like Flickr, YouTube, Facebook… and Twitter. While I wasn’t there, it sounds like it was a big success and got people excited to dig in and use these new tools as part of their show programming.

Twitter even seems to be replacing blogs as the ‘cool’ go-to news source for ‘what’s happening on the web’. However, many mainstream media companies are still clearly struggling with what Twitter is and how to best use it.  So I’ve put together my personal…

10 Twitter Tips For Traditional Media (try and say THAT 10 times quickly…)

1. Twitter is NOT an RSS feed.

I know that the New York Times, The Globe and Mail, CBC, and others are using Twitter as a news feed, but I don’t personally subscribe to any of them. I can get that EXACT same information from an RSS feed (which I do…) and I don’t personally like my Twitter feed clogged up with every news item under the sun.

The results are interesting: @NYTimes has over 13,000 followers with this strategy, @globeandmail has just under 800 followers, and @CBCNews has over 2,400 followers. Both the Globe and CBC are using Twitterfeed, which means that they’re automatically sending out Tweets from their RSS feed.

To me, Twitter’s best use is not as a one-way push of information. Rather…

2. Twitter is about creating value for the people who follow you.

What is it that’s unique about Twitter compared to other social media tools? That you can communicate directly with your audience and they can connect back to you. If you’re just using Twitter to drive people back to your own website, or to listen to radio, or to watch your TV shows, you’re not going to get much value of out it.

You need to think like an audience member – ask yourself why they would want to follow you. Ask yourself what you can provide that would be of value to a true fan of your programming. And then give it to them.

Don’t be afraid to link to sources outside your own site (usually a big no-no for media companies).

Don’t be afraid to tell people what’s going behind the scenes.

Get creative and think about creating value.

If you do, your followers will spread the word to their own networks, growing your influence significantly.

3. Twitter is about creating relationships.

Relationships are two-way streets. You can’t talk all the time and expect everyone else to just sit and listen.


So ask questions.


Reply back to some of the people who are following you – show them you’re paying attention.


Proactively follow people who are writing about you, but aren’t yet following you.


You CAN learn a lot from your followers – they clearly have an interest in what you’re doing, so perhaps they’re Tweeting about some of the same things you are… even (gasp), things you might not already know about.


And remember – valued relationships aren’t temporary. You need to be a regular and consistent presence. You can’t just do it for three weeks for a special project and then drop off the face of the earth. If your program is seasonal, try to find a way to continue to Tweet while you’re off the air or in repeats.


The bonus of an ongoing relationship is that you’re building loyalty, you’re staying relevant, and you’re creating an army of supporters who, again, will champion you to their own networks.


4. Twitter can be used for Citizen Journalism

Working a news story and need to flesh it out, but don’t have the perfect contacts? Ask your Twitter followers.


Getting early reports about breaking news, but need more details? Canvas your followers to see if they know anything.


Don’t have any pictures or video of a news event? Ask your followers if they have any, or see if any of them are nearby and can go get some.


Twitter is also a great source for story leads. People are following you for a reason. They are interested in the subject matter you work in and Tweet about. They’re far more likely than the average person to be passionate about that subject matter and even have ideas and leads for stories that could be valuable to your company.


So why not ask for their ideas?


Ask them whether there are stories that you’re missing that are important to them. Ask what songs your radio station should be playing that aren’t on the playlist?


And if you DO follow up on the ideas, make sure to let all your followers know – they’ll love you for it, because THEY helped contribute to YOUR success. And they will tell others…


5. Twitter can be used for feedback

Want to know what people think of your newscast? Your website? Your 8pm drama or your 9pm sitcom? Your on-air branding campaign? Your coverage of the election?


Ask your followers!


They’re the most devoted audience members you’ll find and because they’re following you, it’s very likely that they do want you to get better and are comfortable providing their thoughts. All you have to do is ask them.


You could even start by asking them how you can improve at your use of Twitter! (@sparkcbc did this and got some great tips…) Most of the feedback from people who are following you will be thoughtful and constructive.


If you want the other side of the coin (and you SHOULD), then don’t forget to set up an RSS feed to find out what people who AREN’T following you are saying about you at search.twitter.com!


6. Twitter can be used for public opinion sampling

As was done in both the Canadian and American elections, Twitter can provide INSTANT updates on public opinion (in a completely unscientific way). It’s the internet version of doing ‘streeters’ or ‘man on the street’ interviews. Short opinion bites, coming a broad variety of people, all on the same subject.


There are two ways to approach this: first, to ask your followers for their opinions, and second, to use search.twitter.com for the subjects you’re covering.


By using Twitter in your traditional media coverage, you’ll attract more attention to your own Twitter account and drive up the number of people following you.


7. Twitter can be used for branding

This is a horrible pun, but today, it’s not ‘You Are What You Eat’. It’s ‘You Are What You Tweet’. (sorry)


What you post about regularly becomes a big part of your brand to your followers.


So think long and hard about what you do and don’t want to post. Think about your tone, too.


For your followers, what you Tweet may define you more strongly than your on-air programming or traditional media content.


8. Decide On Your Author

Who’s writing your Tweets? Is it the same person all the time? Is it a variety of people? Do you want the public to know who is writing for you, or do you want everything to come from “Generic Media Company?” These are important questions to answer.


If, for example, you’re a TV or Radio program, is it your host Tweeting? It is a fictional character from your show? It is a producer? I would always vote for something that feels personal over something that feels impersonal.


@sparkcbc is using the staff’s initials to signal who wrote the Tweet (ie: what do you think about our show? /ny). @cbcradio3 is writing the person’s name in the Tweet (ie: Lana wants to know….).


If you want to establish a relationship, people need to know there’s a human on the other end of the conversation. And if you do decide on a single or short list of people who are using Twitter, make their names part of your Twitter profile so the author information is obvious to new followers.


9. Follow The People Who Are Following You

When people follow you, they’re inviting you into a relationship. They’re saying :

“You’re creating value for me with your Tweets and I’d like to stay in touch with what you’re saying.”

Even if it’s common courtesy and that person isn’t necessarily creating value for you, I think companies should follow everyone who follows them. It feels GOOD when someone or a show that you admire follows your updates. It creates a bond – a one-on-one bond that is impossible to replicate in a broadcast.


***This tip does not apply if the person following you is a spammer (identify a spammer by looking at their follow vs following stats – if they’re following 1,000 people and only 2 are following them, odds are VERY good they’re spamming)


10. Use Twitter For Branding Disaster Alerts and Customer Service

Look at the Motrin example I’ve previously written about. Their potential customers were horribly insulted by a new ad campaign, but Motrin wasn’t on Twitter to find out about it – even though #motrinmoms was the #1 search term on Twitter for many days.


Many smart companies are using Twitter accounts as customer service desks. If anyone complains about Comcast in a Tweet, @comcastcares finds out about it and initiates contact with them very quickly, attempting to solve their problem. It’s a personal touch, it’s responsive and not reactive, and it can be the difference between winning over skeptics vs losing control of your brand.


That’s my list. What have I missed?

Which media companies are using Twitter well and which ones aren’t?


And should media companies ALWAYS follow everyone who follows them?