A guide for journalists to get the most out of Twitter

TwitterTwitter is a great tool to promote your stories and enhance your online identity. Treat your Twitter account as your business card. It should look professional, individual and cool.

That’s why it’s important to customize your Twitter page. If you have a personal blog, see to it that the colors are alike and that you use the same profile photo.

And yes, it is absolutely imperative that you upload a good-looking photo of yourself. Standard red and orange eggs aren’t likely to make a good impression on your audience. If you want them to mind you, you first have to mind them, right? So upload a photo.

Choose from one of Twitter's many theme templates or create your own.

Choose from one of Twitter’s many theme templates or create your own.

In order to further customize your Twitter page, you can select one of the themes which Twitter offers. A better way to give your account a personal touch would be to upload your own theme, which you can do by clicking on “Change background image”. By doing this, you can tell more about yourself and also promote your work.

Just have a look at the Twitter page of Henk van Ess, a technology expert from Holland, who is promoting his new book in his theme.

You also need to include keywords, in other words who you are and what you do. This will help people find you through search tools. If you’re a financial reporter, for instance, include that information in the description.

It’s also very important to add a link to your site, blog, or another social media account like Google+ so that the people who might want to follow you know where to find out more. After all, that’s one of the reasons you are using Twitter – to promote the work you publish on other channels.

How to tweet effectively

There are some ground rules which will help you tweet more effectively. First and foremost, Twitter is a conversation. Now, this is actually not new, but the question is, what you do with it.

First, you can decide which approach to take. In other words, do you intend to serve as an active commentator and tweet your personal opinion or would you instead prefer to share interesting links with your audience and curate the web. You can of course combine both approaches. But if you plan on posting an article and are simply grabbing the headline and linking to it, then give it credit by putting it in quotes, says Vadim Lavrusik, the Journalist Program Manager at Facebook.

Hashtags, mentions and retweets

Basically there are three functions which help users to navigate through Twitter. These are known as hashtags (shown as # in your tweets), retweets and mentions (the @ symbol).

A hashtag is a keyword which you include in your tweet to categorize messages and so that other users can find it in the stream of thousands of tweets. You can either use existing popular hashtags or create your own. Just include the symbol # before the keyword (with no space in between). Avoid putting too many hashtags into one tweet. A general recommendation among the best practices is to use no more than three hashtags per tweet.

Clicking on a hashtagged word will show you all other tweets in which the same hashtag has been used. The most popular ones become trending topics, which are shown on the Twitter homepage. For example, a search for the hashtag #Greece delivered the following results:

According to the Knight Digital Media Center, hashtags are extremely useful at conferences. A Twitter feed with a chosen conference hashtag is often shown on a big screen so that all participants can see what others are tweeting about the event. Tracking the tweets with the event’s hashtag will also help journalists discover more useful information.

As a journalist, you can also use hashtags referring to your beat to regularly check out the latest developments. Having chosen a hashtag, you can save it in your searches.

Mentions and replies help you to communicate with other Twitter users. To mention somebody, just include the @ symbol directly before their username in your tweet. The person will be notified about your mention. You can also follow mentions of your own name. Remember to reply to direct messages starting with the mention of your name. By doing this you’ll create conversations which are part and parcel of Twitter.

Apart from replies, you don’t always need to create your own original content to participate in Twitter. You can simply retweet good stuff as well. To do this, you no longer need to use the RT symbol, but click on “retweet” under the message you like and it will be shown in your own feed.

You can start by using Twitter as a custom news feed where people with shared interests become your editor. You can find competent people by searching Twitter directories, such asWeFollow or Just Tweet It.

The bottom line is: There are millions of human monitors out there who will pick up on the smallest things and who have the same instincts as the agencies — to be the first with the news, says Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian.

Posting photos and videos

Although Twitter is a text-based service, you can also share videos and photos. To do that you need to resort to such platforms as TwitPic, which lets you share media on Twitter by posting photos or videos from your phone, from the site, or through email.

So far, TwitPic is one of the most popular services for that purpose. As an alternative, you can try out pikchur which lets you simultaneously publish your images and videos to multiple places such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Flickr. You also might like yfrog andtwitgoo.

Creating Twitter lists

To filter streams of information on Twitter, you can create lists. In contrast to hashtags and saved searches, the ‘lists’ feature concentrates on particular users. To add a person to a list, click on the downward arrow on their profile page and select “Add to List”. You can also follow lists created by others which will spare you time and effort. As a journalist, you might be interested in adding other journalists, bloggers, publications and experts on your topic. You don’t need to follow users to put them on a list. Their feed will be shown in the common feed anyway.

“Twitter lists have helped me to find sources for my stories,” says UK journalist Sharon Green. “If you’re a journalist who frequently writes across education, environment and political issues why not create lists for each of these categories? It will be easy to locate and get in touch with a source in a specific field if you have filed them into a Twitter list.”

To find more lists, you can try out the Twitter app Listorious. By registering, other users can find your profile by keywords. You, on the other hand, can find experts, directly follow them and even ask and post a question mentioning their name to establish contact.

Find out more on creating Twitter lists here.

Twitter in newsrooms

Finally, a lot of media organizations are breaking their stories on Twitter even before they appear online. According to the Knight Digital Media Center, you should post as soon as you know that you’re going to cover a story. A small detail will be enough to let your readers know that the information is coming soon.

You can also communicate with your audience directly to find the missing details in your coverage. Conduct crowdsourcing! Ask questions to find eyewitnesses to your stories or to determine which stories will interest your readers. However, there’s a big difference between an audience and a community, notes Vadim Lavrusik in his Mashable article, How Investigative Journalism is Prospering in the Age of Social Media. You need to establish an engaged community which will be eager to help you. That’s why it’s so important to address people personally and through mentions and give them the bits of information which will provide insight into your daily journalistic routine.

Here are the guidelines formulated by Twitter developers covering the use of Twitter in newsrooms.

And here’s a useful list of Twitter resources for journalists, including Twitter guidelines and apps. You will find even more Twitter tools here.

First published by: DW Akademie Asia

Spanish version: Cómo pueden periodistas optimizar el uso de Twitter 

Russian version: Твиттер для журналистов: визитная карточка и источник информации

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