The Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism recently published a study (“How Mainstream Media Outlets Use Twitter; Content Analysis Shows an Evolving Relationship“) showing that, despite its myriad applications, most newspapers just use Twitter as a way of regurgitating the content they’re already publishing on pulp or on their websites. Megan Garber at the Nieman Journalism Lab rightly points out that this turns Twitter into “a glorified RSS feed.”
The results of the study are a good insight into why the newspaper industry has suffered such a decline in recent years; they still haven’t embraced social media in a meaningful way. The particularly telling statistic was that during the one-week period when the Twitter accounts were observed, 93 percent of the tweets linked back to a story on the news organization’s website.
In fairness to the newspapers observed, most of them likely have a strategy that divides up the content and engagement among various different Twitter accounts. For example, the Arizona Republic notes that @azcentral is the site they use for news and opinion (they reserve @arizonarepublic for interactions with the newsroom) and fortunately the Pew study methodology noted this. The Pew study took this into account to an extent by measuring what was published by reporters that work for each paper.
One measure of an organization’s level of social media engagement (though admittedly it’s riddled with problems and much-derided by many social media experts) is Klout. For what it’s worth, here are the Klout scores of the 13 news organizations measured (as of November 15, 2011). By comparison, I’m not terribly influential and my Klout score is 54 – the highest Klout score currently is Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) at 100:
- The Huffington Post (@huffingtonpost): 86
- The New York Times (@nytimes): 86
- ABC News (@abc): 83
- The Wall Street Journal (@wsj): 83
- The Washington Post (@washingtonpost): 82
- Fox News (@foxnews): 82
- CNN (@cnn): 81
- MSNBC (@msnbc): 77
- USA Today (@usatoday): 77
- NPR (@nprnews): 76
- The Arizona Republic (@azcentral): 63
- The Daily Caller (@dailycaller): 61
- The Toledo Blade (@toledonews): 46
I was curious to see if some of the non-traditional major newspapers also succumbed to this non-engaging practice of using Twitter so I took a look at the accounts of the St. Petersburg Times (run by the Poynter Institute) and a few of thedaily papers operated by the McClatchy Company, as well as the Grand Rapids Press. My hypothesis was that they would have embraced social media (in this case Twitter) in a more meaningful way than the traditional for-profit newspapers which would show up in a higher volume of tweets and more engagement with individual Twitter users.
During the one-week period between November 8-14, 2011, these were the results:
|Tweets||Links to Own Stories / Others / Pct||Klout Score|
|The St. Petersburg Times (@tampabaycom)||51||48 / 0 (100%)||47|
|McClatchy – Anchorage Daily News (@adndotcom)||100||65 / 15 (81%)||10|
|McClatchy – The Kansas City Star (@kcstar)||213||169 / 20 (89%)||58|
|Grand Rapids Press (@grpress)||50||49 / 1 (98%)||49|
|Total||331 / 36 (90%)|
As you can see, they were pretty much the same as the rest of the newspapers observed in the Pew Study; an average of 90 percent of the links provided were back to their own content.
What was interesting was that the period of time observed for the Anchorage Daily News was during a massive storm which dramatically changed the way the paper used Twitter. It was far more likely to retweet breaking news from other Twitter users, as well as link to other sites (such as the National Oceanographic and Aeronautic Administration – NOAA). This change begs the question; if it’s important to martial all information regardless of source during an emergency, why isn’t that the case during the regular news day?
Here’s some advice for the newspapers (for what it’s worth):
1. Acknowledge and Engage Followers:
While it’s certainly reasonable for any given news organization to tweet links back to its content, that shouldn’t make up the bulk of the tweets. Twitter offers a unique opportunity to interact one-on-one with readers in a very timely fashion. The organizations that use Twitter well participate in the online community and acknowledge their customers/constituents – speaking personally to them and sharing what they publish(by re-tweeting “RT-ing” them).
2. Embrace Social Media Conventions:
There’s an interesting phenomenon going on right now where news organizations are worried about re-tweeting content from other users because they fear it is perceived as an “endorsement” of the person (some go so far as to expressly mention in their Twitter descriptions that RTs are not an endorsement). Be not afraid, journos! RTs are only sometimes an endorsement, and if some of your readers are too stupid to note the difference – you probably don’t need them anyway.
What was particularly shameful was the lack of use of hashtags in tweets. NPR didn’t use a single hashtag during the entire period they were observed. That’s shameful. Hashtags are signposts that allow people (and algorithms) to identify relevant content, and they facilitate discussion around a topic. They should be a priority for any Twitter user to include whenever the 140 character limit permits.
3. Give Your Social Media Presence a Face:
By this I mean an actual face. Of a person. Not a logo, but a person. Everyone knows that there’s a person behind every social media presence, yet most organizations conduct themselves on social media as though a giant machine is adding copy and triggering the “send” button. Of the Twitter accounts measured, only five readily identified who was tweeting on behalf of the organization (The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Arizona Republic, The Daily Caller, and the Toledo Blade).
4. Learn From Your Reporters:
In my experience, I’ve found journalists are frequently adept at using social media – Twitter in particular. They’re personal, timely, and engaging. They get social media conventions, and they’re not afraid to participate (even using Twitter to gather news and find interview subjects). That’s one of the reasons why #JournChat (a weekly dialog involving reporters and public relations pros) is my favorite Tweet Chat