So, you’re a journalist who wants to use twitter. What do you do first? Go right to twitter.com and sign yourself up. It’s free, but you need to pick a profile name and write yourself a bio. You should link to your blog or news outlet’s Web site in your bio. Your bio statement is a quick capsule of what you write about, and your name should reflect that. Many journalists I know who use twitter use their real names, which is probably the best route. I don’t; I use bloggingmom67 because that’s the name I use when I comment on blogs.
Once you sign on, you need to start following people to make it worth your while at all. For twitter to have any impact for a journalist, you need to follow enough people to have some reach into your community of coverage and to hear from a variety of voices. I follow about 700 people, but my list keeps growing. Once you get started, it’s easy to keep growing. (Most, but not all, people who you follow will follow you back, so following is a good way to get followers. But don’t take it personally if people don’t follow you back.)
So how do you find people? Twitter’s search function used to let you search by topic or geographic location. You can also search on twitter by e-mail address, but that just gives you folks you already know. However, lots of other Web sites have sprung up to help you find the right people to follow. Twellow is my favorite because it lets you search by topic or location, so if you cover education, you could search for educators or teachers.
Another site that helps you find people on twitter is TwitterPacks. It has list of topics for you to choose from, and when you pick, you reach sub-topics. When I clicked on “children and family,” for example, I reached a list of very specific subtopics: Stay at home moms with kids ages 0 to 5 or breastfeeding and pumping moms. Basically, you follow people in your subject area, and they will lead you to more folks to follow. (The people you follow will be following people you’re not following, but you’ll see some of there exchanges. If a person seems interesting, follow him or her.) Once you get started, Mr. Tweet is also super useful. You sign in, and he “recommends” people for you to follow based on your existing network. As it twittergrader.com, which ranks your place in the twittersphere and recommends people for you to follow.
I also find random google searches can be helpful to find people to follow. Type in “Who to follow on twitter in your town,” and see what might comes up. I’ve found some good folks to follow that way, although I do this only occassionally. Once you get going, finding people to follow becomes pretty organic because the more people you follow, the more people you’ll find to follow. Don’t worry too much about geography. If you’re writing on a topic that’s interesting to people in a particular niche (education or crime or health), people all over may find your tweets useful even if they are not in your news outlet’s geographic area.
Another good way to find followers is to read twitter and social media blogs, which may recommend people to follow. TwiTip, which has provided me with tons of insight into twitter, recently had people submit lists of their top 10 favorite people on twitter in dozens of topic areas. These kind of lists can really help you get started on your twitter follow list. (If you happen to be in Central New York, here’s my list of people to follow on twitter.)
In my opinion journalists should follow people in two cateogories: their beat and their geographic area. That way you’re hitting both potential sources and potential readers. You also want to follow other journalists who cover what you do, bloggers in your niche area, publications that cover your topic and news outlets in general. One of my favorite social media bloggers, Chris G., has some pretty good suggestions of how to decide who to follow.
The goal isn’t to have the most followers; the goal is to have the most followers who are interested in your topic. I know some people disagree with this, but to me if no one reads the links to your blog in your tweets, what’s the point. I follow mainly parenting Web sites, mommy and daddy bloggers, parents both in my community and across the world and news outlets. You want to follow people who will want to follow you, so you want to pick people interested in your topic. I’m very interested in social media, so I also follow a lot of those type of bloggers and writers. (And I’m a bit of a foodie, so I also follow food bloggers for fun.)
Here are my tips for who journalists should follow on twitter:
- Follow bloggers and other journalists who write in your topic area.
- Follow people who follow the bloggers and journalists in your topic area.
- Follow major news outlets, like NPR and CNN, and local news outlets in your community. (Of course, you’ll want to follow anyone who is on twitter at your news outlet.)
- Follow whomever you can find in your geographic area. (You have no way of knowing what topics that person will be interested in, but if they live in the community where you cover, odds are they will be interested in something you write.)
- Follow pretty much anyone who follows you, but always check out the person’s bio first. You’ll want to make sure the person’s Web site isn’t porn or spam or so purely commercial that it is of no use to you.
- Follow people who respond to your tweets with the @reply feature if they seem interesting.
- Follow people who comment on your blog.
- Follow people whose blogs you come upon because someone you followed tweeted the blog post.
- Follow people who follow people you’re following. Odds are they are interested in your topic.
- Follow people who blog about twitter and social media, regardless of your topic. Their ideas will be invaluable even if they aren’t specifically about journalists on twitter. Much of the marketing ideas about twitter can be applied to journalists on twitter.
That’s enough to get you started. (If you’d like to add to my list of whom to follow, feel free and post a comment.)
Next post: What journalists should say to join the twitter conversation.