So you’ve signed up for a twitter account. You’ve created your profile. You’ve searched for some followers on your beat and in your community. You’re ready to start tweeting.
So what do you say?
The honest answer is: whatever you want. Starting on twitter is like having writer’s block. The only way to cure it, is to write. The only way to get a sense of what makes sense on twitter is to start tweeting.
At first, tweet about whatever. Don’t drive people crazy and update every minute, but throw in what you’re doing. I started out with tweets that were frankly pretty lame. “Heading out to go for a run” … “Boy, I need a soda.” The point is to get started or you never will.
The main thing to remember is twitter is a conversation, and you don’t want to be a bore or boring. Bores constantly post about themselves, rather than join the conversation. They constantly link to their blog and beg for comments or linkbacks. That comes off as somewhat pathetic. They never respond to other tweets.
But it’s just as bad to be boring, lurking on the outskirts of twitter and never saying a thing. Then it’s really just pointless. TwiTip has a great blog post explaining what to do and what not to do on twitter.
Here’s my what to do list, geared specifically for journalists:
- Respond to other people’s tweets with the @reply function. If someone says something funny or clever, say something back. Some people will ignore you; others will follow you. You may even strike up a back and forth conversation. And if someone responds to you, answer back. Nobody likes to be ignored.
- It’s fine in my mind for journalists to tweet with links to their blog or stories, as long as that’s not all they do. I tweet some of my blog posts — mainly the ones I think are especially good. But I always summarize the topic in the tweet, so it’s not “Read my latest post.” Instead, I tweet: “Here’s my tips for having a frenzy-free Christmas.” I seldom click on a link in a tweet that doesn’t summarize the content I will find in the link.
- I’m not a fan of twitterfeed, which automatically tweets the headline of every blog post. I guess it’s OK for a newspaper to do that, but I think twitter works best, even for journalists, when it’s a person manually twetting. Sometimes you tweet your blog; sometime you tweet about getting annoyed stuck in traffic. You come across as a human that way, and that’s what will help you use twitter to build sources.
- Tweet other people’s blogs. If you read a tweet that links to a blog, and you find it particularly interesting, retweet it. You’ll gain a friend in the original blogger, and you’ll be contributing to the conversation, not just “talking about yourself.”
- Tweet news stories from all sorts of publications. Sure, tweet stories from your own paper, but also The New York Times, CNN, NPR, whatever. You’ll be seen as an interesting person on twitter if you tweet interesting stuff regardless of where they originated. And you’re a journalist, so you should be tweeting news at least sometimes.
- If you have contests or polls on your blog, tweet them. Lots of blogs host contests, and lots of people like them. But also tweet other people’s contest if you come across a good one.
- Follow the links in other people’s tweets if you find them interesting, and comment on their blogs. This engages you even more in the conversation, and most bloggers will be thrilled to get a comment. They may even return the favor on your blog.
- Respond to pleas from other people on twitter, and it can really pay off. A blogger named Neurotic Mom sent out a plea on twitter for “neurotic moments in mommyhood.” I figured, what the heck, and responded. She featured my moment on her blog and linked to my blog. Pretty cool for both of us.
- Have fun. Every tweet won’t be art, and that’s OK. It’s only 140 words, and you can post another one two seconds later. So don’t sweat too much.
There’s really not hard and fast rules for twitter for journalists. You’re making it up as you go along. The tips above are just my ideas, and once you use twitter, you may have others. Feel free to share.