April 13, 2009

Connecting with your community through Twitter

Using Twitter to engage the community from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaShould news organizations be wary of social media? Or embrace it? I’ve been arguing the latter for years, and now there are beginning to be lots of examples of journalists using Twitter and other social media tools in smart ways to engage their local communities.

In this 9-minute interview I hurriedly conducted at South by Southwest Interactive in March 2009 minutes before catching a flight, two of the top social media strategists in the newspaper business shared their thoughts about the value Twitter brings to connecting news people with their communities. Daniel Honigman, social media and editorial engagement strategist for Tribune Interactive, and Robert Quigley, Internet editor of the Austin American Statesman, chatted a few minutes after their session, “Old Media Finds New Voice Through Twitter.”

Some top-level takeaways:

“You create customer loyalty” by being part of the online communities that users identify with, Honigman said. “Social media is a way to build your own brand and build your own audience.”

Honigman pointed to solid metrics to support the use of social media: more page views, more site visits, and a richer set of community resources, including an ample supply of beta testers, new sources of events and ideas for new products and projects.

The change comes harder in the broadcast news world, said Honigman, who works with the staffs at WGN in Chicago and KTLA in Los Angeles (and I found this particularly interesting). “It’s absolutely different for broadcasters. … The golden rule of broadcasting is that you never mention the competition, and in the social space it’s real-time aggregation.” If you let the community help you aggregate the best-of-breed resources available — regardless of who created it — “you can spend your time doing other things.”

In Austin, ‘increased relevance’

Quigley, who runs the online department, says 40 journalists use Twitter in a newsroom of under 200 people. He described Twitter this way: “It’s a tool that lets you connect to your audience in a way that previously was very difficult or impossible. It gives you the ability to get to where they care about you, and you care about them. We all care about our community. Why not show that instead of being a walled-off ‘we’re giving you the news and we don’t care what you have to say’ kind of organization?”

Not all reporters take to Twitter. Some get it right away while others don’t or don’t want to. But staffers are using Twitter for news tips, sources and event announcements as well as using it to humanize themselves. The bottom line is: taking part increases your relevance in the mediasphere. “If we’re not where people are discussing the news, then we have a chance of becoming irrelevant.”

Quigley ended on a personal note: “Twitter is such a personal medium. People feel that they know you, that they’re friends with you, and that can be rewarding, when people say that they love what you do. You just don’t hear that when you work for the newspaper for the most part.”

Apologies for the subpar lighting: The interview was conducted on the fly at the last moment.

Watch or embed the video on Vimeo
Watch or download the video in H.264 QuickTime on Ourmedia

NPR’s experiments with social media
Using Twitter at the Chicago Tribune
How to use social media in the newsroom
Using social media to build an audience

JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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  • Chelsea Haller

    I agree with the comment about it creating loyal customers. I am one that rarely reads the newspaper, but I have nytimes on my twitter and it got me to sign up for emails to come into my email box about what is going on in the world as well.

  • Chelsea Haller

    I agree with the comment about it creating loyal customers. I am one that rarely reads the newspaper, but I have nytimes on my twitter and it got me to sign up for emails to come into my email box about what is going on in the world as well.

  • Twitter and other microblogging tools make the world a lot smaller these days. I'm comfortable with Twitter to be one of the most trendy and frequently used gadget around, to connect with people, and alert us about latest happenings in the community. It's more like a medium to connect us to the real stories, the updates, rather being comprehensive & detailed itself. News/newspapers are still essential in our present lives. The medium just helps us getting faster info while building up a bridge/intimacy between journalists & readers. It is, a breakthrough.

    Social Media/Blogging

  • Great interview JD. News organizations are faced with great opportunities with social media and those who embrace it and seize the day will triumph and prevail. It's interesting to hear about some of the endeavors on behalf of Tribune because I was the multimedia editor at a Tribune paper and worked hard to introduce the benefits of involvement in other media (TV, radio, online) and saw a lot of buy-in but resistance as well. Seems as though these guys are making headway and I am pleased. Right now I am leading a social media task force at WRAL and we are making huge strides. This is something people WANT to do and we need to capitalize on that enthusiasm and guide them. Not stifle it with rigid guidelines. News is being reshaped by social media and I'm glad to be involved. ____Angela Connor | @communitygirl