Can't See It? Then Tweet It!

Know Your Newsroom, Reporting, Social Awareness Comments Off on Can’t See It? Then Tweet It!
Oct 212015

By now you’ve probably heard about the big story this week. It was an embarrassing gaffe during a live shot about the Michigan and Michigan State football game. It was a game decided on the final play. The on-scene reporter went TV and said the wrong team won. The anchor then had to correct the mistake when the reporter tossed back to the studio.

In this FTVLIVE article the sports anchor is quoted as writing on Facebook that “we tried bringing the most up to date stats as we could as we were going live at the exact moment everything was happening. Had two scripts written and ready to go and got bad information off my phone while on air. And then we immediately corrected it when we could. I’m sorry for getting it wrong but in the end it was corrected and it certainly won’t be a finish forgotten by any of us.”

Now if you have worked in TV news and covered a live event, especially a sports event even once, you know that it can be very hard to get the right information on the air in the final minutes of a newscast. Frankly, I am shocked this kind of gaffe doesn’t happen more often. The biggest reason why is the reporter has to leave the event in order to go live. That’s generally because of where you have to park the live truck and coverage rights, since the live event itself is televised.

So how can the reporter know what is happening when he/she doesn’t have eyes on the event?
There are several ways to prevent this, the biggest being putting someone in the stadium, who has news sense and can let the reporter know. But based on the description of how it went down quoted above, they may have attempted this solution. Guessing whoever was on the phone, or whatever site was used, will not be part of the equation next time.

This gaffe does open up discussion for an even bigger issue, and that is the need to be first, even at great risk of being wrong. This particular flub is making all sorts of rounds because it seems like such an obvious mistake. How could the reporter not know? How could you miss something when you are at the event? Look at his live shot background. He had huge stadium walls separating him. A big part of the blame here, lies with the decision on how to execute bringing the latest about the game to the newscast audience.

There is an age old argument that the people who really give a rip about the game or sporting event you are at, are actually watching it. So the push to be first is irrelevant because the audience that cares is not watching you, they are watching the game. But there is a strong counterpoint that this is a huge event everyone will be talking about in the DMA and you simply cannot ignore it. So here’s where I am going to get bold and ask, why not go non traditional? Why not keep the reporter in the stands, so your eyewitness actually knows what happened? Can you show a live pic, in the place where crews are allowed to be (even if that’s outside the stadium) and mention that your reporter is there, and live tweeting about the event? Can you show tweets fullscreen from your crew in the stands to show that you are all over the coverage? Here’s why this is a win-win scenario: The people watching the game, may still engage with your sports reporter on the scene through social media. The reporter can focus on the experience of the game for those who could not go for TV and tweet about the event with no worries about missing a key play. So the reporter can turn a piece on how much the fans are loving the event, or something controversial that happened earlier that airs in the newscast, then tweet about the here and now in the final minutes of the game. Put the tweets up, put up a live pic and keep your information accurate. It hits more audience because he can even be interacting with people who are still at the game.

The problem TV stations face is how to disseminate information in this digital age. Most stations still want all the biggest information to be on TV first. That means we have to take a crew live at the event. This is sometimes a mistake. You are limiting your possibilities and increasing the risk of an embarrassing mistake like this one at the Michigan/Michigan State game. In the case of live sports events, live shots need to be more about the atmosphere, and eyewitness accounts of what is happening. Relevant facts are already being posted online. I am not saying ignore the facts, but don’t force someone into the situation this reporter was in. The odds were stacked against him. He was OUTSIDE the event with no way to personally witness what was happening. How can he realistically report on what was happening? If you go the social media emphasis route, he could be in the stadium bringing information in a relevant way through Facebook, Twitter and the station website. He could post to these outlets without having to leave the stadium. In order to serve the live newscast audience, remember, the viewers are likely casual fans, they are not watching the game. Do a pkg on the experience and then use graphics of the tweets to update the facts. The biggest payoff is that you serve multiple audiences and are emphasizing what each cares about in the way you are covering the event. TV news is not just about showing up and covering an event anymore. Now the focus has to be on how to do it, and include social media in a relevant way. The reporter being on scene showcases that the station understands this is a big event for the community. Showing what it’s been like at the game in a package, serves the casual sports-viewing audience. Tweeting and posting Facebook updates on the game itself, in real time helps your reporter directly engage with the audience in real time, thus making a connection. Showcasing that he is doing so throughout the newscast generates curiosity and a chance to engage with the reporter if you cannot be there yourself. This is effective even if the person is watching the event live on another channel. It is another way to be a relevant eyewitness and get more of the audience actively involved with your reporter who’s at the event.

Again, you have to look at the regulations for covering these sporting events. Some events prohibit live tweeting. Most of the time mentioning a Tweet works and is still compelling. Especially because the photographer with the live picture would then understand why some fans were walking out looking devastated. The whole scene, inside the stadium and out would have had relevant perspective. As TV stations cover a variety of live events, the bottom line is that they need to discuss how they will engage with the viewers actively. Simply showing up and reporting what you hope is first and right, is not enough anymore. Your viewers use social media to track events, they expect you to as well.

How To Have An Edge On Twitter Without Ruining Credibility

Social Awareness, Uncategorized Comments Off on How To Have An Edge On Twitter Without Ruining Credibility
Nov 242014

Last week’s episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom” (titled: “Run”) tried to make a statement about journalists use of Twitter. In fact, it appears that TV journalists use of social media is going to be a theme this season.

In “Run” the character Hallie sends out a late night tweet from ACN’s account saying “Boston Marathon: Republicans rejoice that there’s finally a national tragedy that doesn’t involve guns.” When asked what made her even think of a tweet like that, the answer is “retweets.”

Ok, so we all know this is hypothetical and some might even say “All journalists know better than a posting a politically charged tweet like that one.” But just within the last several days a real TV network was called out for an insensitive tweet.

http://ftvlive.com/todays-news/2014/11/18/its-always-a-great-show-when

And if you read FTVLive or Huffington Post, then you have likely seen the site point out examples of countless insensitive tweets and inappropriate exchanges on the local level. Here are three recent examples:

http://ftvlive.com/todays-news/2014/11/11/everyone-smile-and-say-torture

http://ftvlive.com/todays-news/2014/11/11/this-is-not-how-to-use-social media

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/22/kansas-city-royals-kctv-world-series-tweet-baseball_n_6028090.html

Bottom line, journalists and industry leaders are struggling to have an edge on Twitter and other social media. Make fun of “The Newsroom” bringing up retweets all you like, but there’s truth in the not so thinly veiled critique. Journalists are getting a lot of pressure from their bosses to get lots of retweets, followers and influence on social media. So let’s talk about ways to get an edge without ending up embarrassed.

Let’s get something straight first. Journalists are tempted to go too far for two reasons. The influence of so called “citizen journalists” and pressure from above to be influential on social media. So let’s break those ideas down a bit.

Citizen journalists, are eyewitnesses, often with video or still images of newsworthy events. But they also often have biases. They are untrained in how to interpret situations, so they simply show what they see and then try to insert their OPINIONS on the issue.

Actual trained journalists, first and foremost need to keep their opinions off of their “official” social media accounts. That would have fixed several of the above scenarios as well. Now, I know this has been said before to you, but there’s the temptation to inject opinion because of the influence/retweet factor. With few exceptions the most influential “voices” on social media are full of opinions and very clearly state them. So how can you get that edge, and not follow in those same footsteps?

First and foremost, journalists must define their roles on social media. Just like a newsroom defines its news philosophy for its newscasts. Since many TV stations and companies are not willing or able to give you clear guidelines to define that role, let’s set up a framework for you to start doing it yourself.

What Is A Journalist On Twitter?
Educated Witness
Divulger of Information
Conversation Starter

What if journalists defined their roles with those three simple statements I just listed? Let’s dive in a little more.

As an educated witness, you need to fill up your social media accounts with images you see and characters you have met. You need to provide facts or explain you are searching for specific information as you showcase the images. Standing in front of a crime scene saying “We are first on the scene” is what a citizen journalist would do. They want to show off that they are there. A regular schmo, excited at a chance to be a part of something. You are a witness to many events, and go into those situations with some knowledge and the know how to get more information. See how the temptation to post a tweet like standing in front of a crime scene and saying “Here we are” is less likely to happen with the definition educated witness? I want to make sure you understand, viewers and folks on Twitter EXPECT you to be at the scene. And they expect more out of you than showing you are there. They want you to do something with your social media accounts that they can’t just do themselves.

Which leads to the next part of our definition, divulger of information. As you showcase the images you have (because you want to have an edge/influence and plenty of retweets) add a nugget of information.

“Firefighters fear these flames reach higher than their aerial ladder can go.”
“This accident scene looks awful but everyone walked away safely.”
“This pile of documents could change how your child is tested in school.”

Think extra details. Divulge information. Think how and why. Why does this image I am sending look this way? How will people be impacted by this picture? Why care about a pile of documents? What will firefighters face that a citizen journalist cannot easily notice or explain? These nuggets of information make you credible and valuable to follow. You gain an edge. You gain followers. You gain influence.

Finally, when you look at the most influential people on Twitter they are great at interacting with “their peeps.” They engage in conversation. So start some. You can bring up an issue without inserting your opinion. You can ask questions of your followers. Then retweet some of the reactions you get to engage people into talking more. If they see that you are interested in what they have to say, followers respect you more. They are more willing to bring things up to you. Engaging does not have to mean showing your breakfast donut and talking about how you exercise. If you are in an editorial meeting and thinking, does anyone care that city council is voting on allowing a new development, ask. See if you get hits. I know some of you are saying it tips off the competition if you do these things. But if you want to gain social media trust and influence, you have to start letting your followers in on the news of the day. There is a counter argument that they will let their friends know you are considering this story or that story, and encouraging them to tune in to see it. You need to establish credibility and create an edge. That means being willing to give up some nuggets to get the big prize.

So there you go. Define your role as a journalist on social media. How do you want to come across? How do you want the information you have to share to be viewed? If you focus on the information and allowing viewers to converse and engage you can avoid pitfalls. People retweet when they are interested in the topic. You do not have to be the voice of that topic. You can be the instrument by which the topic is explored, through images, nuggets of information and asking viewers to weigh in. You can have an edge on social media without the posts being about you. Remember, you are an educated witness who has information and knows how to get that information discussed. That will make you edgy, interesting and influential. Win, win and win!

LinkedIn: How to guide to finding sources and exclusives.

Social Awareness, Source Building Comments Off on LinkedIn: How to guide to finding sources and exclusives.
Sep 122013

For years, LinkedIn has just been an online placeholder for my résumé. I didn’t really think about it much and rarely went on there.

However, two things recently happened to change my view of the site.

The first was when my news director assigned me to do an investigation into privacy concerns regarding drones and Ohio leaders’ efforts to snag one of the nation’s coveted slots for a drone testing program.

Although GE’s jet engine subsidiary is headquartered in Cincinnati, aerospace is not something that gets a lot of coverage in my market. So when it came to looking for sources in the drone industry (its executives prefer to call them “unmanned aerial vehicles”), I was starting from zero. One day, I thought, “I wonder if I can find someone to interview by searching LinkedIn?”

Within seconds, I found an executive at TechSolve, a company that does consulting for the aerospace industry. I e-mailed her asking if someone there was doing any work on drones. She said her CEO would love to do an interview. It turns out, he’s one of the major players behind-the-scenes who’s trying to bring a drone-testing program here.

The other thing that made me start respecting LinkedIn more was a conversation with software developer Dave Hatter.

We were doing an on-camera show-and-tell one day for my morning show consumer segment and he had LinkedIn up on his laptop. I couldn’t believe how he was going on and on about it. So I asked him why he likes it so much. He showed me how LinkedIn isn’t just for your résumé anymore. He calls it a very powerful search engine for finding people and connecting with them. He even lands clients and speaking gigs this way.

“One of the key facets I think most people really overlook is the incredible power of the search engine in LinkedIn,” is how he put it to me recently when I asked him to do an entire segment with me about how LinkedIn can help those who are still unemployed find work.

The thing is, his insights are also great for broadcast journalists looking to make connections to move up the market ladder or, as I demonstrated through dumb luck, finding a great source for a story.

The key, he says, is using what LinkedIn calls its “Advanced People Search.”

For instance, in trying to find someone to interview in the aerospace industry, you could type “aerospace” into the keyword box and your station’s zip code in another box further down the left-hand side of the page.

I just re-enacted my search as I’m writing this. The executive I found earlier came up again. And I just discovered that if you click “similar” below her name, other aerospace industry executives and workers come up on another page. This will be really helpful when you get that dreaded “I’m on vacation” out-of-office reply from your first contact.

But say you’re not working on a story. You’re trying to build your personal brand. Hatter uses LinkedIn for that, too.

“There are over a million groups on LinkedIn,” he said. “Some groups have literally hundreds of thousands of members in them. By joining the group, you now have opt-in permission to share with that group.”

Don’t spam them, he warns. Instead, pass along articles or video links that would appeal to other broadcast journalists or television executives.

Hatter says LinkedIn limits you to 50 groups. That’s probably more than enough for most of us, though there are some LinkedIn power users who sound pretty upset about the cap.

You also want to post on your home page on LinkedIn. If you haven’t been to your account in a while, log-in and take a look. LinkedIn has basically created a professional version of Facebook. After getting Hatter’s advice, I try to post at least once a day on there and allow LinkedIn to send the message to my Twitter followers, too.

Finally, be careful with the recommendations you give others — and especially the recommendations you choose to publish on your profile.

Hatter is also a hiring manager and says it takes an authentic, from-the-heart recommendation on a candidate’s LinkedIn profile to make him take it seriously.

“If I go in and I give you a recommendation, you are going to show-up in front of my entire network as a recommendation from Dave,” he said. “Everyone in your network is going to see that I recommended you. But if I say something like, ‘Matt is an awesome guy,’ does that really carry any weight? And I think a lot of recommendations are pretty shallow and pretty hollow like that.”

Hatter also explains, in an extended clip we put on our station’s website, how to jazz-up your “headline” and profile info to stand-out from the crowd. The headline is really important because it’s what hiring managers see first in their search results, along with your profile photo. And please have a profile photo! I can’t believe how many people in broadcasting don’t put their photo up on LinkedIn.

Hatter told me having no photo is a quick way to get overlooked when a television executive is doing her own “advanced people search” in an effort to fill a job quickly.

In such a competitive industry, we need all the help we can get. So why not put more effort into LinkedIn? After all, it’s free. (Hatter advises against paying for the premium version.)

You can bet the other 90 TV anchor/reporters in America who look just like you will be using LinkedIn. So you’d better, too.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

You can connect with Matthew Nordin on LinkedIn and Twitter. He’s an investigative reporter at WXIX-TV in Cincinnati.  And if you want to learn more about how to use this site, check out the group LinkedIn for Journalists (http://www.linkedin.com/groups/LinkedIn-Journalists-3753151), which offers free tutorials.

Required to Tweet? What to discuss.

Social Awareness Comments Off on Required to Tweet? What to discuss.
Aug 272013

For many journalists, Tweeting and posting on Facebook is now a mandatory part of their job.  In fact a news director in Atlanta recently told the Press Club there that  “any journalist who doesn’t do social media isn’t worth their salt.”  The pressure is certainly on and journalists are certainly feeling it.  I have received several emails asking, “What should I talk about?”

So let’s address that question.  What do you talk about?  We have published a few articles on what not to do, and what to look out for, (see  You Tweet, I Can’t Believe He Posted, and Wanted a New Job) so it’s time to focus on what is acceptable.

Here are some basic things to start tweeting and posting:

  • Interesting tidbits about your day
  • Your hobby
  • Relevant extras about your story
  • Confirmed information that impacts audience

First let’s get this very important question answered.  Many journalists ask, “Should I offer any personal information?”  The answer is: Some.  But keep it the type of information you don’t mind your boss, mother and minister or rabbi reading about.  The first two bullet points about what you should tweet and post address appropriate personal topics.

When I say tweet interesting tidbits about your day, I mean little moments.  Maybe someone said something thoughtful to you.  Maybe you read a fascinating article that really got you thinking.  Say it, or rather, tweet or post it.  Maybe a long lost friend posted a fun comment on your wall.  Mention that you loved hearing from that friend. Show images about your day as well.  Show a shot of the full coffee cup you are about to drink. Mention the new recipe for a breakfast burrito.  These simple things create real connections with other people.  You do not have to spill your guts, to form a bond.  Sharing simple moments are better.

Which leads to another great discussion point, your hobby.  One of my favorite journalists I follow is a ballroom dancer who loves the performing arts.  I enjoy the tidbits, that she is heading to a competition, or enjoyed a performance.  It takes me out of my day-to-day routine and teaches me something new.  I also enjoy a twitter account that mentions “This Day in History” type of information.  The trivia is interesting.  A former boss of mine is an avid motorcyclist.  I enjoy seeing pics of his newest Harley and reading about his latest ride.  Again, simple human connections.  If you love to cook or watch movies or have a favorite TV show, you will make “personal” connections with fans on social media.  Just keep the sports comments clean.

So, now how do you appropriately mention your work?  Just teasing or putting up a link to your latest story or newscast is not enough.  Try and provide some relevant extras.  A journalist recently covered a mission event where people came from all over to see doctors and dentists.  He simply showed images of people waiting, and talked about how the images touched him.  For example, he said one man seemed to look into his soul. He said he had to snap a shot of a baby girl because the bow on her head was so cute.  I have seen journalists snap behind the scenes images of doing interviews, breaking down the cables from live shots, and showing their muddy shoes.  I have seen journalists mention that a story gripped them in some way.  That he/she learned an interesting new fact today.  Some mention what they hope to follow up the next day on a story.  The list goes on and on. Take the viewer into the story, with a paragraph, a photograph or a statement in 140 characters.

Finally, if you have confirmed information about a breaking or developing news event, put it on your twitter stream or post it to Facebook.  Show that you are working the story.  Just put up confirmed information.  And if you are lucky enough to have a station policy guide, adhere to it.

The most important thing to consider, when determining what to Tweet or post is that you want to create connections with your followers.  So you do want some variety.  Use common sense, stick to topics that have mass appeal and remember, your minister or rabbi is likely reading what you write, as well as the boss and your viewers.  Be true to who you are as a journalist, and a person.

 

 

With spring storm season here, I was eager to watch the locals show off their meteorologists and storm coverage during a recent tornado warning. It was a weekend. A nationally televised sporting event was happening in town, one channel had a NASCAR race running and March Madness was cooking too. These obviously add a lot of pressure to the weekend crews.  I could write an article on how obvious it was which stations planned ahead for this possible scenario and which obviously left weekend crews high and dry.  (The threat of storms was forecast days in advance.)  But frankly, talking about how bad that is to do to a weekend crew is just too obvious.  So let’s talk about something interesting I really noticed during this Sunday after storm.  Reporters and meteorologists were tweeting from home, with compelling elements to really “own “ station coverage online.

Two stations really stood out for this.  Anchors, reporters and meteorologist hopped on Twitter and talked about what the storms were doing at their location despite clearly having the day off.  They asked for descriptions from Twitter followers.  They added information beyond the studio crew.

My favorite highlights:  a weekday meteorologist who was off, started sending out information about areas that were about to see rain bands and wind.  A weekday news anchor (also off that day) started describing what the weather was like and showed images too.  Reporters started conversations with followers about what the skies looked like overhead, whether they were ducking for cover and even how the kids were reacting to the wind and rain bands.  The tweets were real, appropriate and created tangible connections with the community they served.  Very cool!

When tweeting about the weather keep in mind that it is an incredible instant connection to people directly impacted by what you are covering.  Allow discussion.  It can create amazing moments and connections that will help supplement your station’s on-air coverage.  In my case, I had switched to another station to watch when tweets started coming in from a competitor that explained what was happening so well, I switched again.  I knew that was the station that was giving the best explanation of what to expect.  The bases were truly covered by a dedicated staff that contributed any way they could, willingly.  These journalists wanted to be watchdogs for their community, even when it was their day off.  A big win for sure.

 

A news producer’s job is never done.  Trust me, I am one.  How do we both engage the anchors and keep our newscasts looking fresh and relevant to an audience who has had access to the internet all day long?  I’m about to suggest a method that will initially make many of you cringe.

Add Twitter to your repertoire. It will make you a better producer who can come up with story ideas faster and have a better grasp on what people in the “real world” are talking about at any given time.

Ok, now that you’ve read that twice, done the gratuitous spit take, and asked the screen (or your fellow producers, for that matter) how on Earth you will have time for that in an already slammed day, I’ll explain.  Again, trust me: I jumped into the Twitterverse about 3 years ago now.  I have no on-screen presence, so no one knows me.  Yet, as of this writing, I have 2100+ followers – more than any of the on-air talent at our station – and it has helped me come up with stories, angles, sources, and scoops that have eluded reporters assigned to those beats.  Believe me yet?  Then let’s get started.

Step One: Get on Twitter

For some reason, most TV producers are technophobes.  We may work with computers all day, but few of us know how they work, and I believe that lack of knowledge leads us to be late adopters of any new technology.  In my shop, I’m the Go-To-Girl (outside our online department, that is) when it comes to social media.   For anyone reading this, I will direct you to this very readable article from Mashable to set yourself up accordingly.  Instead of reinventing the wheel; we take someone else’s wheel and put some shiny new spinners on it!

Step Two: Start with the familiar

As with anything new, I’m going to suggest that you start with something familiar.  For a producer, that’s a press release.  A number of government organizations, non-profits, and other groups use Twitter as just another venue to distribute the traditional press releases.  Not ideal for them, but their lost opportunity is still our gain.  Recognizing this is one of the first steps toward using Twitter to make your day more efficient.

Take 30 minutes or so per day for a week or two and find the Twitter feeds of all the major newsmakers in your area.  For example, I’m in North Carolina.  My governor has a Twitter account.  So does my DOT, where I can get all the info on closed roads, and upcoming road hearings and construction projects.  That’s news your viewers want to use.  All the major universities near me Tweet their news, and so do a number of state agencies.  All of a sudden, some of that stuff that’s cluttering up my inbox, I can read while I’m on Twitter.  There’s one major difference, though: The press release in your inbox is a static document.  The Tweet is dynamic – people highlight the parts they find pertinent, they comment upon it, and the forward it to friends.  This gives you insight into what’s really important in a news release, instead of just the headline.

Once you start collecting a number of similar sources, create lists.  That makes it easy to check the updates without them getting lost in your information stream.  That may seem pointless now, but the more successful at this you become, the more you’ll need these tools to sift through the information so nothing important slips through the cracks.  I use HootSuite to make that happen, but some of my co-workers swear by TweetDeck as well.  Others use the original Twitter interface. Bottom line, get organized now before the data overwhelms you.

One more thing before we leave this step – follow your competition!  It’s just like watching their newscast or reading their website, and I guarantee they’ll follow you when they see you becoming active online.  Get their main account, then look for their individuals, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.  Think twice before interacting, though.  Take commenting slowly, and with a grain of salt, unless you know them personally.  Also be aware, your management may frown upon actual interaction with the “Other Guys” beyond just following them.

Step Three: Start the conversation

Now, Tweet something.  It’s that simple.  When you go to a Meet up group, the only guaranteed way to get people to start talking to you is to start conversation with them.  So begin.  Start small – after all, you’re still looking for your voice.  Tweeting a tease for your newscast is a good start, but make sure you’re not all news, all the time.  Have a conversation with the general public.  Ask open-ended questions that people are encouraged to answer.  Post random musings or some of those funny things you overhear in a newsroom.   Don’t do anything stupid, like posting where your spare key is hidden or that Fido the Guard Dog is all alone at your house tonight.

For the numbers-based producers among us, when starting out, I’d try to go 60%-40% news-non news tweets. As you start to develop an audience, drop back to 40% news (including news organization retweets) 30% non-news, 30% interacting with people and retweets of actual people.  These are just guidelines, though, for people who feel better with rules to follow.  In the end, let your gut reaction be your guide.

A few examples from my last few days:

My boyfriend asked me, could haiku fit in a tweet?  Yes, with space to spare.  This falls into random… Doesn’t require an answer, but people will anyway.

The National Honesty Index says redheads are more honest than blondes or brunettes! Woo hoo Gingers! (I am one – I can say that!)  This is part of me being me online… not quite random but not overly informative either

Read @jgravleyWRAL to get the developments on Butch Davis releasing his personal cell records  This tweet doubles as relating news AND relationship-building… SCORE!
Get your whooping cough vaccine! A baby in Forsyth County is now the first 2012 pertussis death in NC – @WRAL at noon to find out where the shots are   Blatant news tease, but it doesn’t read like one. You get something out of it even if you don’t watch the news

Which brings me to something to watch out for – when you do tweet news teases, be sure to offer substance in the tweet itself.  Don’t make the whole thing a tease, or people will stop reading your stream.  I’ve read many a news station tweet that is aiming solely for the gratuitous click-through, so they say something to the effect of

“Let us know if this is the way you think the logo should look” followed by a link to their website.

That makes me, as a reader, feel a little used.  I would suggest changing it to something like this to make readers feel engaged:

“The state DOT has three options for the new construction zone sign. You can vote for your favorite on our website (same link here)

See – don’t you feel better knowing what you’re clicking?  More satisfied?  Thought you might.  On to step 4 – the other half of the conversation.
Step Four: Find some listeners

So far, we’ve followed institutions, and we’ve started talking.  Now it’s time to make sure people are listening.  Some of the organizational accounts you’ve followed have probably followed you back, and that’s a start.  However, taking Twitter to the next level means finding humans and acting human online.  This is where real life interactions come in.  If you know someone in your area who is big into Twitter, ask them for a few people to follow.  Once you get to know them, ask those people for more suggestions.

Pay attention to the #FF (follow Friday) recommendations that go by – a number of people will qualify their posts so you know what you’re getting.  For example, #FF TV Edition, #FF Raleigh Socialites, #FF Coworkers, et cetera.  Check out the ones that are in areas you’re interested in learning more about – if you don’t like them or they aren’t useful, it’s okay to unfollow them later.

Resist the urge to follow anyone and everyone in an attempt to “collect” followers – try to stick to people who are saying things you find interesting, whether it’s about work or your hobbies or a celebrity who interests you.  Once you find these people, actually read their tweets.  Respond. Interact.  Soon you’ll be someone who is on their radar screen, and you’ll move from feeling like you’re “talking at” people to actually “conversing with” them.

There’s even something to learn from all those organizational account I asked you to follow.  Some of them use Twitter as a press release clearinghouse, others actually get it.  They use their 140 characters wisely to draw you into their organization or the story they’re selling that day.  One of our local universities does a stellar job with this – They send out their typical press releases via email, but when they boil it down to put on Twitter, they find the “why you should care” element and sell it well.  While I am honored they believe journalists can make sense of some of the highly academic language, we often skip interesting things farther down the release because we miss or just can’t find the “Why we care” factor.  Twitter can help you tease that out, both in picking stories and in writing them.
These are the steps that just make Twitter an enjoyable experience.  Now, it’s time to step up and get your news cred out there too.

Step Five: Before you click that Retweet button…    

As you start reading posts, you’ll find a few things you want to share.  Twitter makes that so easy – a few clicks and boom – retweeted to all your followers.  Before you make that set of clicks, though, pause and ask yourself:

1) is it really interesting or really funny?  Or are you just putting another LOLcat out there?

2) Where does it come from?  My rule of thumb is that any news organization that my station respects enough to call by name on the air, I’ll retweet without worries.  So just like we would say “A Washington Post investigation reports…” I have no problem retweeting content from the Washington Post.  Same for AP, CNN, BBC, and NPR – add to the list as you see fit for your area.  On the flip side, I’d stay away from retweeting any other content from major media in your own market.  Independents organizations are ok in my book – they may even thank you for it – but no helping out the local newspaper.

3) Is it on my site already, or can I get it on my site so the link I post drives the traffic there?  If you see a funny story on the wires and want to tweet a link, check your station’s site first.  If it’s not there, ask your web folks if they’ll put it up.  If your station is serious about social media, they’ll appreciate the fact that you thought of driving the traffic to your own site rather than MSNBC or Yahoo News.

Step Six: Adding a Link

It’s worth a paragraph or two here to talk about link shorteners.  Links can take up valuable real estate in a tweet, and the shorter they are, the better.  I’m lucky enough not to have to worry about it – our company’s dedication to social media included unique URLs that can be shortened so that all that appears in the tweet is www.wral.com/{unique story ID number here} .  Talk to your online division to see if you have anything similar.

If you don’t, this is the argument for using a management website such as HootSuite or TweetDeck for your interface.  Both have link shorteners built into their tweet page – just copy, paste, click “shorten” and voila – an owl.ly or a bit.ly link takes the place of the mumbo jumbo you started with.
Step Seven: Live Tweet something

Next time you have breaking news, start live tweeting it.  If you can, use a hash tag that makes it obvious you’re local, such as #ncwx  or #RaleighTraffic.  Each situation calls for a different approach, but here are a few I’ve found to be most common:

In a weather situation, send out updates on where the storm is, who needs to watch out, and when viewers share, retweet their descriptions and images!  Put out the all-call on the broadcast for people to send information via Facebook and Twitter, then use that information liberally (once it’s confirmed!).  I would also recommend reminding people to do so WHEN IT IS SAFE.  You’d be surprised what some people will do to get their 10 seconds of cell phone video on TV.

For a developing situation, a verdict being read in court, anything with background or multiple layers, try to keep the tweets coming.  You don’t have to send an update every 30 seconds, but as developments come into the newsroom and get confirmed, send ’em out.  Keep your writing to a headline-style – it’s easier for people to see that you’re in “news” mode.  Have your station’s hash tag on things where you can, and always wrap it up with a recap, a drive to the full story, and if possible, what you’ll have on TV in your next newscast.  An example:

Jury finds Jason Young guilty of first-degree murder in death of pregnant wife #YoungTrial
Young convicted of beating his pregnant wife, Michelle, to death in their Wake County home in Nov 2006, leaving 2 yr old daughter at scene
Young could face death penalty, sentencing phase starts after lunch recess #YoungTrial
Young’s mother crying in courtroom as judge polls jurors on murder conviction #YoungTrial
Jury convicts Jason Young of murdering his wife. Full recap on @WRAL.com,  Amanda Lamb talks live to his wife’s sister @ 5p on @wral

If there’s a bad accident, tweet the crash then the detour route.  If there’s a big announcement, tweet the highlights.  In most scenarios, be sure to take the time to sound a little more human when you send these out.  If your news copy would say “breaking news in West Raleigh where an accident involving a tractor trailer and two cars has blocked Hillsborough street” then the tweets should say:
Wreck blocking eastbound Hillsborough Street at Dan Allen Drive – avoid the area for a half hour or so.
If you need to miss the Hillsborough/Dan Allen trouble spot, try 440 to Western Blvd, turn rt on Pullen to get back on track
Tractor trailer rolled over a car on Hillsborough Street, and everyone survived – check the pics on
wral.com (put a real link here to the pictures instead of a generic website tease if you can)

Overall, live tweeting an event is the fastest way to get your news chops out there and have people recognize you as a conduit to the TV news.  This usually ends in new followers and builds your personal online brand as a go-to person for news in your area.  Which leads me to my last step:

Step Eight: I’m gleaning info – now what?

Twitter can be a veritable gold mine of information, story ideas, tips, and filler stories.  However, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the challenges of what to do with that information.

First, do not report anything that comes from Twitter as fact!  Treat it as scanner traffic or something you got from a dispatcher.  Best case scenario, in the case of viewer pictures of weather or car accidents, be SURE to say in your copy “We received this picture from a viewer via Twitter- they say this is the scene right now in blah-blah-blah.”  It doesn’t absolve you from legal responsibility, but it does protect you in some cases.  Otherwise, treat it as background knowledge that you can use for questioning authorities but do not run with it to air unless you have a second source.

There’s really only one exception to that rule: authorized, official Twitter accounts.  I mentioned above that our state’s Governor has a Twitter account.  So do both of our state Senators.  We have had the discussion as a station, and decided to consider anything tweeted on those accounts to be official statements from those offices, we just write it into the script that instead of issuing a statement, the officials tweeted.  So in the midst of the Rep. Todd Akin controversy, even though we never received a press release with the statement, I had a script in my 5pm newscast that read:

North Carolina’s Senior Senator has joined a growing number of Republicans calling for Rep. Todd Akin to remove himself from the Missouri Senate race.  This afternoon, Senator Richard Burr tweeted: “Congressman Akin’s comments were offensive, outrageous, & wrong. I urge him to do the right thing & withdraw from MO Senate race now.

Neat, eh?

This new community is also ripe for helping reporters find story contacts – just tweet what you need!  Or for getting an idea what they think is news-worthy.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent the tweet “slow morning meeting today – anybody got a story idea for me?”  People are usually quick to respond, but I don’t recommend sending that one out until you have a significant following.  Finally, your newsroom management may be on board with the idea of social media, but when you make the argument “This is trending on Twitter” or “It’s hot online, tomorrow it’ll be old news,” you may get some strange looks, or even pshaw’d at times.  It happens to all of us.  Keep trying to make your case.  Eventually, you’ll break a story or build up enough times when you were right that they will start to listen.  Cut them a break – chances are you were a bit of a Luddite too before you started this process.

            There you have it – a brief overview of what I’ve done over the last few years to cultivate the community of followers and leads that I have on Twitter.  It’s a community that has brought me story ideas, direct tips, interviews, and ideas from seeing what other people are talking about.  It has given me that extra story to fill the 5 o’clock news, or a glimpse into what’s going viral so we can be on the front edge of the wave and show it to you now, instead of tomorrow when it feels old.  It’s a place for an exchange of ideas that will help you think a little faster the next time you need a plan C for a story that falls through.  It’s how playing on the Internet can actually make you a better producer, if you put in the work.  I’m @sbeckwral – let me know if you see results.

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Stephanie Beck is a producer at WRAL in Raleigh. Has been there since 2001.  She spends her free time traveling to dance West Coast Swing (like in her Twitter profile picture) with her boyfriend and watching Dr. Who and anything Sorkin.  Stephanie has been known to contribute to the number of cat photos on the net, but Calypso and Fritz do not have their own accounts.  She attended UNC for BA and MA. She is always looking for the next way to engage her audience. Stephanie is one of the most followed local TV news producers on Twitter.

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