A tweet? A twit? The exact vocabulary for the micro-blogging service Twitter continues to evolve, but one thing remains sure: The social networking service is a mainstream method for dissemination.
While the service provides a tertiary channel to disseminate the latest news, the real value in Twitter is the ability to instantly interact with your audience. Companies from JetBlue to Bank of America, alongside news outlets like the BBC and CNN are relying on the service to not only inform customers/consumers, but to engage them in conversation.
Your paper can utilize Twitter in a number of ways depending on your staff size and ability to invest time and effort. You may only want to use the service as a broadcast channel for breaking news, or maybe you're more interested in engaging with readers. If both styles of Twittering interest you, consider establishing two accounts: one for conversation, story ideas and information gathering, and another for just news updates. Maintaining this line between conversation and dissemination will prevent alienating the users who want only the news.
Here are a few helpful hints to get started on the kingpin of the "statusphere."
- Tweet short. By nature, Twitter only allows 140 characters. That's 20 characters shy of the 160 limit for short message service (SMS) messages, more commonly known as text messages.
- Make it worth while. Given Twitter's place as a mobile status update tool, there's no better place to be than on a user's mobile update list. A user can follow your account, but they can also subscribe to your updates so they receive a text message every time you tweet. As anyone with a phone understands, irrelevant text messages can irritate a user and ultimately leave you off the update list, or unfollowed altogether.
- Tweet responsibly. If you want to land an esteemed place on a user's mobile update list you need to keep your tweeting under control. "Oversharers," slang for Twitter users who tweet too much, are likely to be unfollowed or have mobile updates disabled. We advise against tweeting every headline, or using services that publish your site's entire RSS Feed to Twitter. That's passive participation, and ultimately begins to looks like spam in time. Selectively tweet your content – users will be able to tell the difference between a bot and human editorial judgment.
- In the rhythm. If you're serious about building your followership, you need to include Twitter in your workflow. Every situation is different and you should always value fact over speed, but as a suggested scenario: Break news first on Twitter, gather more information, tweet again, publish the story and then update Twitter again with a link to the full story.
- Use your friends. As a rule of thumb, pick a friend outside of the journalism bubble and ask yourself, "Would they want to get a text message about this?" Remember – not everyone is a news hound like the rest of us!
- Divide the duty. If your school is a big dog in the sports world, consider establishing an account for only sports updates. Occasionally include information or large breaking news stories from the rest of the paper.
- Linkage. Link to your site, preferably your stories, whenever possible.
- Sell it. You have to give your readers a reason to seek you out on Twitter. What exclusive opportunities and information can they receive? If there's no incentive, there's no reason to buy in.
- See it, Tweet it. Use a free service such as TwitPic to upload photos and publish them into your tweet stream. The service is free, just visit the site and log in with your Twitter username/password. You'll then see an e-mail address you can use to e-mail photos from your phone, computer or any mobile device. Remember: Show, don't tell!
- AP Style. @APStylebook says tweet, when used as a verb, is with a lowercase "t."
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Also, check out Mashable's Twitter Guidebook for more best practices and basics.