In a great piece published by the Nieman Journalism Lab, the team that runs the New York Times’ Twitter accounts looks back on what they learned from running @nytimes, followed by 10.5 million, in 2013.
Their learnings are useful for anyone working in social media, and anyone looking to strengthen their own presence on Twitter.
Major takeaways from the article, written by Michael Roston with contributions from Hanna Ingber, Sona Patel, Daniel Victor, Lexi Mainland, and Sasha Koren:
Breaking news is Twitter’s bread and butter. Roston writes that there is a “need to continue to prioritize readiness to cover major news developments thoroughly and accurately.” Emphasis on accuracy: the Times leverages its Twitter account in concern with, not independent of, the paper’s newsdesk. Those who man its Twitter feed steer clear of validating external sources whose accuracy they can’t confirm.
Lending credence to other trusted voices is a good thing. Roston describes how the Times’ Twitter account strategy is to let the paper’s own reporters speak for themselves, so it very often directly retweets its journalists in addition to sending out original tweets.
Twitter is a great tool to amplify discussion. The New York Times social media team found success in hosting Twitter Q&As in 2013, especially because of their use of a moderating account rather than letting followers interact directly with reporters. Roston writes,
“The effectiveness of this approach was visible during the political crisis in Egypt, when The Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick answered reader questions that were selected and filtered by an editor who was managing the @nytimesworld account.”
Never automate tweets. The @nytimes account majorly goofed when a pre-scheduled tweet went out over a weekend describing Scottish tennis player Andy Murray as British. Roston writes,
“On a Twitter account that was automated at the time, the error snowballed around social media and the web for hours. When our hands are minding the feed, errors like that either don’t happen or have less of an impact.”
Clarity works better than being clever or obscure. It’s fun to pen creative Twitter headlines to try to lure clicks, but it’s often most successful to be straight-forward and descriptive.
If a tweet worked once, send it again. Just like articles can stay on the Times’ Most-Emailed List for a week or more, tweets can have more staying-power than a single deployment. The Times team recommends recycling Twitter material, but doing so within reasonable parameters so you don’t alienate an audience seeing repetitive content.
Sometimes Twitter is unpredictable. Some of the Times’ most retweeted or favorited tweets were far from the ones anticipated to be the most engaging. Using Twitter, like all social networks, is more of an art than a science. You can heed best practices and tailor your activity to your following and still be stymied, either in a good or bad way.
Read the full article on Nieman Lab.
(New York Times headquarters image via Wikipedia.)