Fast Chat: Reuters’ Social Media Maven Gives Up Twitter

Matthew Keys on burnout and what's next

Reuters' deputy social media editor, Matthew Keys, spent the better part of the last few years digging up stories and breaking news on Twitter, tweeting more than 46,000 times. Last week, he decided to leave Twitter indefinitely. Adweek caught up with Keys to ask him why, as a prolific power user, he decided to depart the platform.

Adweek: You've been pretty prolific on Twitter for a while now. Why did you stop?

Keys: One of the reasons was because I needed to unplug. Twitter, for me, wasn't supposed to be a full-time thing. I decided to try leveraging the platform a year and a half ago when I was unemployed, to put into practice some techniques I thought might contribute to real-time reporting as stories happened. And those techniques worked and landed me a job. I kept up Tumblr as much as I could while I was at ABC, and then I closed out the blog. Twitter didn't demand as much attention. The break is indefinite; I'm not leaving the platform for good. But I do need to tune out for a little while, to focus on other stuff, to look for those emerging platforms that could become the "next big thing," and to develop new techniques for storytelling.

You've built up such a good following though and it seems to be a big part of your identity, interacting every day with this swath of people. Do you still see that as valuable?

I don't feel like it was a part of my identity; I feel like it became my identity with colleagues and my audience. They started seeing how I used Twitter as a service, and that's great. I wouldn't trade that for anything. But there is a person writing every single tweet. There's a person digging through code on a website to look for interesting nuggets. There's a person Googling keywords to find "hidden" videos and photos on websites. There's a person who executes various techniques to discover good content and break news on Twitter—and I think the people who lift that discovery for their blogs and don't provide any attribution, don't quite understand that there's a person doing a lot of the legwork so they can get a thousand pageviews or whatever on a piece of content that they didn't give proper attribution to. And we're both to blame for that.

When did it become clear to you that it was time to take a break? What was the process like?

I took a lot of time to think about it. I'm not going to go into all of the things that I'd considered, but there were several factors. Taking a break from Twitter is sort of like taking a break from a relationship. When you take a break from someone, the first couple of days, you want to pick up the phone and call them. For me, the first few days, I wanted to log on to Twitter and see what people were saying. But it's like any addiction—time makes letting go of things a bit easier.

So it would be safe to describe it as an addiction for you?

I think it was something I obsessed over. If you work in news, Twitter is where the action is. It's where stories develop in real time, 24/7. It doesn't stop. I got sucked into that. I loved it. I still love it. But at some point you have to take a break. I've probably gotten better sleep over the past week than I have in the past four years.

Will we see others follow suit? Seems you can't be alone. Especially on Twitter, where some people are tweeting 20 hours a day.

I found myself staying awake until midnight or 1 or 2 in the morning and then having to come in to work the next day exhausted, unable to focus. The wheels kept spinning even when the machine was exhausted. In this industry, that's been known to happen. But for me, it was happening a lot. That's not healthy for anyone, and a lot of things suffer because of it. Your work suffers, your relationships suffer. You start using the platform to have meaningful interactions with people, and you substitute it for the meaningful interactions you could have in person. You put a lot of things on hold or on a delay or skip out on them altogether, and sometimes you have to in order to get the job done. But if you're constantly doing it—and I was constantly doing it—that's not healthy. Pixels and screen names became people to me. That's not good. It's a good feeling to read two chapters in a book over the weekend, or have in-person interactions with friends over drinks or dinner.

So what is the next platform out there?

The fact of the matter is, there's a community on Google Plus. We don't see it as social media producers/editors/directors, because we don't make enough of an effort to be on there. But there's a community there, and they want us to pay attention to them. Before my break, I had become increasingly discouraged by Tumblr as an editorial platform, but I've fallen back in love with it. There is a news audience there. They just don't want the kind of news that organizations traditionally feed their audience. They don't care what kind of sandwich Obama bought on his latest diner stop. They care that Bill and Melinda Gates are giving millions for contraception. They're submerged in the circumcision debate going on in Germany. They're fascinated by the fact that there's a huge telescope at the South Pole that could play a role in finding out how the universe is made. They don't want fluff. They want real news. 

UPDATE: Don't unfollow ProducerMatthew just yet. Keys tells Adweek he'll rejoin the Twittersphere starting in September. When asked how he made his decision Keys said, "I think that's a good length for a break."