What Do Followers Really Want? Not An RSS Feed

While there’s plenty of debate about what journalists should post and to retweet on social networking sites, there’s not enough discussion about what’s not getting posted. Specifically, most of what’s debated is about what news organizations want to share — not what followers actually want to see.

I’m sure there are reams of data floating around corporate offices full of feedback from focus groups and online surveys about what readers want. Yet most news organization feeds are bastions of one-way discussion and self-promotion.

While there’s certainly a place for sharing content on these networks, it’s not the end-all-be-all. In fact, it’s not all that useful. Twitter and Facebook aren’t RSS feeds, and they shouldn’t be used that way. They should be used to engage audiences, and to engage audiences requires more than a requisite run down of your top stories.

Consider this blog post from Marketplace’s Heidi Moore: My 50,000th Tweet: “Arrogance Kills.”. She details how her 50,000th tweet wasn’t related to the finance stories she covers, but rather it was a retweet linking to, of all things, a slideshow of otter pictures. Obviously, cute animal pictures aren’t the core of Moore’s stream, but it was a glimpse of how even a respectable reporter for a respectable news organization can infuse fun and personality into the daily news she shares by engaging in her audience. She has a good analysis of her own tweeting style and how it plays out, but I found this part particularly salient as it relates to the greater social networking universe:

I am continually disappointed that there are users, many of them journalists, who don’t engage very much with people on Twitter and just use it to broadcast their stories, promote only their friends, or otherwise suck up. Readers and followers rightly see this as a pompous and self-serving use of their time and attention. If readers wanted to read only your stories, they would add you to an RSS feed. The point of being on Twitter is to talk to people, normally, without using snappy air guns and smothering everyone with some oleaginous need for approval.

So here’s are a few quick questions to ask yourself when posting to your feed:

  • Is this interesting? Goes without saying, but a hefty number of news tweets and FB posts are boring or to boring content. Save the headline rundown for the RSS feed and highlight only the best or most important to promote. That gives you more room in the timeline to interact without overwhelming streams with a list of headlines.
  • Does everyone already know? You can retweet, but don’t just repeat without adding value. What can you/your organization add? Solicit feedback on the topic from your followers and share that feedback.
  • Would I like, share, retweet or read this? If the answer is no, consider what you can do to make mundane more readable.
  • Would my mom care about it even if I didn’t create it? Because let’s be honest, your mom will “like” anything you create, but she’s also a proxy for the general public when it comes to whether pieces will resonate.
  • Did someone else have it first or say it better? Credit them!
  • How can I engage other followers or organizations in this post? It’s more than OK to reply to followers, and it’s OK to share what they or others you follow share. (Your organizations and you personally do follow people, right?! You don’t have to follow everyone who follows you, but you absolutely should follow people you find interesting and the newsmakers in your niche and community.)
  • Bonus: Does it involve cute animals or is it fun? It’s OK to be fun. Your followers will appreciate the well-selected smile.

Your Turn: What news organizations or journalists are doing it right? What else would you add to the list of questions to ask yourself?

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