5 Tweet Strategies for Highlighting Breaking News

Social media producers battle for eyeballs, retweets and clicks. They fight because tweets fly by fast, easily slipping by readers in a stream shared with cat gifs and @KimKierkegaard.

News tweeting’s permanent battlefield fixtures – tweet volume, frequency and serendipity – can always provide challenge. The combo deals a particular blow, however, when your latest tweet contains your big, hot breaking story.

What’s the best way to get followers to notice and click your link when big news hits? Should you break out the “BREAKING”? Should you stick with just “Breaking”? Or should you drop the chyron-bred word and bank on content sparking the spread?

Here are five distinct ways newsrooms on Twitter highlight breaking news, along with some questions to consider before adopting (or adapting) a new strategy for your own.


  2. Examples: @wwltv, @ap

    How it’s done: Capitalize the first word (usually “breaking” or “update”). Add a colon. Tweet normally.

    Pros: All-caps grab attention because they’re rare. This slows down reading. If readers take more time on your tweet, perhaps they’ll read it in full and click through to read more.

    Questions to think through: How do you determine when to use the word? Has social media diluted the term and when you can use it? Will people feel like you’re shouting? (Is that okay?)


  3. #ALL-CAPS
  4. Examples: @washingtonpost, @ABC7NEWS

    How it’s done: See above, then throw in a hash-sign. Watch it turn blue.

    Pros: Blue hyperlinks are always good—the color change catches eyes. This draws you at least to the hashtag, but also hopefully your tweet (and then maybe your content.)

    Questions to think through: The same questions apply as above, but now with a coat of blue. (Note: @BreakingNews’ system also uses “#BREAKING.“)


  5. Classic
  6. Examples: @wsj

    How it’s done: Tweet a news story normally, but add the word “Breaking” and a colon before your text.

    Pros: To some, it sounds less like you’re shouting. It may fit better in with the feel of your paper or outlet, all while providing a subtle visual cue for readers.

    Questions to think through: Does it make your tweet stand out enough? All-caps have an extra visual punch, and while the word “breaking” and a colon do offer some distinction, is it achieving the goals you set out to meet?


  7. No distinction
  8. Examples: @TheAtlanticWire

    How it’s done: Tweet normally, even when the content’s hot.

    Pros: If you think “breaking” is over-used – or that your readers may perceive it to be over-used – you don’t have to deal with it. You also don’t have to think about how to format it.

    Questions to think through: Is content actually king on Twitter? If everyone else has visual clues, and you don’t, will your tweet penetrate during a story everyone’s covering?


  9. Separate accounts, RT what breaks
  10. Examples: @cnn’s @cnnbrk

    How it’s done: Operate a main news account for the majority of your outlet’s followers. Then operate an account dedicated to the big stuff, indicating in either its name, or its profile picture, the purpose: breaking news. Tweet breaking news from the dedicated one, and retweet what’s shared there from your main account.

    Pros: Skip the ALL-CAPs shouting debate. Give a visual clue when something’s important, and maybe better maintain the voice of your outlet. The retweet of a different account breaks the familiar faces of a reader’s stream, and it could potentially draw more eyeballs (and possibly clicks).

    Questions to think through: If everyone else is using all-caps, is it enough of a visual difference? Are you fighting an uphill battle against “BREAKING,” “UPDATE,” and “PHOTO”?