Twitter is not just for headlines

You have a lot of valuable content to offer and not all of it is editorial.

Newspaper reader studies have shown that people read newspapers and subscribe to home delivery for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with the bundling of various bits of information (editorial and sales) into a single package. On our web sites, we make sure to give readers not only our editorial content, but also display ads, classified ads and deal information for cars, homes, jobs, etc.

Why don’t we do this on Twitter? Like the desktop web and on mobile, I believe that news organizations should approach Twitter as a distribution tool but should not ignore Twitter’s unique characteristics and culture. A good newspaper Twitter feed should, I believe, incorporate all aspects of the total package. The “Twitter Edition” should include breaking news, non-breaking headlines of note, calendar items, classified listings, promotions, and sponsorship messages.

What sort of sponsorship messages? I’d start with deals or coupons from local restaurants timed to mealtimes. At 11am each workday, send out a note about an advertiser’s lunch special. Help your advertisers promote overstock sales. Tweet a few garage sales or open houses. Think about the different parts of your print or online products and try to represent them on Twitter.

Of course, before you include paid commercial messages, you’ll need enough followers to be valuable to your clients. My estimate is that you’d need a few hundred local followers before you could find interested advertisers. Keep the rates affordable and base them on how many local followers you have.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Set followers’ expectations early – make sure they know the feed will include commercial messages
  • Keep the editorial:advertising ratio balanced. Too many ads will likely cause you to shed followers.
  • Watch the tone. Twitter is a much more conversational medium than newspapers. Give your Twitter feed(s) a voice and some character – but don’t stray into caricatures. The traditional newspaper “voice of God” style just doesn’t work here.
  • Offer more specific – and commercial-free – Twitter feeds for breaking news feed, sports, courts, etc.

    Because you’re going to share the responsibility for Tweeting between editorial and sales, you’ll probably want a tool that supports multiple users with unique logins so you can protect the master password to your Twitter account. The two big ones right now are CoTweet and HootSuite. HootSuite has one standout feature that I like: the ability to auto-Tweet from an RSS feed, which you can achieve with twitterfeed.com. Of course, putting Tweets on autopilot is not preferred but it will keep your breaking news updates flowing when nobody is available to Tweet them manually.

    Is there already a conventional wisdom about sponsor tweets in a news stream? What do you think about this?

    Oh yeah, don’t forget to use your own short URL service!

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    3 thoughts on “Twitter is not just for headlines

    1. I like the idea of timed Tweets. Another great idea, if you had the manpower, would be to split up your Web site/newspaper sections into their own Twitter feeds—sports, entertainment, etc. That way, you’d be able to target advertisers with more of a niche market. Sure, you can’t be positive that everyone following you likes sports (God knows there’s spam on Twitter), but you can reasonably assume that X percentage of your followers are legit.

      My only thing from an editorial standpoint is that I’d want some kind of common label to denote the fact that each Tweet was an ad. For example, I loop my blog posts into Twitterfeed and I have it set up so that when a headline goes out, it’s preceded by “paulbalcerak.com:.” Similarly, I’d put something like “Ad:” in front of every sponsored Tweet.

    2. Seth says:

      I agree about tagging sponsor Tweets with AD or [AD]. I’m not sure, though, that I would want ads in channel-specific feeds. Unless you’re a large news org, it seems like getting enough followers to those niche feeds to make them attractive to advertisers would be a challenge.

    3. Well yeah, that’s the “if you had the manpower” part. One person at a news org can easily get 1,000 followers built up in a relatively short amount of time. If each niche reporter were doing that, you could maybe get something going (like selling specified ads on section fronts).

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