10 ways journalists can look like Twitter newbies

I read a lot of Twitter feeds from reports and news outlets in my area (and at my paper) and I frequently see lots of little mistakes here and there that just make we mince and think, “Oh, those haters on the Internets are going to have a field day making fun of this newb.” Admittedly, I may even be one of those haters some days.

You don’t have to be some online expert to look like you belong on Twitter – just avoid doing the following and nobody will know you’re a dog (or just an old-school journalist) on Twitter.

1. You sign your tweets

In my book, this is the biggest sign that someone is a journo without a clue. Do you seriously need a byline on your tweet? If it is your own account, your name and picture should already be on it. If it is your news outlet’s account, I repeat: Do you really need a byline on a tweet? You only have 140 characters to work with and you’re wasting them if you feel the need to sign your name to the sentence you just blasted out.

2. You ask the Twittersphere to respond by direct message

Probably the most frequent error I see. If you put an inquiry out on Twitter, do not ask people to reply by DM. Just ask them to reply. Why? Because if you aren’t following the person who wants to reply to your plea for sources, they can’t get through to you. Ask for replies or put your email out there instead.

3. You put out general links instead of specific links

I know you really, really want people to read your blog or website, but you don’t have to make it a chore. If you want to promote a certain post, send the link to the post. If they like your blog, they’ll bookmark it or subscribe by RSS – they don’t need your site’s home page force-fed to them on Twitter. Especially avoid saying, “New post about blahblahblah at yourhomepage.com! Check it out!” Someone might come across that tweet in a Google search two weeks from now and that post/story may be off your front page by then. Don’t waste people’s time. Use a URL shortener like bit.ly or tinyurl if you need to fit in a long link.

4. You don’t post links at all

The absolute worst. Don’t say, “I’ve got a new story/blog post about X up online now. Check it out!” Everyone who sees your name on Twitter doesn’t know your website or your news outlet. You’re part of the stream that could be coming from lots of Twitter sources – and you’ll quickly be forgotten if you do this. Right after they laugh at you.

5. You never reply to anyone else

Twitter is not a tool for you to blast out links to your work. It’s a space for interacting with your followers and asking questions of those you follow. Even if you only reply by direct message to friends’ inquiries, you need to reply when you are asked a question. you should also take the time to read others’ tweets and reply once in awhile. You might even learn something!

6. You don’t follow anyone

Slightly worse than #5. Everything said there applies. Don’t know anyone on Twitter yet? Go to Twellow and search by your beat, city or interests and start following some people. Go to Muck Rack and follow other journalists or news organizations. And re-read #5 – if people reply to you, follow them. Make them the beginning of your Twitter circle

7. You never re-tweet

This is a clear sign that you only use Twitter to push out your own content and don’t read anyone else’s. If someone says something interesting, if they reply to you and you want to share it or they pass out a link you’d like to pass on, hit re-tweet. It takes less than a second to pass on someone else’s tweet to your followers. Have you never read a tweet from someone else worth that one second? If you aren’t using a Twitter client with a re-tweet function, there’s also a button to re-tweet on the web form (just hover over the tweet with your mouse and you’ll see it).

8. You use your news outlets main website as your web link in your profile

Sure, it’s a minor point – but it makes you look like a journalist without a clue. If someone wants to contact you off Twitter, this link doesn’t help. If you have a blog or a profile page on your paper’s site or on your own, link it there. If you have a Google Profile, Facebook page, Linked In account or anything at all that reflects you, put that link there. Think about it, would you ever believe a source whose contact information was so incomplete? Which leads me to…

9. You don’t have a profile picture

If you use the default icon on Twitter, 90% of users will just assume you are a spammer or simply someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Again, would you trust a source without a face or some sort of recognizable image? It doesn’t have to be “you” per se (though it would help your cause), but it shows you made the basic bit of effort to complete your profile.

10. You exclusively tweet just about your published work

I’m not saying you have to get personal or tell everyone what you ate for lunch, I’m just saying you need to loosen up a little. Tell your followers who you’re meeting with today, what you’re working on or what’s going on at a event you’re covering. Feel free to add comment or answer questions on the news of the day (within all the usual ethical limitations of course) or re-tweet info from other users. Or, if you’re really feeling comfortable, go ahead and get personal. Readers and sources can like journalists when they seem like real people.

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