Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Month: October 2010

How and why news orgs should answer critics on Twitter

There was a minor kerfuffle in the intersection of journalism and social media this week when the Washington Post told its staff not to respond to critics on the paper’s official Twitter accounts following a not-so-great interaction with @glaad about a controversial editorial decision.

Reaction in the social media world was about what you’d expect.

David Heyman, a former Post employee, commented on TBD’s story, “So if I’m understanding correctly, the Post branded accounts are to be used for old-fashioned publishing, pushing the Post’s stories out to an appreciative audience or for the Post to receive UGC to again, push out. To use SM for actual interaction with interested parties is forbidden.”

And there were tweets, most like this one:


It’s the Post’s prerogative if they don’t want to have outward-facing replies to critics on their biggest Twitter accounts. They probably aren’t alone in adopting such a policy – and it isn’t an entirely bad one. The problem is when “don’t respond publicly on this account” really means “don’t respond at all”.

This memo has prompted a good bit of soul-searching by journalists and the audiences they serve.  Media blogger Ron Mwangaguhunga explored both sides of the comment/no comment issue. In Mashable’s coverage, readers were polled as to whether or not they think news organizations should respond to readers on Facebook. Almost 50 percent said “Yes, there should be an open dialogue” and 23 percent more said “Sometimes, depending on the situation”.

Social media was created for back-and-forth interaction – and that’s what Twitter users want from the brands they follow. The best companies out there know this and they’ve taken advantage of the medium by using Twitter as an extension of their customer service department.

Many news organizations, on the other hand, use their social media accounts as little more than a big mouthpiece to broadcast their links to an adoring audience. This practice is a prime example of an adherence to an old way of thinking about the relationship between media outlets and the readers who keep them going.

I’ve been running Twitter accounts for a news organizations of some sort since early 2008, so I have a little bit of experience with handling complaints, criticism and questions from readers and competitors. I’d never call myself an expert, but I have a few words of advice gathered from my own anecdotal evidence and years-long tinkering.

How a news organization should manage customer service on Twitter

If the person follows your account, reply via direct message: If you do this, immediately follow them as well, so you can receive a direct message in response.

If they do not follow you, first, follow them. This will show you saw their tweet. Now you have a choice:

1. Reply directly to them from the organization’s Twitter account. If it is a direct reply, the only people who would see if are you, the person you’re replying to and anyone that follows both of you. This has to be a tweet starting with @theirname.

2. Reply on your own account, but be sure you either identify in the tweet or in your bio where you work. There are good reasons to take this route – maybe the information shared is somewhat exclusive, or maybe you don’t want to bog down your followers with excess tweets. Remember, while this may be “your” account, you’re answering as a representative of your company – so be professional.

3. Re-tweet/reply. If there are a lot of people with the same point, or you want to address it to a larger audience, re-tweet a user and work in a short reply. This will go to all of your followers, so you may not want to do this all of the time with customer service responses to avoid filling followers’ feeds.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t ignore a complaint or a question sent your way. Even if you don’t have an answer, say so. Thank them for commenting, give them an email address of someone with more info – anything so long as you acknowledge you are listening.

I can’t express how many times people have seemed genuinely thankful just to be answered on Twitter, though with so many brands being active in social media these days – replies are getting to be expected instead of just thoughtful.

To take it a step further, you should also have a running Twitter search up for your organization’s name and primary link. This will give you the people who are passing on your links, those complaining without addressing the organization directly and those who may not even know the company’s Twitter handle.

This is one way reaching out can really open doors with critics. They weren’t even talking to you, but you took the time to answer. That’s excellent customer service – and it can really win over critics.

Excellent Twitter customer service, above anything else (even breaking news), is the way to build a loyal, re-tweet happy follower base.

10 ways journalists can use Storify

When Storify appeared on the collective journalism screen a few weeks back at TechCrunch Disrupt, it inspired a lot of oohs, ahhs and speculation as to how it would work for journalists.

There are similar curation tools out there, like KeepStream and Curated.by, though they focus primarily on collecting tweets (Correction: KeepStream also allows for Facebook integration). Storify, on the other hand, allows a user to organize various media (text, documents, video, images) and social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) into an orderly, linear presentation. The story pieces retain all of their original links and functionality – and the full presentations are embeddable on any site.  It has a very easy-to-use search for social media keywords and works using a drag-and-drop functionality. In other words – it’s easy multimedia for even the most technologically challenged journalist.

It has a couple of downfalls, the biggest of which, to me, is the lack of hard timestamps on content from Twitter (though that’s largely Twitter’s fault).

In the weeks since the Nieman Lab actually used Storify to explain Storify, many journalists and bloggers have taken the opportunity to experiment with the tool – with incredibly varied results. Here’s a few interpretations of just how Storify has been and can be used in journalism.

1. Organizing reaction in social media. The Washington Post gathered reaction from Twitter and Facebook to the resignation of Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee last week. While there are a lot of tools once could use to do this (Quote URL, Twitter search, Cover it Live), the Storify approach looks very clean and was likely very fast to put together. It’s a great tool for on-the-fly curation from various social media sources.

2. Giving back-story using past content. PBS NewsHour had a different take on Rhee’s resignation. Going beyond the basic topic archive page, their piece created a summary of Rhee’s past challenges with DCPS, weaving in stories, videos and scripts from their archives with some curated social media reactions. It is similar to a traditional story in its scope, giving the full background on Rhee’s tenure with reaction quotes via social media.

3. Curating topical content. NYU Studio 20’s East Village used Storify and a very sharp web presentation to create SocialDiningNYC, a site that has collect and curated information on NYC restaurants. Each venue has it’s own Storify line collecting reviews, reactions, media and info – and each file is linked from a primary hub site. The key to making this look nice was the consistency with which each Storify file was built and worded.

4. Displaying a non-linear social media discussion or chat. Penn Professor and Wired blogger Tim Carmody used Storify to illustrate an amusing Twitter quest he took on to get a few key social media contacts to follow him. He pulled together the entire back-and-forth between him, the people he was trying to engage and his current followers. It looks a lot better than TweetSpat (and involves more characters) and it makes the conversation seem more linear than it likely did in real time. This is a fun idea – and it could be great for archiving Twitter chats into some modicum of sense.

5. Creating a multimedia/social media narrative. Last Friday, I used Storify at TBD to make sense of an ever-changing series of events involving a death outside popular Washington D.C. nightclub DC9. In the course of one day, the story took a lot of twists and turns, illustrated in the narrative by tweets (from both news orgs and those reacting), photos, video and documents. Reading down the story, you can get a feel for how the events developed and evolved in a way that’s not entirely dissimilar to more traditional narrative stories. I talked a little bit more about the story behind this piece to the Nieman Storyboard, if you want to know more.

6. Organize your live tweets into a story: Michael Margolis of GetStoried used Storify to tell the story of his time spent at the National Storytelling Festival. He weaves in quotes and experiences from the scene as tweets from throughout the day. I could see this as being very useful for reporters who live tweet press conferences, government meetings and events. Using this method, those reporters could focus on Twitter in real-time, then build a story from those tweets (and others’) when the event is over.

7. Collaborate on a topic with readers. Seamus Condron of ReadWriteWeb tested out Storify with RWW’s Twitter followers. He posed the question “My day would be a lot easier if Twitter…”. The story builds out from there with responses to the prompt from followers, @RWW replies and contextual info from other media in response to reader contributions.

These are likely just the beginning of what’s been done or could be done using Storify. I have dreamed up a few more ideas if you’d like to think about using this tool on your site.

8. Create a timeline of events. I know from experience that it can be a big pain to build an attractive online timeline without the aid of a designer. I think Storify’s interface would be a quick way to pull in text and other content into a timeline format that could look nice without any fancy HTML.

9. Display audience content from across platforms. Say you’re asking your readers to give you photos, videos and reactions based around an event or topic. You put out this call on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and on your site. Instead of gathering all of this content and re-publishing it on-site, you can organize all of those updates, comments, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Twitpics and emailed-in multimedia into one Storify file without any CMS nonsense.

10. Live curate live tweets from the stream. If you have multiple reporters or sources live-tweeting a news event, pull them together quickly and in an order that makes sense in Storify. Sure, you could pull all of their tweets or use a hashtag using other means, but this way you could choose to select only some tweets – and it wouldn’t matter who used a hashtag or not, as you can search for tweets via keyword.

Storify narrative: Death outside DC9

On October 15, I used Storify at TBD to make sense of an ever-changing series of events involving a death outside popular Washington D.C. nightclub DC9.

In the course of one day, the story took a lot of twists and turns, illustrated in the narrative by tweets (from both news orgs and those reacting), photos, video and documents. Reading down the story, you can get a feel for how the events developed and evolved in a way that’s not entirely dissimilar to more traditional narrative stories.

I talked a little bit more about the story behind this piece to the Nieman Storyboard, if you want to know more. Here’s the Storify:


Four who influenced my approach to social media

As part of their 35th anniversary, Poynter is crowdsourcing a list of the 35 most influential people in social media. They ask people to write Facebook notes or tweets recommending people for the list, with votes to come via re-tweets and likes.

This kind of voting system makes it very likely that we’ll see the 35 usual suspects on the list when it’s all said and done: Vadim Lavrusik, Robert Quigley, Andy Carvin, Craig Kanalley and my boss, Steve Buttry, I’m sure, will be shoo-ins. It’s with this in mind I want to recognize people many voters in this group probably won’t know, but who’ve influenced my approach to social media more than just about anyone else.

#1 & #2 (tie): Kevin Dugan & Daniel Lally

I put these two guys together because their influence is interconnected in so many ways. I got into social media as we know it in mid-to-late 2007. In January of 2008, I joined the budding Cincinnati chapter of the Social Media Breakfast, founded by Kevin Dugan & Dan Lally – it expanded my world.

It’s a rare occasion for a journalist to admit to learning from the world of marketing and PR, but at that time, that’s who dominated Twitter and Facebook – and these two were pros. Not only did they personally teach me so much about how to engage audiences with measurable (and immeasurable) results thanks to their experiences in brand marketing, but through Cincy SMB, they introduced me to many others who were experimenting with social media as well. I know for a fact I would have never grown past tweeting about my lunch if not for these two and the learning experiences I had through Cincinnati Social Media.

#3 Paul Bradshaw

Paul’s Online Journalism Blog is probably linked more than any other from this site – and for good reason. He’s always talking about issues in new media that reflect not only his experiences as a journalist in the UK (which is fascinating in and of itself), but also what’s affecting new media across the world. OJB’s explanatory posts on social media projects, tool how-tos, new policies and those who seek to shut such things down have been a constant source of ideas and inspiration for me. Also, in 2009, Paul founded Help Me Investigate, a platform for crowdsourcing investigative journalism. Hard to top that.

#4: Jack Greiner

Jack’s not a journalist, a marketer or even a social media acolyte – he’s a media lawyer for Graydon Head & Ritchey in Cincinnati, OH. He’d frequently hold sessions for the Cincinnati Enquirer staff on potential legal issues in regards to social media. Unlike other presentations I’d seen on the subject, he didn’t seek to scare journos away from social media altogether (no matter how much they would have rather he did). He made us think about what we were doing as being no different than any other facet of journalism – and in doing so, he inspired me to pursue more research in the area. He gets a bonus vote for always being kind enough to take my incessant questions on points of case law.

Also, I have to give a shout out to Sarah Fidelibus, who named ME, of all people, as one of her picks for most influential people in social media. She said some nice things about ZJ, which is great to hear. I hope it’s been a helpful/interesting/funny read for the rest of you, too.

Social media for bloggers workshop

Saturday, Oct. 2 I taught a workshop at American University’s School of Communication on Social Media for Bloggers. This as part of an ongoing partnership between AU and TBD.com to provide learning resources for our blog network, AU students and the community.

Here are my slides from the presentation, which goes over how bloggers can use a variety of social media tools to better engage with readers, get more traffic and blog more efficiently.

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