Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Tag: howto

Channeling the news brand: Persona and strategy

In preparing for my exit from TBD (more on that later), I’ve been training those who will be taking over my duties in communicating as the brand. I thought it might be useful to those who are learning this at their own news organizations to include my training documentation and thoughts on the blog over the next few days.

Note: I’m no social media guru or anything (they don’t exist anyway), but I have quite a bit of experience at setting social media strategy, establishing a brand identity and  communicating as a news brand from my time at the Cincinnati Enquirer and TBD.

Most of the individuals I’ve been training for this are fairly experienced Twitter and Facebook users, but they have no experience in using social media as entities other than themselves. It makes quite a difference. When communicating as The Voice of the Organization (cue dramatic music), one has to essentially channel the persona of the brand and speak in its voice.

While it really isn’t possible to keep the exact same voice when several people are communicating as the brand, a steady brand persona can be maintained if you have a plan in place. So let’s get into all that first.

#1: Know Who You Are

The key to communicating as a news brand – especially when many people are behind the curtain – is to have a set persona in mind. If the brand were a person, who would they be? What are their interests? How would they talk? What would their priorities be?

For TBD, for instance, the brand persona is that of a conversational, young, urban-dweller who is in the know but isn’t a know-it-all. The tone is casual, straight-forward, occasionally snarky or sarcastic, but only in the context of funny or feature news. He/she is sort of geeky, curious and enthusiastic to receive and share info.

Some brand managers will establish full identities for the brand, specifying how old he/she would be, where they’d live, economic status, etc. In the case of Colonel Tribune, for instance, a whole identity and background was set up to serve as the account persona. While you don’t have to go into nearly as much detail, it’s good to have answers in mind for the following:

  • How conversational should the tone be?
  • Who is my audience and what tone will they expect?
  • What sort of tone is right for my content?
  • Am I a friend, a voice of authority or somewhere in-between?
  • How much two-way communication am I doing?


#2: Set a strategy

There’s nothing worse that following the Twitter feed of a news organization without a strategy. It’s plainly obvious to anyone thats following (especially if they happen to be the competition) if you’re flying blind: Tweeting local news on a national account, sending out misleading links to stories that are out of your area (or off your website), re-tweeting whoever and whatever strikes your fancy, etc.

A strategy for communicating as the brand can be as detailed or simple as you need it to be, but consider these questions when laying it all out:

  • Is this intended to be general interest or niche?
  • Is this for breaking news, or more finished stories?
  • What is the expected coverage area for this account?
  • If you have multiple branded accounts: How do they work together? Does the same info go out on both at any time?
  • Who is my audience? What do they want? (You know, a survey never hurts….)
  • When is my audience online and most able to use this information? (see analytics)
  • Who is my competition? What do I like or dislike about their brand presence?
  • Do I re-tweet? Who do I re-tweet – and why?

Once you’ve stablished the kind of news and reader the account is for, set a strategy for what you’ll send out and stick to it.


Other brand managers, what would you suggest to help set a tone or strategy?


More info: Tips for Tweeting/Facebooking as the Brand, Guidelines for Audience Interaction as the Brand

Link roundup: Twitter news, tech tools and a shameless plug

On the Twitters

  • In their “The science of the hashtag” post, Twitter charts the lifecycle of a hashtag and spells out just what and who propelled it to popularity. In short – celebrities > media, as if you didn’t already know.
  • An alleged Twitter expert says research shows that to increase your chances of being retweeted, you should Tweet your links in afternoons, evenings and on weekends.
  • I don’t know if Jay Rosen is a Twitter expert, but he’s been known to craft a good 140 characters. He explains his process and what makes a tweet “beautiful”.
  • Nieman Storyboard makes the case that Twitter is a great community for building and telling a narrative story, using TBD’s Storify as an example.

Tips & Tricks

Random industry news

  • The Huffington Post may have created what many of us have dreamed of for years – a news recommendation engine based on collected data. Tie in advertising and we might as well all go home and let them take over the world.
  • Not everyone’s a fan of it, though, and with good reason.
  • Former TBD GM (and my former boss) Jim Brady chats with Jason Policastro about his work with Philly.com’s new collaborative journalism initiative, online advertising, funding hyperlocal sites and more.
  • Ken Doctor outlines the metrics and numbers journalism outlets should be keeping an eye on in 2011. This goes way beyond web traffic and Twitter analytics. Great read.
  • The NY Times reports Steven Brill’s Journalism Online experiment, which developed a system to charge newspaper sites’ most frequent online visitors for content access, has good news. They analyzed preliminary data from the project’ initial sites and found that “advertising revenue and overall traffic did not decline significantly despite predictions otherwise”. The Times, of course, really really wants this to succeed.

Shameless plugs

Recommended reading: Investigative social media, new ideas and tools

Sorry it’s been so long, but it’s been crazy busy as TBD’s preparing for the holidays and other events. This’ll be a quick one, just a few links I’ve been reading of late. Have a happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Social media roundup

  • How Investigative Journalism Is Prospering in the Age of Social Media – Great ideas from several resources gathered by Vadim Lavrusik at Mashable on how to use social media in investigative reporting and newsroom projects. Includes tips on Crowdmap, Storify, Twitter crowdsourcing, data searches and more. A great post to pass on to the social media haters in your newsroom.
  • RockMelt: The User Manual– If you don’t know about Rockmelt or want to know more on how to use the new social browser, here’s a great guide from the NY Times.
  • 6 innovative uses of Tumblr by newsrooms – The big media companies are only now getting into Tumblr, but there’s a lot of possibilities out there for it.
  • Engaging Facebook fans with clever, conversational updates – Great ideas from Web Up the Newsroom for writing interesting status updates on a media outlet’s Facebook page to drive traffic to content and drive discussion online.
  • In this disturbing bit from FishbowlDC, a Washington Post editor says “crediting the original source of a scoop isn’t “a requirement or even important” because “all news originates from somewhere” and “unless one is taking someone else’s work without attribution (that is, plagiarizing it) any news story should stand on its own and speaks for itself as an original piece of work.” Hm.
  • How News Organizations Are Generating Revenue From Social Media – Another great Mashable rundown of the top ways online media is generating revenue using social media and more to hit new audiences.

On the TBD Front

How to build, manage and customize a Crowdmap

So you’ve got a great idea for a user-contributed map you need to launch RIGHT NOW. Ushahidi’s Crowdmap makes it pretty easy, and hopefully this post makes it even easier. All examples shown are from TBD’s Crowdmap for D.C.’s election.

First of all, if you’re mapping a crisis, Crowdmap recommends checking our their Emergency Response Strategy first (pdf).

Also, check and see if anyone else has done your map idea with a Google Search. If someone else has already built a map of what you want to do in the same area, maybe you should just help them out instead of replicating the work.

The Quick Build

Sign up for a Crowdmap account at www.crowdmap.com and log in.

1. Click on Create New Deployment

2. On the deployment setup page, pick a url, name and tagline for your map. Keep SEO in mind here to make it easier to find. (You can edit this later, so don’t sweat it too much). Click Finish.

3. Click on admin dashboard for your map or go to http://yourmapname.crowdmap.com/admin

This is your map’s Dashboard. Bookmark it. Your map is now live and activated. If you need to launch it right now, you can – though there’s further additions and customizations you can do. Note: With the default settings, people will only be able to submit reports on the site.

More after the jump (had to do it for images…)

Creating one Facebook page for both sides of your life

Thanks to Facebook’s near-constant changes to their privacy settings, it’s tough to keep documentation on them up to date. In preparation for staff training here at TBD, I’ve completely overhauled these resources for anyone wishing to use Facebook for their professional journalism uses as well as their personal lives. I hope you’ll find these useful.

Intro to Facebook for journalists (and any professionals): A guide that explains the basics of Facebook with a glossary or terms and a look at demographics.

Setting up an All-Purpose Facebook Account: Setting up a Facebook page you can easily use for personal and professional contacts.

Sharing Your Content on Facebook: Using your newsfeed to promote content, blogs and social media accounts.

More resources on Facebook you should check out:

Data mining information from Twitter

It’s downright amazing what you can find out from Twitter’s formidable search engine. Here’s just some of what you can do with Twitter’s publicly available feeds:

• See what’s happening on your beat: Basic, but no less awesome. Follow the Twitter feeds of any agencies, officials and other contacts on your beat.

Find people on the scene or read reactions to events: Twitter has an excellent built-in search engine that allows you to search by keywords, location, date and more. It’s a gold mine to the journo who takes the time to search correctly.

More: Even if you aren’t searching for a particular topic, a Twitter search is a great way to do a fishing expedition for events (try searching for crash, fire, hurt, etc.). Also be sure to try common misspellings in the keyword search.

Search for someone at a particular place: Use the Twitter search with Foursquare or Gowalla to find an eyewitness in a particular location at the time news occurred. Search for the name of the location or keyword with added operators for 4sq or gowal.la. Like this.

See what topics are trending nationally and locally: Your home page on Twitter will show you what’s trending right now either network wide or by your location. Also check out Trendsmap (using data from another great site, What The Trend). For instance, check out this local trendsmap data to see what topics keep coming to the top of Twitter in the DC area right now.

See tweets on a map: Check out Bing’s Twitter and Foursquare maps to see searchable tweets and check-ins on a map. For a new map, go to bing.com/maps/explore and select the map app you want.

Watch real-time reaction: Twitterfall is a great site for watching developing reactions and trends. Watch one of the trending topics or search for keywords to see them “fall” in as they’re tweeted.

Get a photo from the scene: There are lots of sites that allow you to search Twitter photos, but plugging twitpic OR yfrog OR flickr OR tweetphoto (plus a location or keyword) into Twitter Search will also turn up a lot of pictures. See one you’d like to use? Be sure to ask.

The sites here are just the tip of the iceberg – there are thousands more apps out there using this network to display useful trends and info.

Related Info:

Need to Know Twitter Tips for Journalists (6/4/10)

Excellent recommended post on the subject from Web Up The Newsroom.

Intro to Twitter for Journalists

(Updated June 2010)

How-Tos on Twitter

Tweet: A single Twitter message, the maximum length of which is 140 characters (so make them count).

Replying to/mentioning another Twitter user: When you include  @someonesname, it will send a public message to that user and show up in your outgoing tweets. This is also how you would address a Twitter user. Example: I spoke to @myboss today, he said I was fired. (To respond to others’ tweets on Twitter.com, hover your mouse over their message to see the reply option.)

Direct (private) messages: Use d theirname before your message to make it private. This will not show up on your public tweets. (To direct message from Twitter, hover their user icon and click on the gear to see the option or go to Direct Messages on the right side of the page.)

Re-tweeting (RT): If you see something on someone else’s Twitter feed you’d like to directly share with your followers, you can essentially “forward” their tweet to your readers by re-tweeting. (To re-tweet on Twitter’s site, hover your mouse over their message to see the re-tweet option.)

Hashtags: Sometimes on Twitter, you’ll see people use # before a word. This is called a hashtag and it is used to group tweets from lots of people relating to a certain topic or event. Use a hashtag if you happen to see one that is about a group or event you’re covering.

Starting a hashtag: If you spot a news event or hot topic on the horizon, try creating a hashtag of your own when tweeting about it. Make sure it has a # in front and is pretty short.

Tweeting links: Because you only have 140 characters to work with, you’ll want to shorten any links you put into your messages. Some applications do this for you (see below); otherwise you should shorten your link at tinyurl.com or bit.ly.

Posting photos: If you’re tweeting from a mobile application (see below), it should have a way to directly tweet images from your phone’s camera. There are desktop applications that make this a lot easier or you can upload and tweet a photo at Twitpic.

Posting your geographic location: Twitter has built-in geolocation tools you can enable if you’d like. This will include a location on a map with your tweet.

Posting from your computer: There are several applications available to tweet from your computer that are much easier to use than Twitter’s site. Check out Tweetdeck, Twhirl, Seesmic or HootSuite.

Posting from your cell phone: You can set up your Twitter account to accept tweets by text message by going to twitter.com/devices. You do this by going to Settings > Devices on your Twitter home page. Follow the directions there.

Posting from your Blackberry or iPhone: Smart phones have some nifty apps that help you tweet on the go – most include ways to easily tweet photos and GPS locators with your posts.  Check out your app store for an app that’s right for you.

Grouping Twitter contacts: Once you’re following more than a few people, it can get confusing and tiring to read the whole stream at once. Twitter has a grouping system called Lists that create narrower streams of info from select Twitterers.  You can create lists from the Twitter site or most desktop apps. Create specific lists for beat contacts, personal friends, stuff you read just for fun, etc.

Important Stuff to Remember (Ethics & Such)

  • Make sure you verify a fact before running with it (or even re-tweeting it). Think of Twitter as a tip generator, not a reporter.
  • Twitter followers will correct you when necessary – and they will quickly forgive mistakes so long as you admit to them quickly.
  • If you don’t know something, just say so.
  • Follow the Golden Rule with content. Don’t use anyone’s stuff without getting permission and giving credit.
  • The Internet is public and permanent. Everything you say – even what you think is private – can be found and documented. Act accordingly.
  • Furthermore, if you wouldn’t say it on air or in a story, don’t say it at all.
  • You don’t have to get a special Twitter account just for work. Many journalists (myself included) use one account to span both worlds. Not everyone is comfortable with that, so it’s your call.
  • Even if you have a separate Twitter account for work, keep your profession in mind. To the law (and to readers and sources) you are always a journalist in everything you do.

Finding Who to Follow

The best way to get people to follow you on Twitter is to follow the right people from the start. You don’t want to add too many people at once, as it makes it hard to follow (and might make you look like a spammer). Add a few people at a time, focusing first on adding beat sources, then moving to potential competitors, info feeds and influencers in the community.

It also doesn’t hurt to follow those who’ve replied to or re-tweeted you in the past.

Find local twitterers by location or subject: Twellow is a service that searches local people (or people anywhere, really) by their specialties and popularity on Twitter. Also try Wefollow, which let’s you find members by topic/interest area.

Follow other journalists: A great way to get started on follows is finding other journalists on Twitter. Look for people who share your beat, or even those who seem to have a Twitter presence you like, at Muckrack.com

Look at Lists: A great way to easily follow others and get started with lists is to subscribe to others’ public Twitter lists. If there’s someone you like on Twitter, see who they follow and their collected lists along the right side of their Twitter home page. See one you like? Subscribe to it or pick an individual account from their subscriptions to follow yourself.

Suggested follows:

Go to the address and click on “follow” to add them to start subscribing.

News organizations to follow on Twitter:

@cnnbrk @breakingnews @ColonelTribune @statesman

More good examples:

@johnfayman: A former pupil of mine, John is the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Reds’ beat writer. He’s a good example because he uses his account in many ways: live-tweeting games, leaving commentary, answering fan questions and re-tweeting links.

@thehyperfix: Chris Cilizza is the original live-tweeter, using this account for live coverage of press conferences. You can also follow his regular account @thefix.

More Info:

Twitter Signup and Account Setup

Data Mining Twitter (6/2010)

Making Twitter Work For Reporting (6/2010)

Need-to-Know Twitter Tips for Journalists (6/2010)

My own collection of suggested links about Twitter and social media for journalists is on Delicious.

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