5 Twitter tips from The New York Times

A member of the Times’ social media team explains how the news organization uses the social network to connect with followers and enhance its storytelling.

When an organization has millions of followers, everyone wants to know how it got them. Is there a secret formula the rest of us don’t know about?

Nearly 5 million people started following The New York Times on Twitter in 2013. It currently has more than 10 million followers, which means it must be doing something right.

In a recent article on Nieman Journalism Lab, Michael Roston, a staff editor for social media at The New York Times, shared what worked for the news organization on Twitter in 2013. While we can’t promise the tips will bring your organization millions of new followers, the insights are helpful for organizations of any size.

1. Send tweets more than once.

There is a very good chance that your followers do not see every tweet you post. Perhaps some of your followers don’t go on Twitter during the week, or don’t have time to read tweets that go out on Wednesday afternoons because they’re at work.

Use this as an opportunity to recycle content.

Roston explained how the Times does it: “But what we found when we scheduled tweets on Saturday and Sunday was that the average click per tweet grew substantially. What that meant to us was that a story that was of great interest to readers on a Tuesday afternoon is likely to be of interest to readers grazing Twitter on a Saturday night who didn’t see it the first time around.”

As long as the post is timely and relevant to your audience, feel free to run it through your Twitter feed more than once. It can extend a story’s life and help readers who missed it the first time.

2. Be clear, not clever.

When you write Twitter headlines all day, you can easily feel tempted to add some wit and humor. But while witty tweets are fun, the Times opts for clear, to-the-point updates. They consistently get more clicks and retweets.

For example, while comments to a funny tweet like this are enjoyable to read, clever tweets don’t prompt as many readers to click through to the story, Roston said.

So, the next time you’re wringing your hands with writer’s block and stressing over how many tweets you have to write, take a breath. Clear, straightforward updates work best.

3. Don’t rely on automation.

The ability to automate tweets is a significant timesaver for social media managers, but it doesn’t solve all their problems. In fact, it can even create new ones.

In his article, Roston explains a time when an automated tweet with an error in the headline went out over a weekend. Tennis pro Andy Murray is Scottish, not English:

If someone had been monitoring the feed, he or she could have caught the error and corrected it before the tweet went live. Or, if no one caught the mistake, someone could have at least mitigated the impact once followers noticed. In

Also, if someone manually schedules tweets, that person can change story headlines to better work for social media.

“Twitter is a platform that helps extend The Times’ journalism to an audience that is not always the same as the one that visits our website directly,” Roston explains. “When we fit our storytelling to the medium, we do the best possible job of connecting with that audience.”

The moral of the story: Technology cannot replace a person.

4. Use Twitter to amplify discussions.

Twitter can be more than just a way to broadcast new blog posts or organization information. It can enhance the way you tell stories.

When The New York Times sees that readers have a strong interest in a certain story, it will host Q-and-A sessions with its reporters so readers can get more involved in the story. For example, when the political crisis was unfolding in Egypt, David D. Kirkpatrick, the Times’ Cairo bureau chief, answered reader questions about the situation on Twitter. An editor managing the @nytimesworld account filtered the questions and passed them on to Kirkpatrick.

The next time your organization or industry is in the news, make experts available to discuss what’s going on or offer a new perspective. It will distinguish your company as a leader, help you better connect with followers and add a new layer to the story.

5. Have a plan for handling breaking news.

Lately it seems people on social media are more concerned with being the first to break a story rather than tell it correctly with all the facts. To avoid spreading false information, The New York Times’ social media team works directly with the main news desk.

“The updates we tweet are pegged to news reports that editors have approved and never seek to get out ahead of our news report,” Roston says in his article. “We focus on retweeting reporters and editors who are directly involved in covering the news, steering clear of external sources of information whose accuracy we cannot count on.”

Your organization probably doesn’t have its own fact-checking news team, but it should at least have a system in place for when industry news breaks. Know where you can find reliable information, and decide how, and whether you even need, to tweet about certain topics.

Get more insights from the Nieman Journalism Lab article, along with more examples of tweets.

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