To Follow or to be Followed: Building Your Twitter Network
(This is the fourth of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)
Before I started graduate school, the idea of using Twitter seemed narcissistic to me. I quickly recognized, however, what a powerful tool Twitter could be when used stategically. Whether for breaking news or industry-related topics, Twitter provides immediate access to conversations taking place among journalists about newsgathering and the future of journalism. In the Twittersphere, we’re all invited to participate in the discussion.
The next social media challenge on the 10,000 Words to-do list involves using Twitter to increase your exposure in the journalism community:
Task #4: Friend at least 50 journalists on Twitter who in turn follow you back.
Although I’ve been using Twitter primarily for career-related purposes, I hadn’t stopped to assess exactly how many of my followers are journalists. This task made me wonder how I was going to get TV reporters and newspaper columnists to follow an unknown grad student. My only strategy was to start following them and hope they’d find my Twitter profile interesting enough to start following me back.
But luckily for me, Albany, NY-based journalist Alexis Grant saw my promo of this task at the foot of my last post and left me a twitterific gift before I’d even begun the challenge:
… I’ve got a good list of journos on Twitter who I think represent the future of the industry… http://twitter.com/alexisgrant/journfuture/members
That was the paradigm shift I needed. Her list of journalists in traditional and online media not only opened my eyes to the value of Twitter lists as a resource, but it also reminded me that today’s journalism community is a dynamic group of professionals with a diverse range of job descriptions. Of course I could get journalists to follow me; they already had. I’ve been communicating with web journalists, online news editors, social media editors, multimedia journalism professors, students–and yes, even some good ol’ reporters– for the past year. I’ve never met Alexis Grant, but she is one of the 100+ journalists I have followed who reciprocally have followed me (or visa versa).
So this task is that easy, right? Just go to a journalist’s Twitter page and look at their lists for groups of people in the business. In fact, it’s not that easy. That’s sure to provide you many people to follow, but that’s only part of this challenge. You need to get followed in return. Here’s what I’ve learned about the politics of following and being followed over the past year.
Why would a journalist on Twitter want to follow me?
Before you begin to follow others on Twitter, you first need to establish a Twitter profile of your own that will compel others to follow you. When I get an email notice saying someone is following me only to find that my new follower has no profile bio statement, web link or even a location, I usually don’t follow back. Same goes for those with less than a full page of tweets or single-digit “following” stats. Having few followers isn’t an immediate turnoff for me; everybody has to start somewhere. The red flag more often is when someone only has a few sporadic tweets, which tells me this person is not an active Twitter user.
Before you start going crazy clicking people’s follow buttons and hoping they’ll follow you back, take some time to increase your chance of getting followed by creating a tweet history.
What do I say if don’t have any followers?
It may feel strange sending tweets to no one. But by spending at least a few days filling your Twitter profile page with 15-20 tweets before you start following people, you’ll give those people something to look at when they receive the follow notification.
- Fill out your profile. People want to know who you are. Use your professional name as your Twitter ID and include your photo and location. If possible, use the web section to link to your blog, portfolio page, Google profile or any other site that will provide more information about you. Use the bio section to identify your employer or share your career goals, interests or personality.
- Consider your personal brand and how you want to present yourself to the world. Think about the digital profile you want to establish and send tweets that speak to your career niche with an authentic voice. The Personal Branding Blog has a practical checklist that offers a strategy for getting started on tweeting. Keep it on hand for when you don’t know what to say and want to say something of value.
- Use keywords relevant to your niche. Writing a well-crafted tweet increases the chance it will be seen. For example, a tweet and a link from a blogger who writes about immigration issues in Arizona that reads “Here’s my new post” will not show up in searches. On the other hand, “Here’s my new post about immigration issues in Arizona” will go to anyone following the keywords “immigration” or “Arizona”.
- Include hashtags. Hashtags are keywords, phrases or abbreviations preceded by #. They’re used as a kind of shorthand to indicate topics or events. For example, #ona is used for the Online News Association. If you’re writing a tweet related to ONA that doesn’t mention it specifically, adding the hashtag #ona to the end of the tweet flags it for anyone specifically following that hashtag (but not necessarily following you). Note the hashtags being used by journalists and look them up in a hashtag directory such as tagdef.com.
- Retweet links, comments and observations that you find valuable. A retweet, or RT, is how you share something someone else found interesting enough to send in a tweet. Retweeting gives them credit for the content of their tweet while allowing you to add your input.
- Send a response to a comment or question. If you think you have something to add to the conversation, jump in. But remember, Facebook is like having a conversation with friends in your living room, while Twitter is more like a conversation with acquaintances at a business function or cocktail reception.
Ask yourself, “Are these tweets something of value? Are they, on the whole, rich with relevant career-related content and commentary?” If you have a full page of tweets that give a sense of who you are as a journalist, then you’re ready to start building your “following” list.
How do I find journalists to follow on Twitter who will in turn follow me?
This process may sound like a popularity contest to the cynical person (there are a few in journalism), but in a very real sense it’s a credibility contest, a professional-value contest and an authority contest.
- Use Google search instead of Twitter to find people. Don’t rely on the Twitter “Search” or “Find People” functions to locate people or organizations using Twitter. I’ve had much greater success using Google by searching the name followed by “on Twitter”. For example, “Scott Simon on Twitter” will bring up several Twitter accounts with the name Scott Simon, but you can easily see that NPR’s host of Weekend Edition sends tweets using @nprscottsimon.
- Begin by following news organizations, journalism schools, and professional organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists. This will start your base “following” activity. Look at who else is following these organizations, as well as whom they find valuable enough to follow.
- Add the people you know in the business. Look up colleagues, classmates, professors or acquaintances. They are likely to follow you back, giving you a base of “followers” before you add people you don’t know.
- Find the individual journalists associated with publications or organizations you respect. This is the beauty of Twitter. As I wrote in an earlier post, we now are just one degree of separation from the veterans of the craft.
- Look at whom they follow and check out their “lists”. If they follow a large number of people, it may be easier to look at their lists rather than each individual. Do they have a specific group of journalists they follow? Have they themselves been “listed”? This means someone has grouped them within a category of similar Twitter users, which could include lists of journalists.
- Do a google search for lists of journalists to follow on Twitter. Many journalism blogs, such as muckrack.com, 10,000 Words and SPJ, have put together lists of prominent journalists on Twitter. Chances are these people have many followers, which could lessen your chance of being followed by them, but consider following them anyway.
- Participate in Twitter chats. Each week, groups of journalists gather online for Twitter chats with specific topics. Check out chats such as PoynterOnline, #wjchat, #cjchat, #journchat and #pubmedia to find journalists in your niche.
- Watch to see who gets recommended on “Follow Fridays”. The hashtag #ff is used in a tweet when someone is recommending another Twitter user. Set aside time on Fridays to see who is being recommended by other journalists.
Lastly, when you do get followed by a fellow journalist, consider it being handed a digital business card and send a tweet saying thanks for the follow.
Next up: Task #5: Become a part of a crowdsourcing project. (I submitted my Facebook photo for the crowdsourced TIME magazine cover, but I don’t think that counts as journalism…)