Leveraging social media as a business journalist
The public nature of Twitter lends to a two-way conversation that allows reporters to source stories and connect with their audience, said Forbes Media LLC science and medicine reporter Mathew Herper in a conference call for contributing blog writers Thursday.
“It’s like a cocktail party in a bar where everyone is shouting,” Herper said in the conference call from New York. “Twitter is a great way to meet colleagues, competitors and sources.”
The ability to have a public conversation on Twitter also helps to draw in an audience interested in a reporter’s beat and allows a journalist to raise his or her profile by tweeting links to articles.
Herper, however, warned that the main point of Twitter is for engaging in conversation and sourcing, and that it doesn’t generate as much traffic to stories as other social media platforms, such as Facebook. While journalists should talk to people they want to get to know, they also shouldn’t dominate the conversation or ask for retweets and follows.
“You can find industry groups on Twitter and have really technical conversations in short format,” Herper said. “Anyone can follow and join in. It has a ‘free-for-all’ brawl feeling that you can’t get through any other medium.”
Herper said that he has written entire articles where he did almost all of his sourcing on Twitter.
“I’ve quoted from tweets directly, and without asking,” Herper said. “But only from sources that I know.”
When asked about potentially exposing sources through Twitter conversations, Herper said that most of is sources are not a secret, and that if he planned to talk to a source off the record, he would never do this via social media. Most often said that these sorts of conversations happen via phone, he said.
Twitter is “more public than a public square,” Herper reminded the contributing writers during the call.
“Tweets are public unless someone has them locked,” Herper said. “And even then, I would assume that they are public because people can easily retweet them.”
Journalists also should remember that because tweets are 140 characters or less, they can more easily cross the line into being misunderstood, and minor disagreements can appear to be major fights.
To avoid getting into these kinds of situations, Herper advised Forbes contributors to stay on subject, and to know that subject well.
Raising your journalistic profile via Twitter
While Twitter can be used to share links of stories that journalists have written themselves, this often isn’t the best way to engage an audience on Twitter and attract a following, Herper said.
“Twitter doesn’t share a story well for days. That’s not what it’s for,” Herper said.
Because tweeting links doesn’t generate as much traffic as other social media, the best way to use it is for topical conversations and engaging with followers on a personal basis.
Herper recommended finding groups of people that interest you and begin conversations by following them. Engaging with and meeting new sources in this way help to drive new story ideas.
“You can maximize traffic from Twitter by being in the conversation with people who are interested in your stuff,” Herper said.
Retweeting stories that are interesting to a journalists but not necessarily their own can help to increase their following.
“I don’t think worrying about what time you should tweet or tweeting about trending topics is a good way to use twitter. It’s okay to tweet at a time when people don’t tend to be listening as much, and then again in the morning,” Herper said. “If you repeat yourself a little, people don’t tend to mind as much on Twitter.”
And if all else fails?
“Get Justin Bieber to retweet your story. That’s the most clicks on a story I’ve ever gotten from Twitter.”